Perhaps because U.K. clubs and raves in the early ’90s were a hodgepodge of sounds, they were also the ideal settings for changing the course of dance music. One notable product was jungle, a fusion of breaks, hardcore, reggae, dub, and dancehall; it changed these scenes with an aggressive tone and faster (than previously standard) tempo. The style was a major break from the norm; it literally tore the mainstay four-on-the-floor stomp apart and scattered it into a syncopated fury. Unsurprisingly, jungle was as divisive as it was fascinating, lasting only a few years, from the early to mid-’90s, before mutating into several other styles and genres. Although jungle led directly to more internationally embraced forms like drum ‘n’ bass, its short lifespan makes the style’s vibrancy and importance easily forgettable.
Soul Jazz Records’ extensive Jamaican-music explorations finally arrive at the ’90s, and the label turns its attention to this oft-overlooked style. Rumble in the Jungle aims to present jungle’s roots rather than collect the genre’s greatest hits. As such, the compilation aspires to demonstrate the clash and appropriation of Jamaican popular music with the U.K.’s rainbow-coalition dance scene.
Rumble in the Jungle accomplishes this modestly by focusing its attention primarily on a couple of London-based sound systems, Saxon and Unity. Each of these cliques produced major pairs in the jungle world, Asha Senator and Smiley Culture (Saxon), and the Ragga Twins (Unity). Each duo produced its share of hits — Asha’s “One Bible” and the Twins’ “Ragga Trip,” both of which are included here — but was also important for establishing jungle’s distinctive characteristics. “One Bible” is a straightforward reading of roots-y toasting over a sped-up and choppy Amen break (a drum solo from the Winstons’ “Amen, Brother,” which is as central to jungle’s rhythmic foundation as James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” is to hip-hop) and booming, dipping bass. The Twins’ “Illegal Gunshot,” another track included here, reflects both Unity’s close relationship with King Jammy and an explicit tie to Jamaican aesthetics, with its heavy digital dancehall influence. These tracts/tracks inform the remainder of the compilation by outlining the tools available to each producer. Though the collection admittedly veers toward greatest-hits territory with staples like Barrington Levy’s remixed “Under Mi Sensi,” UK Apachi and Shy FX’s “Original Nuttah,” and DJ Zinc’s “Super Sharp Shooter,” the accompaniment with proto-jungle tracks provides a welcome context.
As usual, Soul Jazz tricks out the set with a richly colored booklet and liner notes, making Rumble in the Jungle a welcome primer for newbies and accoutrement for the headz. A bonus disc with original break sources — like the aforementioned Amen break, Eddie Bo’s “Hook and Sling,” and Melvin Bliss’ “Synthetic Substitution” — as well as more original dancehall tracks, like Levy’s “Here I Come” and “Under Mi Sensi” would have made the set perfect, but they’re not entirely necessary considering most of these tracks are available on other Soul Jazz releases. Rumble in the Jungle is an impressive step toward reevaluating a crucial moment in music history, and, most important, a much-needed redemption for fans of Ali G’s soundtrack. Booyakah!