Jungle Flavor: The Jungle Brothers
by Dove
~Sheepish Lordess of Chaos~

Email Dove

For the Jungle Brothers, rule 4080 has been cut and pasted to the front of their scrapbook. Their career has been marred with the agonies of poor business management, inattentive labels, and outright thievery of their art. After meeting in high school in Manhattan, Mike G, Afrika and Sammy B brightened the stage for several years with legendary Hip Hop, but seemed to later fade from the scene with little hope of a new dawn.
In 1987 the JBeez raised eyebrows and evoked smiles with the playful single "Jimbrowski", the first masterpiece from their debut album Straight Out The Jungle. Their manager at the time, DJ Red Alert, was encroaching upon his own superstardom at KISS FM in New York as he simultaneously worked with Mike G and Afrika on their career. He helped them attain moderate success in the U.S. with the classic "Girl I’ll House You", but it was their work overseas that brought critical acclaim to the group. Gee Street Records assisted in promotions overseas with the project, which was released on Warlock Records in the states.

Things heated up quickly for the Jungle Brothers as their worldwide fame became apparent. Warner Brothers Records rushed to their sides with a mouth-watering offer, and in 1990 the group released Done By The Forces Of Nature. The recording was the birthplace of the Native Tongues – the dynamic collaboration of De La Soul, Queen Latifah, Monie Love and A Tribe Called Quest. At that point it seemed as though the JBeez were in the limelight to stay. The early 90’s were full of change and growth in Hip Hop, and the Native Tongues seemed to encompass the essence of the era.

The group was immediately back in the studio recording, but after a couple months worth of work tragedy struck. Mike G explains the mystique behind the Crazy Wisdom Masters project with notable aggravation. "A lot of the songs on that are lost. We were mixing down that album and mysteriously the reels were just gone. A couple of months of work down the drain. There is a bootleg out on the internet now with a few of the songs," he explains.

Their 1993 release JBeez Wit The Remedy offered some moderate success with the single "40 Below Trooper", however it wasn’t enough to keep Warner Brothers happy. When Warner Brothers and the Jungle Brothers split, their future in the industry seemed uncertain. "We were in the studio constantly, but never had anyone telling the label what we were doing," says Mike G. "There were no internal beefs – we just didn’t know what to do. We laid a foundation but nobody really came checking for us – then like a year later you had cats like Wu Tang and Arrested Development coming out."

The reason behind their group’s problems is clear to Mike G. "Mostly it was our business structure. 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." Although DJ Red Alert was Mike’s uncle, they still spent some time second-guessing his motivations during their label drama. "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."

As far as the Native Tongues, Mike G admits that although a reunion would be nice, he realizes that everyone’s got new projects going on. He explains that on the whole they have all grown from their early setbacks as well as their successes. "I think everybody has a better relationship now. It was a great learning experience." So does he feel the JBeez got their just desserts from all the dues they paid? "Realistically?" Mike repeats the question quietly. "No. I think the peace of mind we have now helps. We’re not bitter, but we know we should have been in a different position than we are."

For a group that has toured the world, Mike G has a difficult time pinpointing his favorite places to play. As he speaks, more issues of their label’s unsupportive antics arise. "We’ve done so many crazy places. I think overall we like doing outdoor venues. We’ve done a lot of raves overseas and whatnot. Doing the Backstreet Boys tour we got to do arenas – the Georgia Dome was dope. We didn’t get much time – but 75,000 people screaming for you is intense. Our label said they wouldn’t remember our names – but they were chanting it," he laughs. "Our booking agency is owned by SFX (Backstreet Boys, N’sync). The label wasn’t with it because they said it was "teeny boppers" but we looked at it as new fans. The label didn’t support us for three-fourths of the tour. It took us sixteen shows to get them to even show up and watch us – and they still didn’t support us."

With regard to the stolen Crazy Wisdom Masters tracks on the net, Mike G says emphatically "I don’t initiate the conversation too much – but hell yeah! Go share ‘em! I’m not a big internet hater. It’s hard to see an artist’s work being put out and them not making money, but if it comes down to it I want to be heard"

Through all the professional heartache, the group has kept the concept of family and community at the forefront of their minds. Friends and associates of the Jungle Brothers, Chris Lighty (their manager) and Torture are not ‘official’ members, but they help to keep family vibe of the JBeez flowing. "We’re presently working with Todd Terry on a new album," says Mike G. "It’s a little more of that hardcore sound people want to hear from the Jbeez – more vibey."

Previous artists they worked with that made a definitive impression in Mike’s mind were Bootsy Collins and George Clinton. Bill Laswell was an inspiration to them during their recording of Crazy Wisdom Masters and JBeez Wit The Remedy. Having created with some of the greats in the industry, the Jungle Brothers have expanded their own abilities in what they can give to an audience. Their performances in 2001 are as vibrant as ever, and even their faces have retained youthful reflections.

Mike G describes his first influences and the changes he’s seen over the years in Hip Hop "Spoony G was my first favorite. Grandmaster Caz from the Cold Crush Brothers inspired me. It was inspiring seeing something new happen every day. The only think I’m disappointed with now is that {the music is} all in one direction. Like it’s all got to be so ‘street’ to be on. I love the productivity and the pace now though– I love it that they’re more business minded now." Mike is succinct as he explains the artists who move him in the new wave of Hip Hop. "Black Eyed Peas, Outkast……. and a couple of underground groups I’ve heard."

With a new single dropping this summer and a new album to be released in early fall, it is evident that the Jungle Brothers’ resilience is astounding. The JBeez’ sound has and always will be ahead of it’s time, so let’s hope the backpackers are tightening up their straps for original Hip Hop. Hopefully their sunny outlook on life will squelch the next shade the Jungle Brothers see in the industry, as they sip a glass of lemonade bling – too sweet from success to be bitter.

~Sheepish Lordess of Chaos~

For tour dates and other info - http://www.jbeez.com

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