Since their 1987 debut Straight Out the Jungle, New York's Jungle Brothers have been a driving force behind the positive hip-hop movement. Then, MCs Mike G and Afrika Baby Bam avoided the typical macho swagger of the time, favoring a laid-back Afrocentric style that earned them a place alongside Native Tongues rap acts De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest. The now-classic title track, along with "I'll House You" and "Jimbrowski," drew critical acclaim for punctuating positive rhymes with biting humor, as well as merging the seemingly disparate styles of house and hip hop. "I'll House You" is particularly noteworthy for launching the career of fellow Native Tongues rapper Q-Tip.
1988's follow-up, Done by the Forces of Nature, continued the pattern, merging elements of soul and house with funk and rock. Unfortunately, the duo's subsequent releases -- 1991's Crazy Wisdom Masters and 1993's JBeez With the Remedy -- took the idea too far, dropping the gritty samples of the past for a dance-friendly foundation.
But by 1997, the Jungle Brothers' flirtation with other musical styles had paid off. On Raw Deluxe, the duo incorporated jazz elements, resulting in a mix that's stylistically smooth and mature. "Black Man on Track" and "How You Want It We Got it" contain all the fun of the past, yet include warm and personal rhymes that were missing on earlier efforts. The Jungle Brothers are scheduled to release a new album in early May; titled V.I.P. and produced by the Propellerheads' Alex Gifford, it's rumored to include jungle and drum 'n' bass elements -- which isn't surprising, given the pair's constant striving to define hip hop's future.