Interview: Jungle Brothers

Best known for jumpstarting the Native Tongue Posse – the movement that gave us De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and *ahem* Queen Latifah – Jungle Brothers were pioneers of jazz and hip-hop fusion. Although commercially overshadowed by compatriots De La Soul, their second album Done by the Forces of Nature was extremely influential but still largely considered to be a lost classic. MTV may have forgotten them, while the hip-hop scene may have shunned them for their tendency to lean too close to house, but at Revelation Jungle Brothers proved why they’re living legends. JUICE had a gab with Mike Gee.

Text Alif Omar Mahfix & Dwane Chin
Image RR5GG

What is going on with the whole Native Tongue movement?
Right now the pioneers of Native Tongue Movement – Jungle Brothers, De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest – are kind of just laying back. A Tribe Called Quest is recording a new record. De La [Soul] has been doing a lot of touring. And Jungle Brothers toured a little bit, but mostly chilled with the family. Some of the new guys, the new leaders of the Native Tongue Movement, like Talib [Kweli] and Common have been out there, pushing the envelope, and picking up where we left off.

You guys have been around for 20 years now, what do you make of Nas’ statement “hip hop is dead”?
It is doing good, I mean, hip hop is learning. It has learnt a lot. It’s taking care of its own business; it’s taking care of itself now. So, I think hip hop is in a good position right now. No, it is not dead. It is far from dead.

KRS-One prefers Fiddy over Kanye. What’s about you?
Wow, really?! I don’t know, I think that was a misprint (laughs). Nah, I mean, I like 50 Cent as an entertainer, but I like Kanye because he actually has more common sense and he talks about up-lifting stuff. It makes you feel positive and stuff like that.

If early 90s hip hop is the CNN of the streets, how would you describe hip hop now?
Oh, it’s not even CNN. It’s more like MTV; it’s got a little bit of news but more music.

TI was recently apprehended. As founders of the Native Tongue Posse, what do you make of all the negative news surrounding hip hop?

You got to understand, TI ain’t doing anything new, it’s not like he’s the first one to do it, you know what I’m saying? He just got caught.

We love Biz Markie, why do you think rappers nowadays aren’t big on clowning but are machismo-obsessed?
No doubt we love Biz Markie. I don’t know why. They take things too seriously.

Just out of curiosity, is Obamarama really that big over in the States?
Yea, he is quite big. Looks like to be the best chance for the next black president. So, he is a big thing.

Wu-Tang Clan got the rights to sample The Beatles. What’s your dream sample?
That is a good one, but I don’t want to say. Because I don’t want somebody else to sample it.

Jungle Brothers have always been influenced by jazz music, who would you say is the best jazz artist ever?
Wow, that’s a hard one, I mean, each jazz artist specializes in their own style. Like [John] Coltrane, if it wasn’t for his – I guess we can call it – experimental style on the horns, it wouldn’t have pushed the envelope. Then you’ve got artist like the Ginger Baker (Paul Edward Baker) with the drums, he really took rhythm to a whole new level. Then you got Thelonious Monk. You got the all-star three right there: Coltrane, Ginger Baker and Thelonious Monk.

Downloading, killing the industry or the future?
It is the future, definitely. It is already the NOW actually.

Myspace or Facebook?
I’m on Facebook, but Sammy and Afrika are on Myspace. But to choose one, I think there are too many things for me to do rather than to sit down in front of the computer like that. (Laughs)

Which hip hop artist do you think we should be checking out right now?
I like Cassidy. Cassidy is on top of the list. But there is a collaboration with one of the guys from Camp Lo and Juice, who is a famous beatmaker from North Carolina; he has a group called Freebase 808. Go check them out.

Jungle Brothers performed at RR5GG. They are currently busy working on their new album due out sometime in 2008. This interview was published in the February 2008 issue of JUICE.