New York City rapper Mike G and friend Afrika (Nathaniel Hall) started the Jungle Brothers in the mid-1980s. The group's first album, Straight Out The Jungle, is acclaimed as a seminal hip-hop masterpiece. Their song "Jimbrowski" was one of the first rap songs advocating safe sex.
The JBeez, as the group eventually became known, followed up their debut album with a guest spot on De La Soul's Three Feet High and Rising (1989), another enduring hip-hop classic. The JBeez's second album, Done By The Forces Of Nature (1989), was the first attempt to blend hip-hop and house music.
The song "Girl I'll House You" was an international hit and set the Jungle Brothers onto a distinguished recording career that includes JBeez Wit Da Remedy (1995) and Raw Deluxe (1997).
In a telephone chat from his home in New York, Mike G talked about the difference between hip-hop parties then and now.
"The hip-hop scene wasn't what it is now," he said. "Hip-hop parties were more about the actual people. When you think about hip-hop now, you think about the artists. Back when I was growing up, it was more about the people. It was still break dancing friendly, electric boogie friendly and graffiti friendly. We still encompassed music from all different styles.
"That's what generated the jams, you know. Bob James. 'Funky Drummer' by James Brown. Roger Troutman and Zapp. That's what made up a DJ's crate in those days, those records. It wasn't necessarily the Run-DMCs and the LL Cool Js. That came right after that."
Mike G. was influenced most, he said, by rap pioneers such as The Cold Crush Brothers, the Treacherous Three, the Furious Five and the Jazzy Five MCs. "That's what made me fall totally in love with hip-hop. I"m still in love with hip-hop, but those are the artists who are closest to my heart."
The JBeez are enjoying a resurgence of interest due to their songs being discovered by a new generation through airplay on the MTV Jams and the VH-1 Soul cable channels.
Mike G. summed up the Jungle Brothers' career this way: "We may not have had the greatest record sales, but we have had an impact on the business, as far as crossing different genres with each other, house music, drum-and-bass and so forth. Those things are just as important as a Jay-Z or Master P, who actually took the music and the business to another level."
He dismissed recent talk about the formation of a Hip-Hop Hall of Fame to parallel the Rock Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
"Hip-hop is still young to a certain extent. There are still more artists to come before we can distinguish who should be in a hall of fame. I wouldn"t be surprised if something like that started now. But it can"t be judged who's bringing the most, or who sold the most records, but who stepped to the table and made a change in music and actually made some kind of impact."
Mike G. said that when the JBeez appeared on the scene, music, not business, was foremost in their minds, as contrasted with newer artists, who pay as much attention to the financial as the artistic.
"We weren't as sophisticated as we should have been," he said. "There were a lot of things that were overlooked because we were trying to keep our creative edge. In this business, if you don't have your business edge intact, it leaves your creative edge out in the open. I think we all had a good idea about the business but I don't think we knew how the business could help us."
If he could do it over, he said, "I would definitely have had two sets of lawyers to cross-read. I would have done a lot more reading on the business. I didn't do too much homework on the business, because we were focused on the music. And also put certain people around you who can keep a balance. At that time, we kept people around us who we trusted but weren't necessarily ready for the job." Mike G. attributed the longevity of the Native Tongues groups in general, and the JBeez in particular, to their love of the music and their personal friendships.
"In high school, myself and Af, we were friends and having fun with it and it led to what we're doing now. We created a strong friendship first, which helped us communicate with each other later. If you don"t have communication in business, it leads to problems later." These days, the JBeez play as many raves as they do hip-hop shows. While some hip-hop purists see a conflict in that, Mike G. sees a parallel between the two scenes.
"Raves are almost like traditional hip-hop events," he said. "It's a bunch of DJs, a limited amount of MCs and they"re putting the productions on themselves. There aren't as many club promoters or party promoters. It's usually a bunch of DJs trying to have a good time. They have love for hip-hop music, and they play a few hip-hop jams, but what really gets them bouncing through the night is the drum and bass."