In 1988, hip hop was starting to splinter into a variety of sonic and thematic niches. Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions were taking wildly different approaches socio-political commentary, whilst N.W.A was imbuing their social critiques with images of violent gangsterism. Slick Rick was putting his posh accent to use as a peerless storyteller, whilst Big Daddy Kane was using his battle-honed rhymes to cast himself as hip hop's original playa. Amongst this vibrant and blossoming national scene, a small NYC trio found yet another path to travel.
The Jungle Brothers are Afrika Baby Bam, Mike G and DJ Sammy B. The jungle for which they were named bridged the two worlds in which they existed: the concrete jungle of New York City, and the distant jungles of Africa. Their sex-positive irreverence brought new levity to hip hop, incorporating dance-friendly jams alongside prescriptive tales of inner-city struggles. The synthesis proved to be popular, and at the time of release, it was already shaping a new musical movement.
Straight Out The Jungle marked the debut of the Native Tongues collective, a collection of hip hop acts united by their positive, Afrocentric lyricism and jazz-tinged sampling prowess. As spiritual successors to the Universal Zulu Nation, the collective would proved an influential movement throughout the latter half of the so-called golden age, with a slew of successful releases from Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul. Acts who existed on the periphery of the movement also experienced success throughout this period, including Brand Nubian, The Pharcyde and Common.
Whilst we're looking to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the record, that's proven difficult: release dates concerning the album are inconsistent at best. Wikipedia and many legitimate music websites list the release as November 8, though Billboard's chart data claims that the record peaked on the Hot R&B/Hip Hop Albums Chart on October 15. It makes sense that the November release would be the late '88 reissue, which added hit single "I'll House You," meaning that the album would have initially dropped sometime in the third quarter of '88. Regardless of timing, we're dedicating this instalment of The Behind... Series to a true jazz rap classic.
"Straight out the Jungle"
The title track and album opener, "Straight Out The Jungle" serves as a pithy introduction to the group and it's unique ethos. Afrika Baby Bam expounds on vision of self-assurance, humility and Afrocentric identity, whilst Mike G uses his verse to reiterate their hip hop prowess.
The drums on album opener and title track "Straight out the Jungle" are taken from Bill Withers' 1972 sophomore album, Still Bill. Drumming across the album was provided by prolific session musician James Gadson, who played on the album's most enduring hit, "Lean On Me."
The subdued guitar riff that opens the track is sampled from "Mango Meat," a track by Brooklyn funk outfit Mandrill.
Mandrill were a group with many different lineups and many different sounds: because of this, they defy easy categorisation. The group experienced most of their success throughout the '70s and early '80s, though they've continued recording since, releasing their most recent project in 2009.
The foreign vocal samples that appear at 0:06 and 2:03 are taken from Manu Dibango's "Weya," where they appear at 0:06 and 0:36, respectively. The original track was released in 1974.
Jungle Brothers repurpose a cornerstone of early hip hop, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's "The Message." The track, a 1982 hit, was the first prominent hip hop release to feature socio-political content, a break from the party-heavy rhymes of the day.
The sampled lyrics - "it's like a jungle sometimes, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under" - is amongst the most famous lyrics of that era.
A New Orleans-based Mardi Gras Indian tribe, The Wild Magnolias double as an unorthodox funk outfit. They released their six-track debut in 1974, backed by a collection of New Orleans musicians and greeted with critical acclaim.
The slowed horn hit and drumkit at 2:01 are taken from "(Somebody Got) Soul, Soul, Soul." Despite hip hop's penchant for funk music, the group are seldom sampled: this is one of just 13 samples.
"What's Going On"
Named for the Marvin Gaye cut sampled within, "What's Going On" is the group's first true foray into socio-political considerations. The track cuts a commanding figure in the '88 landscape: it's more lyrically intricate than the socio-political work of Boogie Down Productions and less violently 'gangsta' than N.W.A's brand of commentary. Unlike KRS-One, Jungle Brothers don't cast themselves as 'teachers' - instead, they comment on the ills of the concrete jungle from the place of an astute observer.
Kool and the Gang's "N.T." The abbreviation stands for "No Title," and the track was included on Live at P.J.'s, Kool and the Gang's third album. Interestingly, it was also their second live LP, including new material despite the live format.
The first sample, which appears at 0:33 on "What's Going On," is taken from 0:50 on "N.T.," whilst the sample that appears at 2:35 is sourced from 3:33.
A sample of Gaye's titular refrain acts as a hook in the Jungle Brothers' similarly socio-political track: the wordless vocalisations that are inserted before the titular phrase are sourced from 1:53, whilst the phrase itself actually comes from earlier in the track, at 1:33.
"Black is Black"
The third track hones in on the Afrocentrism key to the group's ethos. "Black is Black" introduces a then-unknown emcee, Q-Tip, who takes the first verse in his debut appearance on wax. Perhaps the most famous member of the Native Tongues collective, Q-Tip would go on to define the movement in the mainstream as a member of A Tribe Called Quest.
The horns and drums that run throughout are sampled from Lightnin' Rod's "Sport."
Lightnin' Rod, an alias of Last Poets member Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, released just one album, 1973's Hustlers Convention. The unique fusion of poetry, music and socio-political edge proved a huge influence on hip hop. The track was featured on Volume 3 of Paul Winley Records' Super Disco Brake's, the first breakbeat compilation series.
The track features a prominent vocal sample lifted from the hook of Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson's "The Bottle." The hit was featured on the duo's 1974 LP Winter In America, the first of their seven collaborative records throughout the '70s. Jackson contributes the commanding flute, whilst Scott-Heron handles the vocals.
"Don't you think it's a crime," the sampled vocal, refers to the system that enables alcoholism.
There's a shocking short sample of another track by The Meters at 1:58. The tiny sound grab, which lasts no longer than three seconds, pads out the close of a verse before it launches back into Lightnin' Rod's sampled horns.
The sampled track, "9 'Til 5," was included on their 1969 debut, Look-Ka Py Py. The Meters, sometimes considered the inventors of funk music, are sampled twice on "I'm Gonna Do You."
The track closes with the titular refrain from one of Prince's early hits, "Controversy." The title track from his 1981 LP, the track turned out to be a weirdly accurate projection of Prince's own flirtation with norms throughout his storied career.
"Jimbrowski," a lengthened form of "jimmy," refers to the dick. The track bears similarities to "Jimmy," another '88 track by socially conscious outfit Boogie Down Productions. Whilst that cut took a clear anti-AIDs perspective, "Jimbrowski" is a more lighthearted jam. The track features DJ Red Alert, a member of Native Tongues forebears the Universal Zulu Nation and an important radio DJ throughout the '80s. He first broke Boogie Down Productions' "South Bronx," kicking off The Bridge Wars, a legendary hip hop feud.
The drums, accompanied by a quiet click, are sampled from Funkadelic's "Good Old Music." The track, written and produced by Parliament-Funkadelic mastermind George Clinton, was featured on the group's self-titled 1970 debut.
American comedian Jimmie Walker. Walker, best known for his role on late-'70s sitcom Good Times, also released a single stand up comedy LP, Dyn-o-mite, in 1975. That record takes its name from his catchphrase, coined on the sitcom.
The brief vocal sample - "the Black Prince? Could I be right?" - is taken from the opening track to the LP, in which he announced his presence.
The third and final sample on the track comes in the form of an interpolation from trumpeter Tom Browne's 1980 cut, "Funkin' for Jamaica (N.Y.)."
The sung section at 1:48 - "that's what it is" - borrows both lyrics and melody from Browne's track, included on his sophomore album, Love Approach. "Funkin' for Jamaica (N.Y.)" topped the Billboard R&B chart for one whole month in 1980.
"I'm Gonna Do You"
Another irreverent sexually-charged joint, "I'm Gonna Do You" continues to flaunt the group's light, feel-good attitudes. Mike G closes out the track with some shout outs, sending love to DJ Red Alert, Afrika Bambaataa, Jazzy Jay, Boogie Down Productions and Ultramagnetic MCs, as well as the boroughs of Harlem and Brooklyn.
The drum break that opens the track is sourced from The Meters' "Groovy Lady," a b-side from their 1971 single, "Stretch Your Rubber Band." The track was finally included on an LP in 1992, when the Meters Jam compilation was released.
The track, which hasn't been sampled since 1995, was later featured on a skit by fellow Native Tongues outfit De La Soul. The Jungle Brothers made a brief appearance on that interlude.
"I'll House You"
Originally a non-album single, "I'll House You" was added to the record in late 1988 reissues. The track was the first non-Chicago hip-house club hit, an example of the potential such a dance-ready format.
The basis of the group's house-hop crossover hit is Royal House's "Can You Party," a 1988 house music classic.
The fusion of house music and hip hop seemed novel at the time, but there was a historical precedent: disco. That dance genre dominated early hip hop, underpinning emcees with their pre-written instrumentals - think Chic on "Rapper's Delight." House music, of course, evolved out of disco in the early-to-mid '80s.
The laughing vocals sampled on the music video mix are taken from another house track, The Peech Boys' "Don't Make Me Wait (Special Version)."
The UK cut, produced by house pioneer Larry Levan, was released in 1982, and has since been sampled by JB associates, A Tribe Called Quest. Jungle Brothers themselves sampled an alternate mix of the track on their '89 single, "What "U" Waitin' "4"?"
The cowbells that enter at 0:30 are lifted from Liquid Liquid's "Optimo," the title track from their final 1983 EP.
The acclaimed dance-punk outfit, sometimes grouped under the brief avant-garde 'no-wave' movement, had a strange foray into rap - "Cavern," a track from the Optimo EP, was replayed note-for-note on Grandmaster Melle Mel's early rap hit, "White Lines (Don't Don't Do It)."
The "oh yeah!" at 1:23 is lifted from Fresh Gordon's 1986 house track, "Gordys Groove."
The house track was released on Tommy Boy, a label important to the development of hip hop throughout the '80s and '90s. Tommy Boy-backed artists include Afrika Bambaataa, Brand Nubian, Biz Markie, De La Soul, Lord Finesse, Stetsasonic and Queen Latifah.
The descending chord that plays after "house your body, house your body" at 2:00 is lifted from David Matthew's "Main Theme to Star Wars." The cover was included on Matthews' Dune, a 1977 jazz-funk record comprised of space-themed covers.
It's no surprise that black nationalist Malcolm X is a revered figure in hip hop. His speeches were released on wax by a number of labels, including Paul Winley Records, an independent, Harlem-based label that would go on to release the first ever breakbeat compilation in 1979.
"On the Run"
Though the title sounds like the story of a fugitive, "On The Run" finds the Jungle Brothers jetting around the country and "getting paid." It's a testament to their work ethic and a flex as to their demand: when you're a JB, there's no time to slow down.
The drums on "On The Run" are taken from Babe Ruth's "The Mexican." The British band leans into its clearly indebted name: their debut album, on which "On The Run" was included, was titled First Base.
The horn riffs scattered throughout the track are lifted from The Jimmy Castor Bunch's disco classic, "It's Just Begun." The horns first appear at 0:18.
The "on the run" refrain is also sampled from "It's Just Begun" - the vocal, which first appears at 0:48 on "On The Run," is lifted from 0:38 in the 1972 original. The extensively-pilfered original track is sometimes counted as one of the first disco tracks, and has been sampled on over 130 songs.
The subtle female vocal sample that first appears at 0:42 - "I can't stop!" - is taken from John Davis and the Monster Orchestra's aptly titled "I Can't Stop."
The ostentatiously-named disco band included "I Can't Stop," a minor hit, on their 1976 debut, Night and Day. The album featured scores of disco covers, almost all of which were originally written by legendary American songwriter Cole Porter.
The beat change at 1:40 launches into another break, this time sourced from Ralph MacDonald's "Jam on the Groove." The 1976 track features a groove made for jamming on, and the break within the song proved especially popular throughout '80s hip hop.
The kaleidoscopic instrumental that enters at 1:57 is courtesy of UK jazz-fusion outfit Upp. The "Give It To You" sample runs for a brief four seconds and features guitar from Jeff Beck, whose extensive contributions to the group's debut LP went entirely unacknowledged in the accompanying liner notes.
"Behind the Bush"
Opening with a swing-heavy horn lick, "Behind the Bush" is little more than four verses atop a sparse Isaac Hayes sample. Despite the slow pace, the track is one of the most lyrical on the record.
A sample of the drums from Isaac Hayes' "Joy." The title track from Hayes' 1973 album, his sixth, is a sixteen-minute soul behemoth. This wasn't uncommon for Hayes, who's released full-length LPs comprising of just four extended tracks.
The smooth instrumental from Grover Washington Jr.'s "Mercy Mercy Me" is sampled from 0:11 onward. The 1971 track was a cover of Marvin Gaye's similarly-named song, released the same year on his landmark soul LP, What's Going On.
The track was included on Washington Jr.'s debut, Inner City Blues, named for another Marvin Gaye cut. The album, comprised of covers ranging from Bill Withers to George and Ira Gershwin, features jazz greats Bob James and Idris Muhammad.
"Because I Got it Like That"
Before it was an infamous meme phrase, "Because I Got It Like That" was a quirky JB's cut. The first two verses find Afrika and Mike G spitting in unison, whilst the choruses and outro find them throwing bars back and forth.
The drum break and accompanying organ lick are sourced from Sly & The Family Stone's 1969 track, "You Can Make It If You Try." The cover of a 1957 composition was included on their fourth LP, Stand!, often considered to be their best work. THe record contains two of their most famous hits, "Sing a Simple Song" and "Everyday People."
"You Can Make It If You Try" has been sampled 133 times, a large fraction of the LP's 616 samples.
"Braggin' & Boastin'"
The final bar-heavy track on the LP lives up to the title, filled to the brim with braggadocios reflections and boastful bars. Elements of the track were later sampled in A Tribe Called Quest's 1990 track, "Description of a Fool."
The opening of "Braggin' & Boastin'" makes use of the infectious bassline from The Honey Drippers' "Impeach The President." The track, which contains an oft-sampled breakbeat, was released in the midst of the infamous Watergate Scandal.
The second sample on "Braggin' & Boastin'" is lifted from another oft-sampled track, The Headhunters' "God Made Me Funky."
The 1975 funk joint has been sampled in more than 250 tracks, including Satana's "Maria Maria," N.W.A's "Gangsta Gangsta," Eric B. & Rakim's "For The Listeners" and an array of other tracks by Digable Planets, De La Soul and Nas.
"Sounds of the Safari"
"Sounds of the Safari" finds DJ Sammy B constructing a sample-rich, emcee-free cut that flaunts the exotic sounds of the jungle over an array of sampled beats. It's the first of the two closing tracks dedicated to Sammy B's turntabling prowess.
The opening tag - "the Jungle Brothers, man" - is lifted from a different JB's track, lead single "Jimbrowski." Issued only in the US in 1987, the year prior to the LP release.
Like all singles from the project, it failed to chart in the United States, though four later singles - "Because I Got It Like That," "I'll House You," "Black Is Black" and "Straight Out The Jungle" - achieved success in the UK.
Though the sample conjures images of the titular safari, Harris was an American-born jazz saxophonist who enjoyed a long and productive solo career. He contributed much of the music to trailblazing sitcom, The Bill Cosby Show.
The foreign vocal grab at 0:10 - "Komo Sambe, Kong!" - is lifted from the intro to The Jimmy Castor Bunch's "King Kong." The track was included on their 1975 LP, Supersound. "Sounds of the Safari" later samples Castor's rhythmic grunting at 0:59 and throughout.
The Jimmy Castor Bunch are most famous for their 1972 hit, "It's Just Begun," an oft-sampled cut considered an early example of disco music.
The drums at 0:14 are courtesy of Icelandic disco outfit Gaz and their drummer Keith Forsey. It's sampled from the heart of their biggest hit, "Sing Sing," included on their one and only self-titled record, released in 1978.
The animal sounds that dominate the first minute are lifted from an old sound effects record, Sound Effects In Stereo, issued by NYC label Audio Fidelity Records. The sampled track can be found on side b, track 14: "Mourning Doves in Pet Shop."
DJ Sammy B makes use of another Audio Fidelity Records' sound effect at 0:36, taking from side b, track 13: "Chimps In Pet Shop." It's ironic that these 'wild' sounds are labelled as occurring within a pet shop, and strange to think that you'd find chimps in a pet shop in the first place.
This is the sole sample of the track, which hints at an esoteric record - the fact that it was released in '71 makes the find all the more impressive.
The bongo-heavy drum break laid over Gaz' ealier break at 1:25 is lifted from Jonny Pate's "Shaft in Africa (Addis)," a theme to the 1973 blaxploitation sequel. It's the third film in the Shaft chronology, and the first to feature music from Pate, a jazz bassist-turned-arranger.
The laughter at 1:33 and high-pitched scream at 2:01 are courtesy of a unique James Brown project. His vocals are lifted from "Unity (Part 6: World War 3)," a track included on his 1986 collaborative single with hip hop legend and Universal Zulu Nation founder Afrika Bambaataa.
The six-part single marked Brown's first collaboration with a hip hop act, and presaged his break-centric compilation by 2 years.
The high-pitched drums that take over from the Shaft break at 1:54 are lifted from Graham Central Station's "The Jam." The 1975 track was included on Ain't No 'Bout-A-Doubt It, the soul outfit's third album.
"Jimmy's Bonus Beat"
Sammy B closes out the album with another beat, this time featuring less vocal samples and lacking a theme. Interestingly, "Jimmy's Bonus Beat" has produced one of the more recognisable samples despite the fact it's almost entirely vocal-free.
The bonus instrumental included at the close features two brief samples from The Jungle Brothers' own "Jimbrowski." The scratching heavy-cut utilises two small phrases, "word up" and "don't front."
Interestingly, the "don't front" vocal grab was also sampled as the titular frame on Joey Badass' 2012 cut, "Don't Front."
Runnin' Through The Jungle
Though they'd already reissued the album in late '88, adding "I'll House You" to the tracklist, the group again tweaked the record in 1990, when they added "The Promo" to the first CD pressing of the LP. The group soon signed to Warner Brothers and released their sophomore album, Done by the Forces of Nature, a similarly acclaimed and significant effort. It found the group making the most of their newfound label, furnishing their sounds with enhanced technology and expanded vision. It too is considered a classic of hip hop's golden age.
The group pushed the envelope with their intended third album, Crazy Wisdom Masters, which was so experimental that Warner Brothers refused to release it. They instead issued J Beez wit the Remedy, a 1993 offering that suffered from label interference but still retained traces of the group's offbeat intentions. The group dissipated as the '90s rolled on, though their impact was felt beyond their own records.
The five years following Straight Out The Jungle would bring incredible success to the Native Tongues movement. Their fun-loving, egalitarian philosophy would play a vital role in some of alternative hip hop's most revered records: A Tribe Called Quest released one of the most critically acclaimed three-album runs in hip hop history, starting with 1990's People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythms and gaining more momentum with 1991's The Low End Theory and 1993's Midnight Marauders. Not to be outdone, De La Soul accomplished a similar feat, following up their critically acclaimed debut, 1989's 3 Feet High and Rising, with 1991's De La Soul Is Dead and 1993's Buhloone Mindstate.
The movement caught second wind as late affiliates began to come into their own in the late '90s - Mos Def notably released his Afrocentric, jazz-doused collaborative debut, Mos Def & Talib Kweli are Black Star, in 1998. The record was a swan song of sorts for Native Tongues: as it fizzled out amongst the onslaught of Diddy-helmed opulence, two rising stars of the alternative scene delivered perhaps the pithiest, most socially astute take on the '90s rap scene and the urban squalor from which it arose.
Though Jungle Brothers' lighthearted, empowering vision of hip hop never came to dominate the genre, it gave birth to one of the most artistically vibrant alternative scenes of the era. Whilst Straight Out The Jungle is a sparse listen, even when compared to other projects from the same year, the contention isn't in the technicalities as much as the attitude: Mike Gee, Sammy B and Afrika Baby Bam's contagious message still resonates today, a timeless reminder to lighten up and enjoy the now.