interview by Miguel D'Souza

MIGUEL: How long has it been since you first started recording? Your
history predates the first album doesn’t it?

AFRIKA: Right. So do you want to know when we started the first album or
this album?

M: I’m just backtracking a bit, you started some years before the first

A: The first album was out in ’88 and we were working on the first album
for about two years before...

M: Prior to that...

A: In 1986 we put out a 12" (Jimbrowski), we were still in high school
then, that’s how we met. We were getting together for a talent show, we
got discovered, and we got a chance to see Run DMC perform at the
Apollo. We gained the interest of DJ Red Alert, who put us in the
studio, a couple of studios, but we actually got that first single in
1986. But we were going to school, writing rhymes, entering school
talent shows and stuff like that. Staying in touch with each other until
we got into school and got to record some of our ideas.

M: How old were you all?

A: We were about 17,18.

M: What struck me about that record was that despite you were young and
this was your first album, the conscious lyrics on the album lacked the
naivete you might expect, the identity was stronger and more mature than
you might expect. Do you see that?

A: Oh definitely, with titles like What’s Going On, Black is Black we were
definitely trying to show a more serious side of the group when we did
songs like that. They were a good representation of what was going on at
the time. We didn’t really have to look for it, for what was going on,
it was like we had a knowledge of it from our upbringing, so we knew
what to write about, we didn’t have to look for material to write about,
we had it from our experience. A lot of people thought back then we were

M: Are you ever conscious of the fact that in reaching four albums you’re
something of a hip-hop rarity?

A: A lot of people don’t stay dedicated to what they do unless somebody’s
been paying them to do it, or they just give up. We’ve spread a good
vibe amongst people, people think back and remember good things about
us, we came along at good times, we brought good times. We didn’t bring
nothing negative and be something that we weren’t, we maintained our
integrity. That’s what’s kept us a good group to be with, to work with.

M: What sort of hurdles have you seen over the years?

A: A lot of business hurdles, a lot of mismanagement hurdles,
miscommunication, those type of things. The politics of the industry,
stuff like that.

M: Is the industry supportive of the sort of growing and maturity that any
group of young black American men, in this case you all, who are
producing albums? Is the industry supportive of black artists making
their way?

A: Generally, no. Just in general, lately it seems like unless there is a
negative message, unless a black male is portrayed as something as something
negative, they can’t get the proper time of day from the industry, radio,
video, whatever you have. That’s where a lot of the business comes from,
alot of the strategy in terms of resisting that. Some artists out here just
make it easily, if you listen to what they’re saying and what they support,
you wonder is it what they’re talking about. ‘cause I mean it’s like, they
get put on the radio just wonder.

M: It’s a machine now, younger artists get images constructed for them,
videos produced, on their first single they’re being touted as the next
big thing. A lot of the time the construction of their music is based on
one loop that’s catchy and that’s instantly recognizable and likely to
sell all around the world. To what extent is an artist like that being
compromised? It seems that the black music industry is in the 1990’s is
the only viable form of black capitalism there is, and it seem that in
capitalist America, capitalism has to be addressed with another form of
capitalism. I’m asking you this as a member of a well known hip-hop
collective and as a member of a successful, black hip-hop crew.

A: We came along at a time when rap was still socially conscious, and it
was new. So people were paying attention to it because it was rap, and
later for what kind of rap it was. That’s when capitalism, commercialism
and marketing agendas came into place. When that happened it opened a
new landscape for people who realised ‘we could be about anything’. And
get money. There was a mentality amongst people that now that this
commercial landscape was open, look at all this money on the table, laid
out, for whoever is rapping. Whereas back then, we were all doing this
and money didn’t come into play as frequently and on that large scale.
And when it did we were like ‘oh, well we’re already doing what we love
to do. Now you’re going to pay us, well, hey, cool. Now the mentality
is, because it’s commercially viable, everybody knows, ‘we supposed to
get this, we supposed to get that, you supposed to give me this, because
there’s a demand for this. And we’re the supply’. And it would be stupid
to go into a club and perform for free when there’s 20, 000 people
there, that want us to supply them with this live. It’d be stupid to
sign a record deal and give your songs away for a pair of sneakers or
fifty dollars or two hundred dollars, when there’s radio stations
devoted to this type of music twenty-four hours a day. And there’s
advertisers paying them hundreds and thousands and millions of dollars
to have their ads plugged, next to our songs. So now there’s artists
coming in, new and old, ‘saying this is what we do; let’s negotiate,
‘cause we have bargaining chip now’. On that platform, I say that it
should be no harder for somebody doing positive rap, it should be no
harder for a black man trying to carve out his portion of the market
doing something productive, and constructive and lyrically positive, it
should be no harder for him than for another black man who wants to
preach negativity or things of a negative mind-state. It shouldn’t be
harder, because it’s an open field and the people that’s putting out the
money, the record companies, the radio stations, the publishing
companies, the promoters, the ones that’s putting out the
is amoral, it’s just a tool. You can use a hammer to put a nail in the
ground, or you can use hammer to hit somebody over the head. It’s just a
tool. People with the money, whether they intended to or not, at one
point in time, put it behind a negative image of hip-hop. Blunt smoking,
gun-toting, thugs, they put it behind that. Then they tried to show on
the back-end that they were putting it back in the community or
whatever, but it still constributed to creating obstacles for the black
community. It still killed people, it still killed alot of people. At
one point I was feeling like, ‘damn! They’re just giving this money
away, almost on purpose!’. We don’t want genocide. They’re like, ‘we
always find a way of killing black people in their own communities,
before they reach ours, without us having to go into their communities’.
With alcohol, with smoke, with guns, and now we see that the pulse of
the people in black communities is music. So let’s exploit this. These
artists, innocent as they are, they know they want to do what they’re
doing, but they don’t know that there’s a hidden agenda behind their
exploitation of what they’re doing. So they’re like ‘OK, I know I’m
supposed to be getting this, so give me my money, so I can get my family
out’ the projects and this is what I’m going to say’. And the record
companies are like, ‘that’s it, that’s what we want you to say, we want
to market that. We want to market the ghetto, you’. He gets what he
wants, they get what they want, but then there’s a whole race of people
destroyed behind it. And it’s supposed to be all in fun.

M: That being said, what’s behind your lyrical content these days. The more
serious songs on Raw Deluxe, like Black Man on Track, Getting Money,
Handle My Business... there are the more fun songs on the record and
there are some funky tunes that stand up as an antidote to all that
pop-rap you hear, what’s informing your lyrics these days?

A: Just the circumstance we live in, what I’m reading, God, what’s true to
my heart. I just write what comes from my heart, I try not to emulate
what other artists are saying just because they’re hot now and they’re
selling records.

M: Does it help having seen other artists get ‘hot’ during your time and
then fall off completely?

A: Yep. It helps you know where to draw the line. The buck’s stopped here.
I’m not going to do that, I’m not going that far. I’ma just be who I
want to be.

M: Have you ever attracted any criticism for what you’ve done?

A: Criticism no, testing, yes!

M: Like what?

A: Just like, ‘what did you mean when you said this?’ Ummm, ‘you’re saying
this but you’re doing that?’, you know, ‘cause if you have serious
message, people expect you to live by it twenty-four-seven. So they’ll
pick you apart, they’re like, ‘you appear to be perfect, and I know I’m
not and I’m intimidated by that. So if I see you make a mistake, I’m
going to magnify that.’

M: But there is a tendency in hip-hop journalism to do that, to take things
out of context, especially in American journalism.

A: Really this is like an interview that’s definitive of the Jungle
Brother’s material, this is more definitive of Afrika’s mind-state. You
know what I’m saying? This is how I was raised, this is how I’m how
thinking when you listen to this interview, you’re finding out how the
writer who put Girl I’ll House You, which has nothing serious about it,
together, to Black Man On Track, you’re finding out how he’s thinking.
And how he comes off doing Girl I’ll House You and it’s still tasteful,
and how he does Black Man on Track, and it’s informative. The conclusion
that you would come up with is that this is a decent mannered person,

M: Rather like saying to you that Girl I’ll House You and Black Man On
Track don’t make sense together...

A: Yeah, we’ve heard that; ‘how’d you do Girl I’m Gonna Do You and Black
Woman? When we said we were going to do you, did we say we were going to
pull your panties down, throw you up on a table.... and hit the coochie?
Do you know what I mean? No we didn’t, but yet you buy that other shit
where the buy’s going like ‘you a bitch, come over here, you my ho, let
me have my money....’ you know what I mean? You buy that, you don’t even
test that. ‘cause you’re saying ‘he’s true to that’, he’s going all the
way so there’s no contradiction. But when I do a record and I say I’m
going to do you, in a sexual way, I’m not being explicit, I’m being
peace-ing, that’s how I do Black Woman and I’m Gonna Do You.

M: It’s all about money. it’s capitalism, you understand. They have to find
‘word’ products to drive home their agenda, so that they can get the
money. If you read The Source magazine, they’ve got to get ads, to pay
their bills. They have to find a word product, so tomorrow it’s
positivity, they have to get all the artists to group together and they
have to sell the word positivity. If the following day it’s ‘thug’, they
have to get all those artists and drive home the lifestyle of a thug, if
it was blunts, they’ve got to drive that home, to sell liquor ads for St
Ides, if it’s hip-hop, they got to drive the word hip-hop. It has
nothing to do with the mindstate of the artist. People here, are treated
as though they have short attention spans and they’re quick, impulsive
shoppers and there has to be one word, one image, in between all these
thought forms these artists have that sells the magazine ultimately. If
you want to read all the fine print to find out what Afrika’s really
thinking, or to find out what the Beatnuts are really thinking or this
group or Tupac, fine, but you’ve already bought the magazine and the
word hip-hop and fashion, ‘cause that’s what you’re going to get when
you buy the magazine. There’s more advertisements than anything in that
magazine. It’s the same thing in television, in radio, in video.

A: That being said, when you packaged and finished Raw Deluxe and it’s out
there, are you confident that the messages are the way you want them to
be, you’ve had the experience about what people want.

M: There was no worry. My only concern was that the group getting back in
the marketplace, getting back out there, ‘cause I knew the love was
there. Get the record out, come back out, do your thing, spread the
love, regardless of what’s going on right now, thug rap, gangsta rap,
whatever, get in. And tour, tour, tour, do what you got to do, to move
your influence among the people. Give the people who want Jungle
Brothers, Jungle Brothers. Give the people who remember Jungle Brothers,
Jungle Brothers. Give the people who don’t know Jungle Brothers, Jungle
Brothers. It’s all just the same, give it to ‘em, that was the mission,
just give it ‘em, give ‘em the flavour, Raw Deluxe. What really inspired
this album is that we came out to project true hip-hop values, by
maintaining our integrity, by writing as we always do and being exactly
who were are for this modern day. Us being a part of hip-hop history
inspires us to put this record out, tour behind it, do whatever we did.
When we do our live shows, we do songs from all four albums, politics is
ill, but that’s not everything. We don’t allow that to hold us back.

A: We’ve probably run out of time. Thank you very, very much for your time.

M: No Problem. Let me ask you a question, in a hip-hop market, don’t you
think they’d be able to tell the difference between Jungle Brothers and
a hardcore act like Gravediggaz?

A: I wonder that, but I believe in the idea that young people are
sophisticated consumers and despite the best efforts of the record
industry to manipulate their ideas about what is and what isn’t, I
believe the sincerity of the message gets through to them. But there’s
always the danger that, these days, there’s declining standards of literacy,
a lack of awareness of history, less power to express views, increasing
frustration, all of these albums are just going into the ether. I think we
are perpetuating a music industry to young people whose lives are nothing
like ours and so I wonder whether we’re all just chasing our tails. These
days, society has a short attention span, how many people are really listening
to albums? Commercial hip-hop acts are touted as singles acts....

M: One hit wonders....

A: It’s easier for them to cough up a Puff Daddy single that uses a Sting
track, than to try and work on that Puff Daddy double album, including
the mini-opera he’s working on. The distinctions between the music is
easy to see, but there isn’t that much depth in journalism, there isn’t
that much depth in the music industry’s information or education, there
isn’t that much depth in what young people are getting from education to
give them the skills...

M: If an audience is viewing a performance and they see a hardcore act get
on, and then they see a Native Tongue performance, you have die-hard
fans of hardcore hip-hop, you have die-hard fans of Native Tongues

A: I read something on the internet written by someone who purported to be
a Jungle Brothers fan describing J Beez Wit Da Remedy as a gangster
album. It’s all a matter of perception, we aren’t aware enough what sort
of market we’re putting our product into. I’m not aware enough of the
market who reads my work, and perhaps the industry isn’t aware enough of
the people or the contexts. You’re taking the product of the ghetto and
you’re marketing it to the ‘non-ghetto’, you’re marketing it to
middle-class kids, ghetto kids, Chinese kids, Australian kids, without
fundamentally understanding the idea of ‘context’. To me hip-hop can’t
be taken out of context, and yet in marketing hip-hop the way it is,
it’s deliberately taking it out of context. I don’t claim to be
necessarily correct...

M: I think America assumes that (people have short attention spans), but
don’t people see the distinction. We went on tour with M.O.P. when the
album came out, and people said ‘what are you doing on tour with M.O.P?
why are you on tour with M.O.P., a hardcore act, you all need to be out
here with De La and Tribe and you know what I mean?