Julian Cope presents Head Heritage

Crazy Wisdom Masters (aka the Jungle Brothers)
S/T EP (aka: The Payback EP)

Released 1999 on Wordsound/Black Hoodz
Reviewed by Joe Kenney, 31/03/2004ce

Here’s a release I’ve only recently discovered. Years ago I read about the unreleased Jungle Brothers LP “Crazy Wisdom Masters,” which had been recorded in 1992, but rejected by Warner Brothers, the group’s label. A reworked version of the album was eventually released, in 1993, entitled “J. Beez With the Remedy,” but I've never been able to find a bootleg of the original version. Then I found out that in 1999 the eclectic label Wordsound/Black Hoodz had released 4 tracks from the Crazy Wisdom Masters LP, on 10” vinyl only, under the name Crazy Wisdom Masters (no doubt to avoid lawsuits), with the title “The Payback EP.”

Citypages.com featured an article on the Jungle Brothers in 1997 that did a much better job providing the background to the Crazy Wisdom project than I could (you can read the whole article here: http://www.citypages.com/databank/18/854/article3420.asp), so I’m just going to do some lazy cutting and pasting:

“Their quest was to stretch hip hop farther than ever before. Immersed in Eastern philosophy, free-verse poetry, and the records of Miles Davis and Sun Ra, Afrika and Mike hooked up with jazz/funk/worldbeat/dub producer Bill Laswell and some P-Funk luminaries to create a document they originally called Crazy Wisdom Masters. Taking cues as much from free jazz and noise rock as old-school rap, the record was truly avante garde hip hop--more akin to the current cutting-edge beats of DJ Shadow, Tricky, and Dr. Octagon than anything at the time.

“Finally in 1993, after endless edits, cuts, and remixes by an outside producer, a paler version of Crazy Wisdom--renamed J. Beez Wit the Remedy--came out. It was still a fascinating record, and still far too jagged and difficult for popular tastes (which by then had swung decisively toward smooth West Coast gangsta-funk). No surprise, it sold dismally. But in the tradition of abandoned pop masterpieces like Brian Wilson's Smile or Pete Townshend's Lifehouse, the myth of a great lost hip hop classic had begun.”

There’s nothing in the world of hip hop to which you can compare these four tracks. Willfully experimental, avante-garde to a fault, and jam-packed with found sounds and chaotic noise, these songs would cause the average hip hop listener of today to scratch their head at the “bracing atonality." I can’t say these tracks were “ahead of their time,” because they STILL sound like no other hip hop song. The closest in sound I can think of would be New Kingdom, but they veered more toward a “heavy metal sampling” approach to rap. Some of Tricky’s stranger concoctions are similar, and DJ Spooky as well, but neither artist strives to stay as true to the hip hop beat as the Jungle Brothers. Because, no matter how weird these four songs are, the bass still shakes your subwoofer, and the beats crush.

“Battle Show” gets things rolling. Erratic noises and crowd cheers usher in this frantic, off-kilter roller coaster that can only barely be labeled “hip hop.” A hard breakbeat kicks in, accompanied by dub-heavy bass. These two instruments are all that hold this track together. As the three Jungle Brothers – Afrika, Mike, and new member Torture – begin to rap, found sounds, white noise, squealing instruments, and tons of other audio terrorism flood your speakers. It takes at least three listens to figure out what’s going on.

“Ra Ra Kid” follows, opening with another hectic bassline, accompanied by a very aggressive drum n’ bass-style breakbeat (again, this is from 1992??). It’s more coherent than “Battle Show,” but that’s not to say it’s more commercial. This track serves as a showcase for Torture, a rapper who joined the group prior to the recording of Crazy Wisdom Masters, but quit soon after, to record solo under the name Sensational. Torture spits out a frantic, mile-a-minute rap over more incoherent found sound sampling, with the chorus dropping into a strange sort of reggae. Of interest is that the soul diva “hey hey heyyyy” sample Massive Attack employed in “Unfinished Sympathy” is looped throughout the track. They also tag on a sped up bit from the infamous “Champ,” by the Mohawks, at the end.

Flip over the record, and “Spittin’ Wicked Randomness” opens the second side. This track actually made it onto “J. Beez with the Remedy,” but in altered form. This track makes “Battle Show” and “Ra Ra Kid” look like radio hits. The longest cut on the EP at just under 5 minutes, “Spittin Wicked” employs a ragged beat that hits hard and repetitively, a sped up cyclic tone, and more found sounds. The Jungle Brothers engage in a rapid-fire rap that’s muffled by the din. Once you’ve heard the track enough that you can figure out what they’re saying, you realize the lyrics on this are pretty funny.

“The Hedz at Kompany Z,” another track that made it onto “J. Beez with the Remedy” in a lesser form, finishes off this EP. This one’s just plain strange. It sounds like a Tricky B-side. Off-kilter, jarring piano accompanies another heavy breakbeat, with incoherent vocal snippets punctuating the noise. Further complimenting the creepy vibe, a horror movie-type organ joins in, as eventually do the Jbeez, screaming “The Hedz at Kompany Z” at the top of their lungs. It’s as weird as it sounds.

It’s hard to gauge how this album would’ve affected the rap world, had it been released. It probably would’ve been ignored and died an ignoble death, the same fate “J. Beez with the Remedy” suffered. But the Jungle Brothers were a more popular act in 1992 than they were in 1993. It’s possible this release might’ve engendered a creative growth in the hip hop community, something which has only recently sprouted. Today we have avante garde labels like Def Jux that turn out material nearly as experimental as this, but in the early ‘90s the rap world was about to dive into the G-funk of Snoop Dog and Tupac. Perhaps the time wasn’t right for Crazy Wisdom Masters, after all. It probably still isn’t.

Anyone who wants a challenging, rewarding listen should head over to http://www.wordsound.com/catalog/blackhoodz.html and order the Crazy Wisdom Masters Payback EP (not to be confused with the Truck Stop “Payback EP,” which is also offered on that site). The price is nice, and the sound will confound. A true Head will love it.

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