Hip-hop has well evolved into the bulky threads of the American popular culture mesh. There are those artists who have been inspired and influenced by the ascension of hip-hop as a dissenting voice from the underground to its current level of popularity and pompousness. And there are those that have helped foster its evolution. The Jungle Brothers fit in the latter category and have witnessed the amassment of hip-hop within MTV music videos, into the trends and vogues of the fashion world, the lingos and lifestyles of defiant, but “in-crowd” teenagers, as well as into the thick volume of commercials and ads we see in our quotidian life.
Now, it also infiltrates the video game world with the new PS2 game, Frequency, a DJ game on which the beats were made, among others, by some hip-hop artists, including the Jungle Brothers.
Members of the Native Tongues collective, the group is a pioneering, bohemian ensemble, engaged throughout their career in a more artistic than commercial drive, always with an avant-garde, experimental approach to hip-hop. They have forged new directions for the genre by being the first hip-hop act to record with a house music producer, one of the first to exalt the virtues of safe sex, and one of the first to get involved with British drum’n’bass.
Currently, they’ve been touring and putting finishing touches on their next album, You In My Hut Now. We caught up with Afrika to discuss their thoughts on the present hip-hop world.
OS: You’ve been making music since the 80’s. How do you see yourself as artists now?
JB: I think we’re more in tune with our creative ability. We’re more comfortable with collaborating with artists from many different backgrounds.
OS: You’ve had your differences with the industry, such as your break-up with Warner in ’95. What have you learned from dealing so many years with the big business?
JB: The music industry is like a big band you have to adapt your talent to. If you don’t ‘tune-in’ and find out what key the band’s playing in, you won’t find harmony.
OS: Let’s talk about Frequency a little. What did you make for the game and how would you describe the music you produced?
JB: We made a hip-hop-drum-and-bass style track called “What’s The Five 0.” The concept for the lyrics was to make them sound like how-to instructions for the game. We also added in some names of skateboard moves, which worked out nicely because we noticed that the game looked like you were riding through a tunnel.
OS: You’ve been considered a group thinking independently from the mainstream, sending out positive messages. What do you think about hip-hop’s current materialistic direction?
JB: It is hard for me as someone who respects hip-hop as an art form that came from the street, to accept it as a materialistic culture. I see it as hip-hop’s way of trying to promote itself as high prestige-commanding position in people’s minds. My concern is for the children. Let them use their own minds. The prestige should come from being creative, not from the material things that creativity affords you.
OS: Yes. And so hip-hop can be a powerful cultural and political tool. How do you use your art to profess your ideas or certain social messages?
JB: At times, when I discover truth, whether personal or universal, I get inspired to write it as poetry to express what the experience was like. Other times, I walk around the city and observe what’s going on and then start writing. That’s when the cultural and political influence comes in. When people can see themselves in the picture and find a solution to their situation, that’s when hip-hop becomes powerful. Ultimately, I enjoy having fun with music. Through it, I think people sense that they’re on a journey because music never stays in one place; it touches you, but you can’t touch it (laughs).
OS: You’ve traveled a good deal. How have people received you in Europe vs. in the United States?
JB: The reception has been good overall. In Europe, there are less categories; there’s pop and innovative dance music [among a few others]. In the U.S., there are many different genres. To get a good reception from a crowd, you have to know where your haven is. That’s why we get love from both sides of the Atlantic.
OS: What can we expect from the Jungle Brothers (and Native Tongues) in the future? Any work with De La Soul, Q-Tip or Phife, perhaps?
JB: We haven’t done anything together in about 5 years. What I can say is that there’s a lot of demand out there for the collective. [As for us], you can expect our new album, You In My Hut Now, to be released on our own label, Jungle Brothers Records!
Omar Sommereyns can be reached at SOASIS@aol.com