Cue the late eighties club scene where The China Club and The Limelight catered to the young dance crowds of New York City.
It was in these hallowed former staples of NYC nightlife that the soon-to-be nightclub music mainstay of hip-hop was still a non-sequitur. Then a trio of artists challenge the DJ with a fusion of house music and hip hop called hip-house and the single, “I’ll House You.”
That trio was The Jungle Brothers, and their first album ‘Straight Out the Jungle,’ although an independently released commercial failure, yielded the single that landed them a deal with Warner Brothers Records.
However, the synergy of Mike Gee, Afrika Baby Bam and DJ Sammy B was infectious. It dissolved the hyper-individualized nature of hip-hop music into a communal offering that beckoned its adherents to follow.
Those adherents would be De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, who loosely formed the posse-like collective of the Native Tongues. This is before Robert “RZA” Diggs took the young artists from Staten Island and Brooklyn and formed the hip-hop super group Wu-Tang Clan.
(Native Tongues collective illustration, Image Credit: Amy Cinnamon Art)
No, this type of forward-think of groups gathering to create a super-thought collective was never seen before and heralded in an era of positivity that they proudly became the gatekeepers for.
While each group released singles and albums individually, the Afrocentric aura that fused them together spiritually felt fresh, evoking a playfulness that would soon be erased by gangsta rap.
Still, the albums by each group weaved a fabric of peace, love and nappy-ness that was Black Hippy well before Kendrick Lamar and his Top Dawg brethren appropriated that labeling.
Just break down the work, starting with De La Soul’s first album ‘3 Feet High and Rising’ which spawned the friendly sex request anthem of “Buddy” featuring the Jungle Brothers and ATCQ’s front man Q-Tip. “Me, Myself and I” featuring George Clinton still registers across R&B radio playlists and cookouts everywhere to this day.
ATCQ’s first offering of “People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths of Rhythm” yielded such gems as ‘Bonita Applebaum,’ ‘Can I Kick It,’ and ‘I left My Wallet In El Segundo.’ This classic was followed up by ‘The Low End Theory” and singles ‘Check The Rime’ and ‘Scenario’, which introduced the Native Tongues new-school additions, Leaders of The New School. Busta Rhymes verse on this song would be so classic it put the Caribbean-influenced MC on the map.
Other artists would join the movement as it progressed, including Queen Latifah, Monie Love, Chi Ali, Black Sheep, French artist Lucien Revolucien, Fu-Schnickens (which launched Shaquille O’Neal’s rap career with “What’s Up Doc” ) and initial Jungle Brothers mentor Kool DJ Red Alert.
In retrospect, after the years of hip hop going into the lyrical prowess respect mode of Nas, Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G. and Big Pun to today's unintelligible banter provided by Future and Young Thug, this movement was more than just progressive,
It was straight up revolutionary as no guns, drug peddling super powers or drug usage culture references were needed to make you respect their hustle and their masculinity or femininity.
(Movie Love, Photo Credit: VH1)
They did it their way and it was all youthfully black and outrageously fun. HBCU t-shirts and Kente cloth bespoke the reverence for everything of color and no materialistic mentions of Benz’s or Beamers made the cut.
They were all just ‘Buddies’ and like the 12-inch of the same non-plural name featuring the appropriately subtitled Native Tongue Decision, the group chose to be role models instead of lambasting the assumed obligation.