'BABY' BAMBATAA of THE JUNGLE BROTHERS
interview by Miguel D'Souza
MIGUEL: How long has it been since you first started recording?
history predates the first album doesnt it?
AFRIKA: Right. So do you want to know when we started the first
M: Im just backtracking a bit, you started some years before
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, thats 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
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 Whats 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 didnt 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 didnt 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
something of a hip-hop rarity?
A: A lot of people dont stay dedicated to what they do
been paying them to do it, or they just give up. Weve 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 didnt bring
nothing negative and be something that we werent, we maintained our
integrity. Thats whats 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
group of young black American men, in this case you all, who are
producing albums? Is the industry supportive of black artists making
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 cant get the proper time of day from the industry, radio,
video, whatever you have. Thats 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 theyre saying and what they support,
you wonder is it what theyre talking about. cause I mean its
get put on the radio quick....you just wonder.
M: Its a machine now, younger artists get images constructed
videos produced, on their first single theyre being touted as the next
big thing. A lot of the time the construction of their music is based on
one loop thats catchy and thats instantly recognizable and likely
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 1990s 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. Im 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,
was new. So people were paying attention to it because it was rap, and
later for what kind of rap it was. Thats 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.
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 didnt come into play as frequently and on that large scale.
And when it did we were like oh, well were already doing what we love
to do. Now youre going to pay us, well, hey, cool. Now the mentality
is, because its commercially viable, everybody knows, we supposed
get this, we supposed to get that, you supposed to give me this, because
theres a demand for this. And were the supply. And it would
to go into a club and perform for free when theres 20, 000 people
there, that want us to supply them with this live. Itd 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 theres radio stations
devoted to this type of music twenty-four hours a day. And theres
advertisers paying them hundreds and thousands and millions of dollars
to have their ads plugged, next to our songs. So now theres artists
coming in, new and old, saying this is what we do; lets 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 shouldnt be
harder, because its an open field and the people thats putting out
money, the record companies, the radio stations, the publishing
companies, the promoters, the ones thats putting out the money....money
is amoral, its 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. Its 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! Theyre just giving this money
away, almost on purpose!. We dont want genocide. Theyre like,
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 lets exploit this. These
artists, innocent as they are, they know they want to do what theyre
doing, but they dont know that theres a hidden agenda behind their
exploitation of what theyre doing. So theyre like OK, I know
supposed to be getting this, so give me my money, so I can get my family
out the projects and this is what Im going to say. And the record
companies are like, thats it, thats what we want you to say,
to market that. We want to market the ghetto, you. He gets what he
wants, they get what they want, but then theres a whole race of people
destroyed behind it. And its supposed to be all in fun.
M: That being said, whats 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, whats informing your lyrics these days?
A: Just the circumstance we live in, what Im reading, God,
whats true to
my heart. I just write what comes from my heart, I try not to emulate
what other artists are saying just because theyre hot now and theyre
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 bucks
Im not going to do that, Im not going that far. Ima just be
want to be.
M: Have you ever attracted any criticism for what youve
A: Criticism no, testing, yes!
M: Like what?
A: Just like, what did you mean when you said this?
Ummm, youre saying
this but youre doing that?, you know, cause if you have serious
message, people expect you to live by it twenty-four-seven. So theyll
pick you apart, theyre like, you appear to be perfect, and I know
not and Im intimidated by that. So if I see you make a mistake, Im
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 thats definitive of
Brothers material, this is more definitive of Afrikas mind-state.
know what Im saying? This is how I was raised, this is how Im how
thinking when you listen to this interview, youre finding out how the
writer who put Girl Ill House You, which has nothing serious about it,
together, to Black Man On Track, youre finding out how hes thinking.
And how he comes off doing Girl Ill House You and its still tasteful,
and how he does Black Man on Track, and its 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 Ill House You and
Black Man On
Track dont make sense together...
A: Yeah, weve heard that; howd you do Girl
Im 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 didnt, but yet you buy that other shit
where the buys going like you a bitch, come over here, you my ho,
me have my money.... you know what I mean? You buy that, you dont
test that. cause youre saying hes true to that,
hes going all the
way so theres no contradiction. But when I do a record and I say Im
going to do you, in a sexual way, Im not being explicit, Im being
peace-ing, thats how I do Black Woman and Im Gonna Do You.
M: Its all about money. its 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, theyve got to get ads, to pay
their bills. They have to find a word product, so tomorrow its
positivity, they have to get all the artists to group together and they
have to sell the word positivity. If the following day its thug,
have to get all those artists and drive home the lifestyle of a thug, if
it was blunts, theyve got to drive that home, to sell liquor ads for St
Ides, if its 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 theyre 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 Afrikas really
thinking, or to find out what the Beatnuts are really thinking or this
group or Tupac, fine, but youve already bought the magazine and the
word hip-hop and fashion, cause thats what youre going to get
you buy the magazine. Theres more advertisements than anything in that
magazine. Its the same thing in television, in radio, in video.
A: That being said, when you packaged and finished Raw Deluxe
and its out
there, are you confident that the messages are the way you want them to
be, youve had the experience about what people want.
M: There was no worry. My only concern was that the group getting
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 whats 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 dont know Jungle Brothers, Jungle
Brothers. Its 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 thats not everything. We dont allow that to hold us back.
A: Weve 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,
think theyd 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
sophisticated consumers and despite the best efforts of the record
industry to manipulate their ideas about what is and what isnt, I
believe the sincerity of the message gets through to them. But theres
always the danger that, these days, theres 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 were 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: Its 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 hes working on. The distinctions between the music is
easy to see, but there isnt that much depth in journalism, there isnt
that much depth in the music industrys information or education, there
isnt 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
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
a Jungle Brothers fan describing J Beez Wit Da Remedy as a gangster
album. Its all a matter of perception, we arent aware enough what
of market were putting our product into. Im not aware enough of the
market who reads my work, and perhaps the industry isnt aware enough of
the people or the contexts. Youre taking the product of the ghetto and
youre marketing it to the non-ghetto, youre marketing
middle-class kids, ghetto kids, Chinese kids, Australian kids, without
fundamentally understanding the idea of context. To me hip-hop cant
be taken out of context, and yet in marketing hip-hop the way it is,
its deliberately taking it out of context. I dont claim to be
M: I think America assumes that (people have short attention
dont 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?