This year’s most surprising comeback award will undoubtedly go to the Jungle Brothers. What seemed like an impossibility, after a ten-year slump from the crew, has become a reality, on the group’s fifth album V.I.P., with much thanks owed to a European fellow named Alex Gifford.
But before delving into the new Jungle Brothers album, it may be beneficial to first do a little homework, and Raw Deluxe isn’t the place to start. Surprisingly, nor is any other album from the JBeez. Instead, it’s recommended to first check out DecksDrumsAndRockNRoll by the Propellerheads , in order to get a better idea of what you’re about to embark on. Reason being is that Â½ of the “electronica” group, Alex Gifford, has produced this entire album, and much like the JBeez’ 1989 classic, Done By The Forces Of Nature, the majority of the hip-hop audience isn’t ready for it.
This album signifies both a return to the group’s roots, as well as a step in a new direction. Tracks like “I Remember”, “Early Morning” and “Strictly Dedicated” throwback to the early days of hip-hop, as well as the classic Native Tounge style, with an added electronic twist. Here, Gifford’s production is reminiscent of the mellow hip-hop vibes of yesteryear, yet additions of hard snares and sharp guitars buried beneath it give it a new edge. In the same sense, the album’s opener “V.I.P.”, uniquely freaks an I Dream Of Jeanie sample, with high-powered drum & bass, slyly disguising itself as simply some feel good hip-hop, when a closer listen reveals that Gifford’s production makes it something more.
These old school flavored tracks will keep the core audience happy, but what will really catch the attention of critics, the dance crowd, and possibly even the mainstream audience, will be the album’s more experimental tracks. The group’s potential break-out single, “Freakin’ You”, is an addictive surf jam, that actually features Afrika and Mike G singing, on what sounds like the lovechild of Smashmouth and Fatboy Slim. Other tracks that include the J.Beez toying with new styles include the bluesy journey down a lost highway, “Playing For Keeps”, as well as the return of hip-house on “Get Down”.
Yet, when bringing in someone like Gifford, not all is roses and sunshine. Some tracks tend to drag on almost too long (“Down With The JBeez”), while others get too experimental (“JBeez Rock The Dancehall”) and some are just plain corny (“Sexy Body”). But, while it’s no secret that the Jungle Brothers have never been considered among the “super-lyrical” variety of emcees, it is Gifford’s wonderful multi-layered production that really make this project stand out. Rather than simple two-finger keyboard beats, or repetitive sampled loops, his beats have change ups and breakdowns, and they breathe new life into a classic crew, making it enjoyable to listen to simple rhymes about block parties again. Don’t let Alex’s presence fool you, this isn’t “dance music”, or “electronica”, it’s hip-hop that pushes the boundaries, allowing new styles to stem from it. If after listening to this album you’re still afraid to realize that, just recognize this as good music, period.
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