The Jungle Brothers were always the "other" Native Tongues group, never achieving the cult following of De La or the commercial success of A Tribe Called Quest. Some people would attribute it to the trio's (now a duo with DJ Sammy B ditched) creativity; their debut album included the infamous hip-house track 'I'll House You.' After some apparent shady dealings with Warner Brothers over their 3rd LP, the Brothers ditched that label and joined Gee Street, dropping the back-to-basics album 'Raw Deluxe.' Three years later, they come back with something a bit more interesting.
'V.I.P.' (the very important party) is not a typical album; a certain monthly Ruff Ryders pictorial reviewed it in their Alternatives section. Taking Alex Gifford (producer for The Propellorheads) and enlisting him to make them a "dance" album, Mike G and Afrika Baby Bam have made an incredibly unique record that almost sheds the label of hip-hop. Be warned: you won't find any clever punchlines, innovative messages or deep lyric-twisting concepts. The album is simply a load of dope beats and tight flows about having fun.
While this might sound boring to some, I find it to be a breath of fresh air: Afrika and Mike don't try to be battlers, storytellers, thugs, killers, pimps, scholars, smart guys, militant pro-black dudes or any of the countless other hip-hop archetypes. 'Down With the Jbeez,' featuring the Black Eyed Peas and lyrics from beatmeister Gifford, is about 9 minutes of rapping about nothing over the consistently excellent production of AG. The BPMs jump right up with 'Jbeez Rock The Dancehall,' showing the versatility of both the MCs and production. 'Playing For Keeps' has the two crooning over another fresh track, sounding ill and original.
Quite frankly, there isn't a weak track on 'V.I.P.' 'I Remember' has the boys reminiscing over the good old days, with a beat which'll be more accessible to hip-hop heads. The revisit of 'Raw Deluxe's 'Jungle Brothers (True Blue)' is one of my favourites, with the two MCs using incredibly tight flows over perhaps my favourite beat on 'V.I.P.' The song 'Early Morning' slows the tempo down, but the quality never slips as Gifford constructs another brilliant beat. While both of the rappers are solid, Alex Gifford takes 'V.I.P.' to a 9/10 - every track he contributes will have your head nodding, and they make Mike and Afrika sound great.
Whether 'V.I.P.' will go down in the history books next to the other Native Tongues classics is uncertain at best: the album will be judged by many as outside the boundaries of hip-hop, and unnecessarily slept-on for that reason. But if you can see what they are trying to do here, you'll appreciate this album; the Jbeez aim to rock the dancehall, and that they do.