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Album Review

By the time the Jungle Brothers signed with Gee Street, there was a full decade between them and the days of artistic freedom and respect from critics and discerning hip-hop fans. Seeking a creative rebirth, they hooked up with British producer Alex Gifford of big beat dance group the Propellerheads — who'd actually sought out the J.Beez first to appear on their own album. The Jungle Brothers had embraced contemporary dance music right from the start, and their groundbreaking collaboration with Todd Terry, "I'll House You," gave them a lasting credibility in dance circles. The result of the team-up, V.I.P., pretty much gives up on appealing to the masses or the purists, instead setting their sights on dance-music fans who enjoy hip-hop as well. And if you aren't expecting a return to the sounds and attitudes of the J.Beez's glory years, V.I.P. is fun, funky, and infectious — a party record where everyone sounds like they're having a blast. They try a little of everything, making for a pretty eclectic mix: the slamming big beat title track, a straight-up house groove on "Get Down," the blues pastiche of "Playing for Keeps," gonzo experiments in "Party Goin' On" and "JBeez Rock the Dancehall," and some cheerfully over-the-top love-man schtick on "Sexy Body" and "Freakin' You." Plus, there are a few reminiscences of hip-hop back in the day and hints of techno and drum'n'bass sprinkled throughout. Truth be told, the Jungle Brothers were never the most virtuosic MCs in the Native Tongues, and their rhymes can sound a little simplistic here — not just because it's 2000, but they also tend to lay back when Gifford's grooves take over the show. Plus, a few cuts are a little too long, making V.I.P. a qualified success. But even so, it's still pretty difficult to resist.


Formed: 1986 in New York, NY

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

Although they predated the jazz-rap innovations of De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Digable Planets, the Jungle Brothers were never able to score with either rap fans or mainstream audiences, perhaps due to their embrace of a range of styles -- including house music, Afrocentric philosophy, a James Brown fixation, and of course, the use of jazz samples -- each of which has been the sole basis for the start-up of a rap act. Signed to a major label for 1989's Done by the Forces of Nature, the...
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