I’m not going to beat around the bush—I’m not a hip-hop fan, never have been. So why do I find it impossible to pry the Jungle Brother’s V.I.P. out of my discman? Maybe it’s ‘cause these veterans straddle dance and hip-hop, or maybe it’s the really smart, incisive lyrics, or, hell, maybe it’s because the beats are so infectious and original that I can’t resist. The New York-based Jungle Brothers are pioneers too (which I always appreciate), being among the first hip-hop artists to sample from jazz and to integrate dance elements from house and drum’n'bass into their sound. They even beat A Tribe Called Quest to the punch with their forays into the jazz/rap hybrid.
There’s not a weak moment on V.I.P. and the album sells itself from the get-go, as on the deeply funky signature tune “V.I.P.” That beat-fest is followed by “I Remember,” which is nothing less than a reaction to the posturing, misogynism, and violence of the gangsta lifestyle and a somewhat wistful recollection of the last days of the hip-hop community in the inner cities, when it was truly about the music and the people. “I remember / When we usedsta play / Shoot ‘em up bang bang / MCs and DJs” and “Block parties packed / The first time I heard rap.” And as the Holmes Brothers rap, they “mixed book smarts with street smarts and then started battle rapping.”
That’s what it’s all about with the Jungle Brothers—book smarts and street smarts, indeed. V.I.P. is cerebral stuff that prooves hip-hop is a large tent with plenty of diversity of expression, despite the wish of some conservative media outlets to paint hip-hop as monochrome musical thuggery. V.I.P. may not change those closed minds and The Jungle Brothers may never find a huge audience with the fans of Billboard chart rap faves, but then music this smart isn’t really for the mainstream anyway. Non-hip-hop fans, put aside your pre-conceptions and give these guys a spin—you’ll be hooked and diggin’ up their back catalogue before you know it.
// Notes from the Road
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