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The Jungle Brothers could never be accused of being narrow. If anything, the group has tried to do too much with its music, be too many things to too many people. Besides their early teaming with Terry, the Jungle Brothers have dabbled in trip-hop (on 1993's JBeez Wit Da Remedy), drums 'n' bass (the Urban Takeover remix of "Jungle Brother," which appeared originally on Raw Deluxe and shows up again on V.I.P.), and a range of other styles, including an album produced by avant-garde musician Bill Laswell (Crazy Wisdom Masters) that ended up being scrapped because they went too far out and never came back. Aside from Crazy Wisdom Masters, their pairing with Gifford would seem to be the Brothers' biggest experiment yet.
But surprisingly, V.I.P. is the most straightforward hip-hop record the group has delivered since its debut, all old-school beats and tag-team rhymes. Aside from one juvenile throwaway ("Sexy Body"), Afrika and Mike G reaffirm their reputation as two of hip-hop's most underrated MCs, their complex rhyme schemes flowing like found money as they take turns on the mike, bobbing and weaving around each other. It's the kind of upbeat party record hip-hop rarely produces anymore, with songs that rock as hard as anything on modern-rock radio. It's the kind of record the Brothers used to make with the Native Tongues, when it sounded like they were just goofing around with friends, doing what they wanted instead of what was expected of them.
Gifford deserves credit for, if nothing else, staying out of the way. His reputation in the British electronic-music scene really stands out only on "JBeez Rock the Dancehall," a furious blast of big-beat repetition and stuttering drums. But Afrika and Mike G's vocals sound so natural on the track, it doesn't feel out of place on the album. It sounds less like an electronic musician's take on hip-hop, and more like the Jungle Brothers' version of electronic music. Which, of course, is the point.
"When we deal with that music, we break it down to a level where we can understand it and we can flow over it, and it makes it more accessible and more understandable to people that's not generally into it," Afrika explains. "We've heard people say, 'Well, I wasn't into house music until I heard "I'll House You."' And we did some hip-hop festival in the Bay Area, and somebody was listening to 'Jungle Brother,' and they were like, 'I couldn't figure out this drum 'n' bass thing until I heard "Jungle Brother," the Urban Takeover remix.' That's the sign, you know what I'm saying, that the mission was accomplished.
"This is what the goal is: to take music that's forward and progressive, and make it understandable for people, so it can add more juice to music as a whole," he adds. "I think it's just a matter of perception. As we do more records and expand, we mean a lot of things to different people. You know, if you look at the mirror, you're just going to see yourself. But a purist is going to look at it one way, and an alternative cat is going to look at it another way. And they're going to see what they want to see in the group. I think it adds to it."
Still, Afrika doesn't expect everyone to understand. He realizes that the group's attempt to put electronic music and hip-hop together on the same song won't work for all people, even though the two genres are more similar than either side would like to believe. He admits even he doesn't get it all the time. All Afrika wants to do is keep trying new things, and as long as a few people are willing to give it a try with him, he's happy. He doesn't want everyone to be into both electronic music and hip-hop; he just wants them to be into the Jungle Brothers.
"I think we're the bridge," he says. "I don't know if people cross over it, but I know they get on it. When I go to a rave or when we go to those parties and stuff like that, I can't say that I'm into everything the DJ's dropping. It is hard for me to get into it. But when I start rapping over it or putting lyrics to it, I can keep an eye on certain things about it that I like, that I would want to pull out of it. I don't expect somebody who's into total, total hip-hop to just cross over that bridge and be a full drum 'n' bass head. We do expect them to come to Jungle Brothers and be like, 'Oh, this is some next-level music, and it's real, and it's ours.'"