Thursday, May 24, 2007

Play Ya Like the Government and Give Ya What I Think Ya Want

Jungle Brothers - "Jungle Brother (True Blue)"

Jungle Brothers - "Black Man On Track"

Jungle Brothers - "Brain" featuring Black Thought

Jungle Brothers - "How Ya Want It We Got It (Native Tonuges remix)" featuring Q-Tip & De La Soul
Raw Deluxe, 1996

So awhile back I threatened ya'll with the possibility of a look at one of the J. Beez underappreciated later records (and the last one to not deserve underappreciation) and so here we are at 1997's Raw Deluxe. This was their last record as a trio, and came out at the tail end of the mid 90's attempt at a Native Tongues renaissance, which saw a more subdued and less fun sound come to the crew. Overall, it really didn't succeed. Ah well.

The thing about Raw Deluxe is that, while it isn't quite as much of an obvious departure from the classic Jungle Brothers sound as, say, 1993's bugged out J. Beez Wit the Remedy (I'm still heavy on the prowl for those original Crazy Wisdom Masters versions, by the way) in a way the '97 record is even more divergent because it's really a pretty standard rap album. Although that isn't necessarily a bad thing. To their credit, Mike G and Baby Bam still hadn't quite taken on the grumpiness of De La's Stakes Is High at this point, nor the... I dunno, whatever it was about Beats, Rhymes and Life that everyone didn't like. (I enjoyed both those records, so sue me.) As I'm writing this I'm finding it hard to pinpoint what it is that I really do like about this album--I mean, it doesn't have the creativity of their earlier shit, and it is darker than what we normally want from the J. Beez... but as I look over the tracklisting I just don't see a weak point. I genuinely enjoy every song, and that's something, ain't it?

"Jungle Brother (True Blue)" pretty much gained a second life for the crew in its many, many remixed-for-techno-clubs forms, getting them huge in the kind of crowds that I honestly couldn't care less about. (Not that this was anything new for them.) The album ends with the Stereo MC's mix, and I believe the real famous one was the Aphrodite mix, (which was apparently on the soundtrack to some shitty Marlon Wayans vehicle) but it's not my area of expertise (what up, Peet, help me out here!) so I could be wrong. For my money the original version is by far the strongest. What do you want from me, I'm a rap fan after all. Besides, it uses that "children grow and women produce etc etc" sample that we I love. The many remixes would go on to, I'm pretty sure, shoulder the blame for the J. Beez next couple albums, where they courted that particular fanbase way too damn much. But who knows, maybe it was the departure of the DJ, Sammy B, that made them 75% leave behind hip-hop. (We can hope that Mike G's appearance on one of Nas' excellent "Where Are They Now" remixes will do something good.)

"Black Man On Track" is, I think, a good example of the overall sound of the record. Kinda fun and catchy, but kinda dark and East Coast-ish at the same time. Some good horn samples (the record is full of those) and a certain undercurrent of frustration--quite likely due to not really having had a hit in the rap game since '89. Hmm, maybe I can't blame them for turning to the electronica-or-whatever club crowd, at least someone was feeling it. "Brain" is probably the album's most mellow moment, it's listed as "produced by The Roots" although I'm not entirely sure if that just means ?uestlove or what. It's got Thought on the hook though... um, singing, but that's ok, I guess. I'm pretty sure any regular reader is already clear on the fact that Elijah loves him some chill shit, so of course I like this one.

And then we come to, by far, my favorite moment amongst these twelve tracks. The little Native Tongues reunion may have ended up going nowhere, but at least we essentially got a "Doin' Our Own Dang" part two out of it, so that's something. I love this track. I seriously do. Roc Raida came through and brought a gritty-as-fuck beat, and somehow a bunch of guys who last rhymed together dancing around wearing neon colors fucking rocked that shit.

So yeah, Raw Deluxe is not Straight Out the Jungle, nor is it Done By the Forces of Nature, but it really is a solid record worth giving a real listen to. (Plus you can buy that shit for, like, three bucks now.) It's a darker sound, sure, but the fact is that the J. Beez can put together some great rap music when rap music is what they're trying to make. Here's hoping we can get them back someday. But, of course, I'm an unabashed Native Tongues stan, so what do I know?

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