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Handling Business

Jungle Brothers
Donald Christie

Speaking in Tongues: The Jungle Brothers

The Jungle Brothers return with 'Raw Deluxe'

By Nicky Baxter

A decade ago, the Jungle Brothers bumrushed hip-hop with a novel black-and-proud lexicon that fostered a new movement they dubbed Native Tongues. This loosely defined confederation of fellow travelers proved a welcome alternative to the meat-and-potatoes beats associated with the idiom. Their sound incorporated elements of jazz and old-school grooves that relied less on brute force than on boundless invention.

But then, apparently, record-label heads figured that by peddling black nihilism, they could make a bigger killing. Thus, the Jungle Brothers were, at least for a time, buried by drive-by rap. Their time has come again, however.

The Jungle Brothers' new album, Raw Deluxe (Gee Street), finds the Harlem-bred crew--mic men Afrika Baby Bambaata and Mike G., and turntable stylist "Sweet Daddy" Sammy B--returning to rhythms and grooves that drew the likes of De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Queen Latifah to the Native Tongues cause in the first place.

On Raw Deluxe, moods, messages and a variegated sonic palette are cleverly interwoven to produce a seamless, compelling whole. "Handle My Business" is quintessential Jungle Brothers. Windswept violins and heaven-bent harp are moored by plucky stand-up bass and appealingly klunky drums lifted from a '70s tune evoking a kind of surreal chamber jazz-hop. In less talented hands, this risky bit of business could come across as kitschy, but the Jungle Brothers pull it off with the confidence that comes with years of experience as sound-lab alchemists. The song's billowing strings are punctuated by Afrika and Mike B.'s flinty-eyed idealism.

From the outset, the Jungle Brothers have fancied themselves messengers to the black man and woman on the margin, admonishing fellow U.S.-born Africans to "keep your eyes on the prize." The new number "Black Man on Track" is similarly directed. Set against a frosty squiggle of synthesizers, seismically throbbing bass and tightly regimented cymbals and snare, the lyricists spit verses commemorating the historic Million Man March to Washington, D.C.

Not that the Jungle Brothers don't enjoy old-fashioned bragging sessions--a tradition that goes way back in black history. In fact, few troupes can talk this much trash and make you dance to their tune at the same time.

"Toe to Toe" boasts little more than a sproingy pulse and a gurgling guitar splinter that bobs from one side of the headphones to the other. It's a throw-away, really, but the tune's party ambiance complete with a infectious shout-along chorus makes this one an instant repeater.

Nor are the Jungle Brothers ashamed of flaunting their affinity for the old wave of rap forebears such as Grandmaster Flash and Afrika Bambaata. With its Soul Train-like female backgrounds and static-y turntable scratching, "Moving Along" sounds as if it could have been recorded back when Afros were still all the rage. A closer listen reveals a definitively '90s sensibility; the cushy keyboards and slo-mo mallet-on-gong are a dead giveaway that this is retro-rap.

Fans of Native Tongues will find appreciate "How Ya Want It." The track features the Jungle Brothers and De La Soul, with A Tribe Called Quest's leader Q Tip lending a helping verse or two. Musically this one is a bare-bones affair, just buzzing bass and an A-B-C simple drum pattern, allowing plenty of room for the lyricists to bust rhymes free of distraction.

Appropriately, Raw Deluxe ends where it began, with a remixed reprise of the jump-off track "Jungle Brother." Juiced up with bleating trumpet and dubwise bass, this version is brimming with rebel soul invention that strongly suggests the Jungle Brothers have been digging deep to uncover the manifold musical "tongues" the African Diaspora "speaks."

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