Straight Out the Jungle
The Jungle Brothers were always different. While most mid-’80s rappers were acting hard in an effort to claw their way to the top, the JBs were rapping about their genitalia. While the advent of the SP-1200 sampler led technologically savvy producers towards layers of sound, the JB's — core members Afrika Baby Bam and Mike G, with DJ Sammy B — looped tracks manually, often recording two turntables and a mic live onto tape. They didn't do anything that the rules of rap said they should, and that's why they were so dope.
The nucleus of the group met in 1985 at Manhattan's Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers. After talent shows at Bergtraum in ’85 and ’86, Brother J and Brooklyn B dropped out and Mike's Harlem neighbor Sammy B was brought in as DJ.
The two budding MCs would work on routines at night over the phone, and on weekends Afrika would travel to Harlem to visit Mike and hang out with Mike's famous uncle, DJ Red Alert. Red was a mentor to the group from day one, helping them with musical knowledge and giving them a view of the rap world that very few young pups ever got to see. He also got them exposure, playing a demo tape of theirs on his Kiss 98.7 show in 1986, a song called “Braggin'& Boastin',” which gave them instant five-borough notoriety.
Though they've released several albums since, Straight Out the Jungle still stands as the Jungle Brothers 'most important record — if not simply for the fact that they went against the grain and it paid off. Their rhymes were loose, fun and intelligent, and the sound was natural and infectious.
Brian Coleman's new book Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies (Villard / Random House) is out now. Website: www.checkthetech.com.
Straight Out the Jungle
Afrika: I had that beat first, I made a pause-tape of it at my father's house. That Bill Withers beat was out of my father's collection and the Mandrill horns were, too. We eventually looped it in the studio. The rhymes were written off of the Withers and Mandrill parts alone, then we used the Melle Mel sample to reinforce our own message. That's one of my favorite tracks.
What's Going On
Afrika: That originated in Tony D's studio. The beat for that was originally done by Mike from one of Red Alert's Ultimate Breaks & Beats records. I remember it had a pink label. Then we worked the rhymes over that, and used the Marvin Gaye stuff over top. That was one of the only songs that we ever used a drum machine on. We worked on that one really late at night. Tony D taught us about arranging songs, then we added some hi-hats off the drum machine to it.
Black Is Black (featuring Q-Tip)
Afrika: That song came from a track that Q-Tip had put together with Ali [Shaheed Muhammad, also from A Tribe Called Quest] on Ali's uncle's 4-track. That was the first demo that Q-Tip [a fellow Murry Bergtraum student] had presented to me with music and rhymes. The final lyrics were almost identical to the way we had it on that demo. We were consciously trying to show a more serious side on this and “What's Going On.” They were songs that meant a lot to us.
Afrika: The idea for that came at the end of a studio session, with me, Mike, Red Alert and a woman Red was dating at the time. Red was flirting with her and kept saying “Jimbrowski” the whole night. Mike and I wrote the rhymes on the way back from the subway.
I'm Gonna Do You
Afrika: We made that track about halfway through the full album. It was off a Meters 45 that Tony [D] pulled out. The bassline was on the flip side. I sped up the bassline, sampled it and played it up high for that keyboard part. With the lyrics, I was just sitting on the couch in my living room and I started to sing the chorus. I don't know where it came from. That song took us a couple weeks to finish.
I'll House You
Mike: That was produced by us and Todd Terry. It was another Todd Terry song, initially. They left us with the track and we wrote the lyrics to it, and did our mix version to it. At the time, we were getting into house music, and hitting all the house clubs.
Afrika: They were laughing at it at first, but it became our biggest hit of that time! We were just having fun with it. There used to be a house [music] show on Kiss after Red, so he'd always play that as his last song.
On the Run
Mike: We didn't mix that song right and then Red [Alert] played it on the radio one night. Man, that was so disappointing. It didn't really come off as strong as we had anticipated.
Afrika: That was complicated to make. Sugar Shaft from X-Clan used to cut up that break all the time. “Push Up,” by some rock band, I think. I looped it up like a machine-gun beat. The bassline was from “The Mexican” [by Babe Ruth]. Mike kicked the lyrics to me at first over the phone, when he was [living] in Lefrak [City in Queens]. He said: “I'm a Scooby Doo so I don't be late” and I was like: ‘Wow!”
Behind the Bush
Afrika: That was recorded on Valentine's Day, but we didn't even realize it until after we finished it. We triggered the beat up, and spent the whole night trying to match up Grover Washington's version of “Inner City Blues” with the beat.
Because I Got It Like That
Mike: That was our biggest hit off the album when it first came out. I think “Jimbrowski” was cool and it got everybody off, but “Because I Got It Like That” was the one that really rocked in the clubs.
Afrika: That Sly beat is just ridiculous! I got that out of Red's collection. Mike wasn't sure about that track at first, but I messed with it and got something nice. That was a track that was almost ready, we didn't have to do much to it. Q-Tip turned me onto Prince's Sign of the Times and that beginning singing part was written for Prince. I even fooled Mike at first into thinking that it was Prince's new song. I had the most fun on the album doing that song. And I guess maybe “I'll House You,” too.
Mike: We were still doing demos at Afrika's house when we did that one, and Red Alert took that one and played it on Kiss 98.
Afrika: The routines on that were already written and we were working them out over the phone, then we rehearsed them at my house. Sammy B used to love to cut up that Headhunters beat. That was the one routine that was done in the studio exactly like we had done it at the house. We recorded it live onto tape. It took three times until we got it all right together.
Sounds of the Safari
Afrika: That was the last jam we did for the album. I put that together using the “Sing Sing” beat and I used some jungle sound-effects that I got from Sugar Shaft. I just put together a jungle instrumental thing.
Jimmy's Bonus Beat
Afrika: That was me cutting on that. I also cut on “Because I Got It Like That” and “On the Run.” We had just gotten the “Jimbrowski” single pressed up and I just said: “Instead of some jungle sounds, I'll get some Jungle Brothers records and make a bonus beat.” So that song went on the b-side.