By Reed Fischer
By Anna Gulbrandsen
By Jeff Gage
By Stacy Schwartz
By Natalie Gallagher
By Erik Thompson
By Jeff Gage
By Loren Green
Crazy Wisdom Masters
The Payback EP
PITY THE JUNGLE Brothers. After inaugurating the Native Tongues era, well before A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul came along, the JBs somehow managed to fall out of step with prevailing hip-hop culture. These days they get most of their props from ravers via collaborations with U.K. big-beat pros the Propellerheads and jump-up jungle mavens Aphrodite and Mickey Finn. Much of their legend with electronicats has to do with their late-'80s forays into house music. But fans of more obscurant experimentalism have always cherished the stylistically insane Crazy Wisdom Masters--a frequently bootlegged Great Lost Album, recorded for and rejected by Warner Bros., who forced the band to refurbish it for mass consumption as 1993's J. Beez wit the Remedy.
Now, thanks to the Brooklyn label Wordsound we can hear at least some of what made Jack Warner's minions blanch. The ten-inch Payback EP--credited to "the Crazy Wisdom Masters"--is revelatory. Created over two ganja-soaked years of studio activity, the sessions saw the original JB trio (Afrika Baby Bam, Mike G, and Sammy B) hook up with the mush-mouthed MC Torture (who would later change his name to Sensational and release 1997's lo-fi freakfest Loaded with Power.)
Many have speculated that Torture spiked the punch on the CWM sessions, though, to their credit, the dark, weird JBs were anything but staid traditionalists originally. The finished J. Beez wit the Remedy is hardly a work of market-savvy commercialism. Flipping from straightforward bounce to schizophrenic pastiche, the album confused fans and critics, bombed commercially, and effectively killed the Jungle Brothers' career. Fans of Remedy's bipolar shifts will find the consistently avant-garde originals on Payback disorientingly heady, willfully flippant, and chaotic in a way almost no rap has ever been. Rather than build a groove and rhyme over it, the JBs are obsessed with filling every available space with odd samples, crowd cheers, and bleating noises.
Though it may have a cleaner vocal mix, the dirtier, almost dublike track "Spittin' Wicked Randomness" is both more dense and more musical than the disorganized-noise version that made it onto Remedy, while "Ra Ra Kid" is a lightning-paced game of verbal double dutch. The standout here might be "For the Headz at Kompany Z," which features trilling piano, honking bass, and horror-movie organ that seem to be parodying trip-hop and the RZA years before either existed on the musical landscape. And in an age of puerile playas and indie-hop dabblers, it still sounds years ahead of its time.
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