Approximately between the years of ’84-‘89 I brought just about every Rap album I could, on tape or vinyl, sometimes both. An album would have to be pretty corny looking for me to not buy it*. Oddly enough, when I look at my collection of tapes and vinyl from the era it seems that the only prevalent group I don’t have 80s albums from is the Jungle Brothers. It’s a bit strange and there are reasons, just not particularly good ones.
My dedicated consumerism wasn’t limited to albums. I purchased many 12” Singles and Cassingles as well. One such purchase was The Jungle Brothers “Girl I’ll House You” b/w “On The Run” 12”. It wasn’t their debut release, but I don’t recall seeing their previous two singles in stores. It’s possible that I overlooked them by not being sure if they were Hip Hop. You’d think that I title like “Girl I’ll House You” wouldn’t convince me that it was Hip Hop. However, by then I had read about them in some Rap Mag, probably The Source, and it gave them props. When I saw the record I decided to take a chance. I took it home and gave it a listen and even though “Girl I’ll House You” sounds exactly like the title suggests, I was still disappointed. That didn’t really matter because I really picked it up for the B-Side, “On The Run” sounded promising. Listening these days, “On The Run” is a good song and has aged well. The production is the shining jewel, filled with classic breakbeats and a raw essence. I think some of the playful nature of their deliveries thru me off. I thought it was “cool”, but not quite what I was hoping.
In any event, my disappointment of that 12” caused me to tune them out to the point of living in denial. I clearly remember being at various parties in Lake Country (North Chicago/Waukegan) and the DJ (generally Capt. 2 Fresh) would throw on a joint I didn’t recognize and I’d be buggin’ out on how fresh the beat was, so I’d ask someone, “Who’s this?” They exclaim with much obviousness, “The Jungle Brothers!” I’d respond with a tone of disbelief, “The ‘Girl I’ll House You’ Guys’???” That would get confirmed and I’d just stand there doing my lil B-Boy bop with a look of slight confusion. I know that definitely happened at parties with “The Promo” and “Because I Got It Like That”. Still that didn’t steer me to pick up “Straight Out The Jungle”.
A year later when “Done By The Forces Of Nature” released I still wasn’t on board to make the purchase, but my homie, Zeke was, so I was able to check out the album riding around with him. I remember the first time I heard the album there was a lot of stuff I enjoyed, but what really grabbed my attention was “Beeds On A String”. That makes perfect sense. Most of the album had a feel good vibe, but “Beeds On A String” was of a more raw nature, which was more the style I was on. I dubbed that track and a couple others from his tape and kept it moving…
It would be many, many years later when I went back to re-experience these albums that I saw what I missed the first time around. I was definitely tripping. “Straight Out The Jungle” is a solid starting point to exploring the sounds of the Jungle Brothers and then “Done By The Forces Of Nature” takes the best elements of their debut and enhances them.
“Beyond This World” is a perfect album opener. It effectively communicates the essence of the group’s style; danceable B-Boy beats, intelligent quotables, good vibes, and a clear appreciation for the generations of Hip Hop before them. Before the song even kicks in you are bombarded with the sounds of Grandmaster Mele Mel, Jimmy Spicer and T La Rock, then later you get a taste of Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force. Right off the bat, Afrika gets to the root of things, “Round and round, upside down/Living my life underneath the ground/Never heard of and hardly seen/A whole lot of talk about the Red, Black, & Green/So dirty you didn’t want to deal with it/So funky, you didn’t want to get with it/But that’s alright, no problem, cool/Sent to Earth to educate the fool!” Later Mike G offers the jewel, “Beating a bigger drum, better days will come/And if they don’t come I get up and make some/First you crawl before you walk/First you think before you talk!”
“Acknowledge Your Own History” is a great offering that confronts the issue of public schools giving a misleading understanding on the history of Africa.
“Black Woman” is an excellent dedication track that is tasteful and genuine in its celebration of Black Women, something unfortunately rare in Hip Hop.
The title track, “Done By The Forces Nature”, delves into what might be their most inventive lyrical content, delivered on a uniquely sounding production and all with a twist of mysticism.
I feel like the most recognizable track from this album is “J. Beez Comin’ Thru”. It just draws you in with the chanting, “The JBs, The JBs, The JBs…” which builds into a creative sampling use of Sly & The Family Stone. The perfect seasoning for the track comes courtesy of the somewhat unexpected hyped pianos buried halfway through Jimmy Castor’s “The Return Of Leroy Pt 1”. The Jungle Brothers use the pianos in a pleasantly maniacal fashion, giving the song a distinctive character.
This album effectively covers a nice range of moods and styles. There’s not really much to complain about truthfully. Other stand out tracks include “Feelin’ Alright”, “Sunshine”, “Tribe Vibes”, and “In Dayz 2 Come”, which is probably the sleeper song of the album.
“Doin’ Our Own Dang” was a big single push for the album and it features their Native Tongue family; De La Soul, Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest, Monie Love and Queen Latifah, who is present on the hook. This track is another example of how the Native Tongues did things different and occupied a rare space in Hip Hop. Most crews utilized the Posse Cut to showcase their most complex rhyme skills or to confirm their allegiance to the underground. Somewhat in contrast, Native Tongue regularly took those moments to showcase that the full crew had commercial appeal without lacking lyrical talent.
The 12” of “Doin Our Own Dang” contains several different remixes, which suggests they were trying to maximize the track’s potential. The Ultimatium (a.k.a Stereo MCs) Remix gives it a Soulful House touch which covered the Hip House “requirement” at the time, but it actually sounds OK, just not better than the original. Rich Fermie pulls things back to the breaks with samples from Bar-Kays “Holy Ghost” and some other Lo-Fi elements. Of all the Remix beats, this is my favorite, but it seems to work less with the song and probably would have been better for a different track. I’d like to unearth an instrumental version of this. Norman Cook was an in-demand Remixer at the time and he gives it a sort of abstract dance treatment. It’s not a version that I would find myself turning to very often probably, but it’s definitely an interesting listen.
This double-disc reissue contains all those remixes on the second disc. It also includes nice remixes of “J Beez Comin’ Through” and “Beyond This World”. You are also treated to the great B-side track, “Promo No. 2” featuring Q-Tip. Additional Remixes included are the CJ Mackintosh and the Tony Humphries version of “What U Waitin’ 4”.
Although it seems that the Jungle Brothers didn’t enjoy the same commercial success of other Native Tongue key members; De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep or Queen Latifah, they were certainly a very integral part of the growth of that widely influential movement. It’s arguable that their greatest obstacle was their record labels. Their debut album released on Warlock Records, who was never successful in promoting hit Hip Hop acts. They moved to Warner Brothers Records for “Done By The Forces Of Nature” and even though it is a major label, I don’t feel they had good grasp on how to promote Hip Hop, at least not yet.
Don’t get me wrong it’s not like the Jungle Brothers got completely lost in the Underground. They had some hits and a solid fanbase, but I just don’t think were able to reach their full possible career heights. With that in mind, it’s foreseeable that there are many potential fans who missed out…even I almost did.
Written by Kevin Beacham
*Once the 90s kicked in with the so-called "Gangsta Rap" shock value craze, the explosion of "Pop Rap", and a handful of other sub-genres (IE Hip House, Miami Bass, etc...) I had to revaluate that process of buying nearly everything...