Playing for Keeps

The Jungle Brothers continue to chart new territory on their latest effort, V.I.P.

Artists like Tricky and Goldie profess to love hip-hop, but Tricky's recent attempt to cross over into rap, Juxtapose -- his collaboration with DJ Muggs and DMX producer Grease -- was an unmitigated and forced-sounding mess. Conversely, V.I.P. is a much more natural, even organic concoction, a signal that perhaps rappers should look to work in electronica rather than vice-versa. Afrika is pessimistic about that possibility as a result of long-standing perceptions about dance music as being primarily gay, white, suburban, unsoulful drug music.

"The hip-hop scene, it's more of a macho thing or a soulful thing," he says. "Yeah, there's drugs in it, but it's not like, 'You have to take this in order to listen to the music.' You start off in disco, the whole eurodisco sound -- that's a gay scene. Then you go over to house and that's a gay scene. Then you go over into the techno scene and that's even more gay and more heavy drugs and further and further away from the soul of the music that hip-hop [fans] are able to identify with. I'm not voicing my own prejudices -- that's the way I can see the differences."

The Jungle Brothers came up in an era of overtly positive groups as part of the Native Tongues posse, a loose-knit collective that also included De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Stetsasonic. When those groups were at the height of their fame, little was heard about those artists being busted for carrying guns or attempted murder, a trend which has become more and more prevalent in hip-hop circles. For Afrika, it's an unfortunate development and one that's obscured the positive aspects of the music. Is it that rappers are targets or are they careless?

"Personally, I view it as being careless," he says. "I know with success or when the spotlight is on you for the first time it's easy to be careless. Everything you do is scrutinized once it comes, and a lot of artists let their guards down at that point. They think everything is all love and everything is good. Or they become cynical and say, 'Everybody's after me, I gotta protect myself.' Or whatever they were doing before anybody knew them, they just continue to do it. If it's selling drugs or smoking drugs or hanging around that group of people, if they continue to do that while they're successful . . . they don't understand that it can hurt them.

"I'm shocked and suspicious of Puff Daddy after that last thing that happened. [Puffy was arrested in December on gun charges in relation to a nightclub shooting.] Every public wrong that he's been accused of, he's somehow managed to escape judgment. He's never been found guilty -- it's just been an accident or a case of wrong place at the wrong time -- he always comes out clean. But now, it's almost like, he's got a cloud over his head. Wherever he goes, it's raining. (Laughs) When they caught him in the club and he said he had nothing to do with it, I was like, 'Well, you seem to be around often when people are getting shot.'"

The Jungle Brothers'V.I.P. is set for release from V2 Records on Tuesday, March 7.

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