Hip-Hop culture is ALL culture — permeating deep within every global nook and cranny — in areas like music, art, fashion, and dance. As the Baby Boomers and members of Gen X begin to mature into the class that makes up the over 65 demographic, we're coming to a point where most people grew up with Hip-Hop at least on their radar (whether they consumed it or not).
Yet, there are certain protectors of the culture that don't rightfully get the respect that they deserve — outside of a random Wikipedia-footnote — which lessons their brilliant careers to that of simple liner notes.
With the celebration of Black History month, it seems only apropos to awaken the collective consciousness about those who left Hip-Hop in a better place than they found it. But unlike those who dismissed the past, they built upon it with distinct homages.
Jungle Brothers are often celebrated like a a singular star in a solar system where planets take top billing — usually mentioned when discussing the heyday of Native Tongues. While their work alongside A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul (and later Queen Latifah and Black Sheep) was certainly noteworthy, their debut album, Straight Out the Jungle, deserves more recognition.
Mike Gee and Afrika Baby Bam met at Murry Bergtraum High School in Manhattan. Like other teens of the era, songs like Run-DMC's "Sucka MC's" and Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" had shown them a path forward where Hip-Hop wasn't merely consigned to Cold Crush Brothers' "party records."
The duo wouldn't meet until 10th grade when a talent show opportunity — alongside Brother J of the X-Clan —provided the foundation for what would become Jungle Brothers. Bam's name pays distance homage to the aforementioned Afrika Bambaataa — illustrating the core tenet of "each one, teach one" when building a culture with a strong foundation.
With the help of manager, Chris Lighty, and DJ Red Alert (Mike Gee's uncle), the group began creating the foundations for what would become their 1988 debut album. Bam wears the analog nature of their beat-making process like a badge of courage — touting the fact that Straight Out the Jungle was made completely on two turntables and a 16-track recorder. Today, technology has lowered Hip-Hop's barrier of entry. Whereas many music journalists from the so-called "Golden Age" have completely dismissed the "Soundcloud era," there is a similarity between Jungle Brothers' refusal to be impeded by the lack of studio-quality equipment. Hip-Hop isn't necessarily always about the why: the how is also equally as important too. Later, the influence of an early song like "J. Beez Comin' Through" can be distinctly heard on the Clipse's "When The Last Time" which solidified The Neptunes' new millennium sound.
1988 marked two distinct approaches to the idea of emerging from a problematic urban environment. While N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton remains s seminal work which explores the plight of marginalized Black and Brown people, Straight Out of the Jungle also remained committed to a similar approach — albeit over production that was more smoothed out like a hospital corner on a bed. The Q-Tip-assisted "Black is Black" covers everything from the Civil Rights Movement to being racially profiled. And yet, Jungle Brothers had a way of making the song feel like it was brimming with hope.
The term "criminally underrated" is often used when discussing a group who never reached the critical acclaim that their catalog would suggest. In the case of Jungle Brothers, they left an indelible mark on the culture with an album that influenced the who's who of East Coast rap like De La, Tribe, and The Roots.