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Band of the Week: Jungle Brothers

Resident sound-nerd Tom Killingbeck thumbs through reams of musty vinyl so you don't have to. Here are his weekly recommendations...

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#4: Jungle Brothers



Who: Mike Gee, Afrika Baby Bam, DJ Sammy B.

When: 1980's-Present.

Where: USA.

Why: When it comes to thinking about the 'Daisy Age' of positive old school rap, the name De La Soul invariably pops up in people's heads, with the group's legendary LP '3 Feet High and Rising' synonymous with the bouncy, day-glo notion of 'hippie-hop'. Fewer seem to be acquainted with that other trio who pioneered the genre, the Jungle Brothers. Jungle Brothers pre-date De La Soul in being disputably the first hip-hop collective to heavily embrace jazz samples, filling their first record 'Straight Out The Jungle' with cuts from greats as diverse as The Headhunters, Grover Washington, Jr., Manu Dibango and Eddie Harris. As well as their affinity for jazz, the shear breadth of their code of reference was staggering, with post-disco oddballs Liquid Liquid, power-pop powerhouses Electric Light Orchestra and Muslim civil rights activist spiel poet Jalaluddin Mansur Nuriddin all struggling for prominence amid the mellow flows.

The far-out beats and rhymes of this first LP helped the trio accrue a cult following, and although sales were disappointing, Warner Bros. signed the band for sophomore effort 'Done By The Forces of Nature'. More excitingly artistically, the three became well known enough to form a coalition of artists in thrall to the Zulu Nation hip-hop of their hero Afrika Bambaataa. Christening the collective 'Native Tongues', De La Soul, Queen Latifah and A Tribe Called Quest all eventually pulled rank. The major label release of 'Done By The Forces of Nature' was a commercial failure, but a critical success, with collaborations with the burgeoning 'Native Tongues' bolstering a widescreen afrocentric treatise, incorporating a panoply of samples and overseen with fresh house production. This shaking of hands between house and hip-hop still echoes today, with the commercial chart side of rap and R&B infatuated with the sounds of continental dance.

More importantly, the politics and black positivism of the LP never feel righteous or dominating, as the multi-cultural sampling and invigorating, funky beats offer an innocent, danceable urban naturalism more palatable than the almost militant gospel of more hardcore groups cut from the same cloth such as Public Enemy. Creating African pop with a definite sense of the New York around it, the group's life-affirming, spiritual sound was as conscious as it was groovy, as street-wise as it was funky, and as thought-provoking as it was ass-shaking. What's more, rifling through their samples will invite you to a whole universe of afrocentric soul, funk and R&B. Too long have they lain in the shadow of those they influenced, so check them out.

Influences: Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, Marvin Gaye.

Influenced: OutKast, Mos Def, The Fugees, Jurassic 5.

Sample Lyric: 'No matter what size shape or colour / We can jam and enjoy each other'.

Which Record: Done By The Forces of Nature (Warner Bros. Records, 1988)

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