Photo Credit: David Eatwell
“I got brothers in the Jungle, cousins on the Quest!”
Dres (Black Sheep) The Choice is yours (1991).
In 2012 I saw Ali Shaheed Muhammed of A Tribe Called Quest DJ with Nu-Mark from Jurassic 5 at the Roundhouse in Camden. The next day I went to various record stores around London devouring every ATCQ CD I could find. This set me up in the early 2010s as a Hip Hop head, who although loved Dr Dre and Wu-Tang, never paid the genre much attention beyond that. It was around this time that I also watched the 2011 documentary Beats Rhymes and Life by Michael Rapaport and it blew my mind.
I was introduced to not only the history of A Tribe Called Quest but the broader history of East Coast Hip Hop and the Native Tongues collective, featuring stalwarts like De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Black Sheep and of course Jungle Brothers. Formed in the late 80s, Native Tongues put peace, love and unity at the forefront when gangster rap was beginning its ascendency. The vibe was different and it was feelgood with themes of empowerment and afro-centrism peppered around. The music was also light and upbeat with tracks by both De La Soul and Jungle Brothers being staples of night club dancefloors.
The Jungle Brothers consist of Afrika Baby Bam, Mike G and DJ Sammy B. Their 1988 debut album Straight Out the Jungle featured the Hip-House track “I’ll House You” which became a crossover hit in both House and Hip Hop circles. The Hip-House production continued on their second album Done by the Forces of Nature from 1989.
Before coming to the gig review proper, I would also like to mention the third Jungle Brothers album J Beez wit the Remedy, from 1993, a collaboration with World Music and experimental maestro Bill Laswell that was so out there, that the label demanded it be completely re-recorded. A few tracks from the original project titled “Crazy Wisdom Masters” remained on the album, with other tracks receiving releases on various records and digital formats years later.
Support for tonight’s show came from Billie Splyff, RapXchange and DJ Drez (Hip Hop Back In The Day). Drez’s set was almost like a mixtape with brilliant edits and mixing of Hip Hop staples. ATCQ’s Can I Kick it brought the house down and was a nice call out to Native Tongues and the main event tonight.
RapXchange then took the stage with Drez remaining on DJ duty and at most I counted 7 MCs on 5 mics. Their lyrics featured references to Marvel comics and smoke, with a bottle being passed around the stage.
As Drez played on after, he was joined by DJ Sammy B who teased the audience with a loop of the Jungle Brothers’ classic Because I got it like that, over the end of Drez’s set. This was their second single from 1988 and was produced by DJ Red Alert, an important figure in the history of Hip Hop and who was also an uncle and mentor to the Native Tongues.
Sammy B then went into the Phil Collins pop hit In the Air Tonight. I wondered why the hell am I bopping to Phil Collins? But it was fun and a reminder that this would be a night of the 80s! Afrika Baby Bam and Mike G then took the stage and went into the Jungle Brothers classic Feeling Alright. The skat singing during the track from Mike G was matched by Arfika’s dancing, this was feel good and there was some friendly sparring between the two artists, adding to the upbeat high energy of the evening.
Mike G asked the crowd “You ready to party tonight or what!”
What “U” Waitin’ “4”? from the same album was played next, injecting a House beat into the proceedings, it was fun and funky and the vocal delivery was on point.
Sunshine was played next, another feelgood classic. 40 Below Trooper from J Beez wit the Remedy, surprised me as I didn’t realise it was a single, it was more than welcome and had the crowd rocking.
Mike G then addressed the crowd and London in general, “I don’t wanna call out anyone’s age but we been doing this for a while, look at Kings Cross now to when we were rocking it as some might say”, referring to how much the area has improved in terms of aesthetics.
This was then followed by Straight out the Jungle and Because I got it like that, with Mike G then saying “88 to now, only 3 days of sun in London!” to applause from the crowd, as our Summer had been dampened by rain in recent days. The audience was mainly made up of older heads who were probably fans since then.
Consulting my notes, I wasn’t sure whether the night then turned into an adlibbed mixtape featuring bits of their previously played songs or not, or were they just recycling some lines over various beats? The night became way more intense from this point as Beyond the World came next with some thundering drums. When Sammy B Scratched a sample of “It’s the Jungle Brothers” over the beat, we really saw him shine as a DJ, with Mike G reminding us “Sammy B was a DJ first!”.
This then transitioned into What “U” Waitin’ 4, which returned in a more beat heavy rendition, The dance fan in me recognised the “Keep on Dancing”, lyrics sampled by The Prodigy on their 1992 single Jericho.
Tribe Vibes and Jimbrowski came next and was a throwback to the Old Skool. Jimbrowski was their debut single from 1987, produced and featuring Red Alert, a classic for all the Native Tongues heads. As expected, I’ll House You brought the house down. Such was the intensity of the night at this point, It felt like I was raving with Uni students but everyone was middle aged. The lyrics of “Round and round” were matched by a frenzied circular dance from Afrika Baby Bam, the crowd was told to do waves and it was a beautiful experience of feelgood and unity.
Then a Jungle break came in, leading us into the D&B classic Jungle Brother by Aphrodite, which was a remix of The Jungle Brothers’ track True Blue. I was surprised as to how many songs and original samples I could recognise just from being a 90s music head. It’s easy to forget how seminal the Jungle Brothers were in a world that mostly talks about ATCQ and De La Soul.
VIP from 2000 was played next and Brain from 1997 was a more chilled out affair, part of the R&B turn that most Old Skool artists took in the 90s.
Buddy was also another surprise to hear, the third single from De La Soul, was part of the encore, a track which featured the Jungle Brothers and other members of the Native Tongues collective and a staple from their back catalogue.
The night was a magical fusion of Old Skool Hip Hop and House with some Jungle and R&B thrown in, I felt that it covered the whole spectrum of 90s music. The strength of the Jungle Brothers lies in their USP of Hip-House and experimentation as well as their Old Skool Shell Toe vibes. This was possibly the greatest Hip Hop show I have attended and the Brothers are truly pioneers who I feel are still relatively unsung. Tomorrow I will go to London and buy every Jungle Brothers CD I can find.