Classic Albums: 'Done By the Forces Of Nature' by Jungle Brothers

Classic Albums: 'Done By the Forces Of Nature' by Jungle Brothers

Published Sat, April 23, 2022 at 5:00 PM EDT

The Jungle Brothers had forged a template in 1988. Not only for the rest of their comrades in the rapidly emerging Native Tongues collective, but for outside-the-box Hip-Hop artists everywhere.

But a lot had changed for the Jungle Brothers in the wake of Straight Out the Jungle. Perhaps most obviously, the album's critical acclaim had led to the group making the leap from the indie Warlock label to Warner Bros Records. That meant more eyes would be on what Mike Gee, Afrika "Baby Bam" and DJ Sammy B were doing this time around. And also; the Native Tongues had become a high-profile collective of stars. Most notably, De La Soul's 3 Feet High & Rising had made them household names, and the success of the posse cut "Buddy" and its famous music video pushed Native Tongues into the spotlight. Queen Latifah's early videos were also becoming fixtures on shows like Rap City and Yo! MTV Raps, so the Native Tongues crew was on a hot streak.

And with the move to a major label, the Jungle Brothers' second album would be a much more polished affair than Straight Out the Jungle. Once again, the group themselves handle the production, but it's easy to hear the heightened ambitions on Done By The Forces Of Nature. The J.B.s glide through styles and sounds, refining the genre-melding they'd hinted at on their acclaimed debut. The house flourishes from that album return here, as do unexpected textures like the guitar driven "Good Newz Comin'" (an excellent showcase for James Yarish) and dabble in bluesy spoken word with the jook joint-evoking boogie of "Kool Accordin' "2" a Jungle Brother."

This time around, these guys are showing you every trick in their arsenal.

"Beyond This World," the album's first single, made it clear where the J.B.'s were going. The song is Afrocentricity personified; delivered with the uniquely laid-back spirit the Bros had become known for. Flipping Soulsonic Force and Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, Mike Gee and Baby Bam bemoan the ignorance of the masses while championing enlightenment and positivity.

The pro-Black spirit that drives Done By The Forces... would also be an indicator of the more socio-political voice of Native Tongues; best evidenced in later albums from within the collective like One For All by Brand Nubian and Monie Love's Down to Earth. With Brand Nubian's debut, in particular, the group's Five Percenter leanings would be front-and-center; there isn't that same level of militancy on Done By The Forces..., but the J.B.'s messages are definitely culturally driven. "Acknowledge Your History" urges Black people to "look back into your past;" and the low thump of "Tribe Vibes" shouts-out similarly-themed acts and encourages connection to Black imagery and African culture.

But Done By The Forces Of Nature might also be the most danceable album in the Native Tongues' stellar oeuvre. Opening track "Feeling Alright" is an ultra-infectious anthem, one of the group's grooviest tracks; and "U Make Me Sweat" flips Zapp into a dancefloor anthem that would make the West Coast proud. But it's the single "What U Waitin' 4?" that is an undeniable dance classic. Breezing over the beat, Mike Gee and Baby Bam urge everybody to get on the floor and it's hard to resist the call.

For all their bohemian reputation, the Jungle Brothers are reliably carnal. Some of the best moments on ...NATURE implore the ladies to dance—or to get naked.

The J.B.s hadn't ever shied away from their freakier excursions. They'd guested on "J.I.M.M.Y.", the jokey condom anthem from Boogie Down Productions; and songs like "I'm Gonna Do You" [from Straight Out the Jungle] and even De La's "Buddy" belied a group with an ever-present playful horndogginess. And the Brothers bristled at the notion that there was something contradictory in their Afrocentric image and more libidinous songs like "Belly Dancin' Dina."

"Yeah, we’ve heard that: ‘How’d you do 'Girl, I’m Gonna Do You' and 'Black Woman?'" Afrika explained years later. "When we said we were going to do you, did we say we were going to pull your panties down, throw you up on a table.... and hit the coochie? Do you know what I mean? No we didn’t, but yet you buy that other shit where the guy’s going like: ‘you a bitch, come over here, you my ho, let me have my money...,' you know what I mean? You buy that, you don’t even test that. 'Cause you’re saying ‘he’s true to that, he’s going all the way—so there’s no contradiction.'

"But when I do a record and I say 'I’m going to do you,' in a sexual way, I’m not being explicit," he continued. "I’m being peace-ing. That’s how I do 'Black Woman' and '...I’m Gonna Do You.'"

Done By The Forces Of Nature would fare better commercially than Straight Out the Jungle, but the album wasn't a major success. However, what the album may not have seen in sales, it made up for in impact; both on the J.B.s and on their emerging contemporaries. The project was even better received critically than ...Jungle had been; with commentators praising the group's outlook, sampling and enriched musicality. The album also further solidified the Native Tongues as critical darlings, arriving a few months after 3 Feet High... and just before All Hail The Queen.

But it didn't see the visibility of those albums. Years later, Mike Gee explained why he felt things didn't work out with the Jungle Brothers on a major label. "Mostly it was our business structure," Mike told Davey D. "It wasn’t together. At that time we were still growing. We came off an indie label onto a major label and we didn’t get the money we thought we would. We really didn’t have anyone to guide us." And the situation strained Mike's relationship with his uncle, their manager at the time, DJ Red Alert. "There was a sour note when the Warner Brothers deal didn’t work out – but he’s my family. He didn’t get what he thought he was gonna get either."

When I do a record and I say 'I’m going to do you,' in a sexual way, I’m not being explicit. I’m being peace-ing..."

- Afrika Baby Bam, (1993)

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But they were landing some interesting opportunities.

They would contribute "I Get A Kick" to Red Hot + Blue, the first compilation for the AIDS nonprofit, the Red Hot Organization. And the Jungle Brothers were also producing. The satircal comedy Livin' Large would be released in 1991, the story of an ambitious Black news anchor in Atlanta who suddenly finds his career on the fast track, but is asked to compromise his sense of self and community.

Afrika would land a co-starring role in the film as Baker Moon, best friend to protagonist Dexter Jackson (played by Emmy-winner and soon-to-be Living Single actor T.C. Carson). And critics were impressed with the comedy. "Livin' Large is not exactly subtle, but it has the verve and the pacing of a nervy up-to-the-minute stage revue," wrote the New York Times in 1991. The film was a moderate success (particularly considering it was an indie film). The Michael Schultz-directed movie would open in theaters in the fall of 1991, and Jungle Brothers were prominently featured on the soundtrack. Doors were opening for the Jungle Brothers.

But DONE BY THE FORCES OF NATURE also represents something of an ending.

The Native Tongues would never feel as close, connected or as collaborative as they did in 1989. A Tribe Called Quest and Monie Love would both drop debuts in 1990, and Afrika did extensive production and programming work in Love's Down To Earth. But the J.B.'s never featured on a Tribe album, and wouldn't make another appearance on a De La Soul song. Other than 1996's "How Ya Want It We Got It (Native Tongues Remix)," tracks like "Doin' Our Own Dang" represent the last of that early, innocent Native Tongues camaraderie.

Eventually, the early togetherness would deteriorate completely. By the mid-1990s, the Native Tongues were only united in spirit. “I don’t think we all really got cool again until like four years ago,” Mike Gee told VIBE in 2007. “From ’96 to 2000, there was no real communication.”

At the end of the 1980s, the possibilities seemed infinite. It wasn't really about album sales, it was about cultural reach and an emerging community of creative Hip-Hop heads who'd put their own spin on pro-Blackness as a new decade dawned. And on Done By The Forces Of Nature, it's apparent why—even with all of the classic material that came from the Native Tongues—the J.B.s were the best representation of that collective's spirit and soul.

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