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Straight Out the Jungle

Jungle Brothers

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Album Review

The landmark opening salvo from the Jungle Brothers, Straight out the Jungle was also the very first album from the Native Tongues posse, which would utterly transform hip-hop over the next few years. That alone would be enough to make it a groundbreaking release, but Straight out the Jungle also contains the musical seeds for a number of soon to be dominant trends. Their taste for jazzy horn samples helped kickstart the entire jazz-rap movement, and their concurrent James Brown fixation was one of the first to follow Eric B. & Rakim's lead. Plus, the group's groundbreaking collaboration with legendary house producer Todd Terry, "I'll House You," is also here; it paved the way for numerous hip-house hybrids that shot up the dance and pop charts over the next few years. The lyrics were often as cerebral as the music was adventurous and eclectic, appealing to the mind rather than the gut — and the fact that rap didn't necessarily have to sound as though it were straight off the streets was fairly revelatory at the time. "Black Is Black" and the title cut are some of the first flowerings of Afrocentric hip-hop, but the group isn't always so serious; "I'm Gonna Do You," "Behind the Bush," and the sly, classic "Jimbrowski" are all playfully sexy without descending into misogyny. To modern ears, Straight out the Jungle will likely sound somewhat dated — the raw, basement-level production is pretty rudimentary even compared to their second album, and makes the jazz-rap innovations a bit difficult to fully comprehend, plus the album ends on several throwaways. But it is possible to hear the roots of hip-hop's intellectual wing, not to mention a sense of fun and positivity that hearkened back to the music's earliest Sugar Hill days — and that's why Straight out the Jungle ultimately holds up.

Biography

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...
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