The Blue Print: Interview with Jungle Brothers about 'I'll House You'
Who better to kick off our BluePrint series than The Jungle Brothers. We talked to group-member Bam (better known as Baby-Bam) about the track 'I'll House You'. He told us all about the process of making the hit, his expectations at the time, and the legacy the track has left. The Jungle Brothers are an American Hip hop group originating from New York. They began to perform in the mid-1980's, releasing their debut 'Straight Out the Jungle' in 1988. The group made a name for themselves by laying down classic beats, matched with Afrocentric lyrics. They were the founding members of The Native Tongues Collective, and attended school with the members of A Tribe Called Quest.
One of the last tracks on their debut album was 'I'll House You' , in which The Jungle Brothers pioneered the fusion of House and Hip hop . The hit track made them the first Hip hop group to use a house-music producer (Todd Terry). The track is still played in clubs today, because of its endless flow and hard-hitting lyrics. What truly makes it such a great track is its originality, blending Hip-hop and House in a way no one had ever done before.
Above: The Music Video for 'I'll House You'
What are your memories of making the track itself?
Very clear memories! We were coming to the end of the Album, 'I'll House You' ended up being the last song we recorded. We went to the studio one day after school, we were only really going to see how things were going with the Album. The Sound Engineer randomly turned to us and asked ‘Do you guys wanna do a House Record?’. We just jumped right in and said yes. So then he walked in the Studio and put on Todd Terry’s ‘Royal House Party People’. I was familiar with the record already from being in House clubs. He played us a remix of ‘Can You Party?’,which I’d heard on the radio a couple of times. The second I told him I was familiar with the record he asked me if I’d do a vocal on top, I was like 'yeah!'.
Above: Todd Terry's Royal House - Can You Party (Club Mix)
What was the recording process like in the studio?
Back in those days we were quite old school, I would record straight from the turntables to the tape machine. The engineer wanted us to do the exact same thing with this tune. We put the record on and I was dancing around and managed to write the hook and my verse in like 20 minutes. I also made it my task to find some more records to cut in and to have some breakdowns. For us it was really important that the tune sounded like it was live, the sampling really helped with that. We wanted it to sound like a DJ made it. We had a booth with sliding windows, meaning we could talk between the different rooms. There were four speakers in the basement studio, meaning we could turn it up real loud. We just went in and were able to do it, we treated it as a live session. That is the way we have always worked as a group, the genre we play over isn’t the most important part. Instead for us it is all about finding space in music we like, space to put in killer vocals. To put it simply we brought a Hip-Hop attitude into a House record. We thought it would be really interesting to change things up and almost de-contextualise the song. Halfway through the album I was getting obsessed by hooks, it gave me a creative freedom. I didn’t have to write lines anymore, instead I would just lay them down.The amount of fluency that the track has is what sets it part. I was so happy that not one moment was wasted, in that song, not one thing overthought.
What influenced the Lyrics?
I was trying to play off the slang at the time. People used to say ‘I’ll House You’ in a defensive way, it sort of meant roughing someone up. I made it my task to Hip-hopitise the record, by throwing everything into it, whether it be scratches or breakbeats.
Above: The Artwork for The Jungle Brothers' Debut Album.
Merging House and Hip-hop was such a risk to take, were you confident it would be successful?
Todd Terry’s production already had the sample-trigger sound of Hip-Hop within his House records. Before he made House records, he produced Hip-Hop records. I think that is what made his record so easy to work with for us. It was the perfect record for us to do a vocal over, it was Breakbeat enough to feel like Hip-Hop. We didn’t want people to see it as a straight up House Record, but more a fusion of House and Hip-Hop. All the records around that time were solely House, we really wanted the vocal to blow people away. It’s like Run DMC’s 'Walk This Way', where you replace melody with hard-rap vocals. It felt like two musical wires ready to be touched, I think the fusion we created between House and Hip-Hop is quite stand alone, it isn’t often the case that two genres can merge so fluently.
Were there many people around you trying to create the same type of fusion?
I mean not around us. There were other House records in Chicago that featured rap vocals on them, but not commercially. When we went to the clubs playing House, the only vocal you would tend to hear would be gospel-based. A good example would be like hearing Martin Luther King vocals on the top of everything, or pretend preaching vocals. There just wasn’t anything around at the time that you could truly see as a merge between House and Hip-Hop. We really wanted to expose that space within the songs allowing us to put vocals in. It was a visceral thing, it was all so natural. It really is a record that champions instinct and viscerality. I never found myself overthinking the lyrics. We just went straight into the studio and were in symmetry. I directed the recording process through the vocal booth.
Above: Examples of Martin Luther King Vocals
You’ve said that this was one of those songs where you were able to just lay it straight down. Was this often the case when you recorded, or was it a one off?
The song came towards the end of the album. In the beginning we had stuff we’d practice at my house with the turntables, we also practised over the phone. We were still getting to know the people in the studio, as well as getting used to the recording process. We knew how to perform a lot of our songs, but we were still learning how to control it within the studio. By the time we got to the end of the album we all knew how to run the tape machine, being much more confident within the studio. Initially we would run everything by the sound engineer, but we eventually learnt the craft. By the time that song came around we knew how the whole process worked. We found ourselves being able to direct the songs on our own, meaning the recording process was matching the step writing creative process. We knew exactly when to punch in etc, meaning the timings really came into fruition. Once we had the recording process mastered, it was just a case of vibing and feeling it out. More than any of the other songs, we found that one the most fun. At the end I was a lot more comfortable, and found myself being able to fit melody within the rap.
How often do people remind you of that tune?
Every year! I’ll be somewhere and someone will come up to me. One thing people say more than anything is, “They still play that tecord in the club”. The real shock is that a lot of these people aren’t MCs but DJs, people in the dance world. The likes of Carl Cox, Eric Morillo, etc. still play it. That was my thing back then, we found words that rhyme and put melody onto it, all of a sudden it turns into a piece of music that transcends Hip-Hop, when it fuses with House.