From DJs ringing club bass bins with the latest uptempo onslaught to TV sets pushing car commercials soundtracked by jungle's boogie, the driving percussive blast of drum & bass is everywhere. But for many e-heads, the largely instrumental din of drum & bass, or jungle, lacks the necessary vocal punch to make it an important part of their listening diet. Enter hip-hop, the other genre consuming all that is music and culture. But hip-hop beats have grown head-bobbingly tiresome and predictable.
It was only a matter of time before their two worlds collided -- the hyperactive throb of jungle (fat, warm bass tones over stripped-down, rapid-fire beats) with the rap MC -- yielding one of the more exciting pairings since, well, turntables and a microphone. While, the "new" sound has already made guest appearances on a number of high-profile, internationally released projects (BT's latest full-length, "Movement in Still Life," on Nettwerk, for one), many count Orlando as a major player in the new subgenre, thanks to forward-thinking individuals not afraid to tear down the walls between beat and breath.
But bringing the two together was no easy task, even for hip-hop lifer and studio rat Israel Vasquetelle, the Orlando-based producer of the first full-length recording of its kind: a drum & bass/hip-hop hybrid, "The Drastic Jungle Project."
The CD (and vinyl counter-part), released last month, is a shining example of how two very distinct styles can peacefully coexist -- on the same track, no less. The nationally released and K-Tel distributed "Drastic Jungle" features globally respected underground MCs like Kool Keith and Zion I, who join forces with producers and remixers to build a bridge connecting hip-hop's egocentric flow with jungle's fever-pitched, high-energy attack.
The Orlando influence is heard immediately. The album's potent lead-off track is provided by local drum & bass guru Jeffee, who's been a staple of the club and studio scene for years.
"I was the first jungle DJ in the U.S. to put the two together in a major way," says Jeffee, who released his own drum & bass mix CD, "Junglized," earlier this year (with toasting by former Orlandoan TX Ranger), and is planning to release "The Big Showdown" (Future Music) in February, a "battle" record that will showcase the talents of MC Collaborator, another local.
Also adding local impact to the project is a track by Poinciana-based MC/producer Cold Shoulder, who stepped into the jungle with the 418Hz mix of "Insane (Mad Different)." And one-half of Regulation Status ("Blue Beard's Dreams") is Kissimmee's own DJ/producer D128. But the local connects don't stop there. New Jersey-based producer/remixer Kingsize is Jeffee's brother.
Vasquetelle, who has for years hosted a weekly hip-hop radio program ("Drastic Radio") on college radio station WPRK-FM (91.5), publishes the quarterly hip-hop trade magazine Insomnia and runs his own record label of the same name. Known as a hip-hop diehard, the 31-year-old, born and raised in New York, has been recording and producing hip-hop tracks since the age of 15. For Drastic Jungle, Vasquetelle cashed in on his endless industry networking to pull together the innovative project -- hopefully one that could spell financial success for the hip-hop entrepreneur. Vasquetelle is banking on the fact that the only reason MC-led jungle hasn't taken off yet is that jungle is king in the U.K., and U.K. rappers don't have the same feel as American rappers.
"When I heard drum & bass, I thought it was just basically sped-up hip-hop, it kinda had the same feel," says Vasquetelle. "I heard elements that reminded me of hip-hop -- and I heard elements of jungle I didn't like, like the constant repetition. That's why I wanted to integrate some of the format of hip-hop -- cut `the beat` down to a reasonable amount of time, four or five minutes at the most -- and then you add the lyrical element, which is what I felt was missing with drum & bass."
Vasquetelle not only supervised the "Drastic Jungle" compilation, but also acted as track producer and performer (as Wizone) on two of the album's more high-profile cuts: Ming & FS's remix of Wizone & Kool Keith's "Dissect the Style," and Kingsize's remix of Wizone featuring Jeru's "Microphone Memoirs."
The hardest part for Vasquetelle was getting junglists to think hip-hop. They like their tracks long and "they like a dominant beat," which forced him to keep asking for the vocals to be elevated. "They weren't too happy with me."
"The hip-hop guys are coming over to jungle more than jungle coming over to hip-hop," agrees Jeffee. "I happen to be the exception -- I've been molding the two together since forever." "Everywhere I play -- which lately has been all over the U.S., from New York City to Alabama to North Carolina to Miami -- I'm the only DJ spinning this kind of hip-hop/jungle mix," says Jeffee. "`New York-based DJ duo` Ming & FS obviously spin both styles, but they keep the hip-hop separate from the jungle in their sets."
On the retail front, there has been some activity. In 1998, d&b deity Roni Size coughed up a pair of remixes of Method Man's "Judgment Day." Around the same time, legendary KRS-One was guesting on Goldie's jungle club hit "Digital." For Future Loop Foundation's latest release, "The Middle of Nowhere" (Liquid Records), they joined forces with U.K. MC D-Flava, creating a barnburner of a live record, another industry first.
Almost simultaneously, DJ LTJ Bukem was dishing out "Progression Sessions" (Good Looking Records), a twisting, twirling tornado of a CD that melds steely drum & bass grooves with the microphone talents of MC Conrad and DRS.
But the vibe at the clubs is the real test and Jeffee is feeling it. "The crowds have been going wild, singing along louder than the music itself," he says. Still, at its root, the music is hip-hop, because, as Vasquetelle says, "that's what hip-hop is -- music taken from little snippets of everything."