I hesitate over how to begin this personal essay, not because my relationship with new skool jungle has been one of the love/hate variety – it has certainly seen lots of love and very little animosity – but because there arise a jumble of emotions when I turn my attention toward it, and the relationship has been one of ups and downs, and one that currently seems to spend most of its time in hibernation, though hibernations, in my experience, are often periods of preparatory dormancy after which a new growth pokes its head through the ground and reveals the creative transformations that were happening within, unbeknownst to their host, all along.
It began, I suppose, when I joined a yahoogroups list called the ‘ragga-jungle' list, where a group of fellow enthusiasts for old skool, 94-95 style jungle, gabbed away, traded ancient white label secrets, and generally came together to feed off of one another and collectively come up with new and inventive ways to resurrect and evolve the music we loved.
A few years later, the owner of that list decided to put it to rest, but the momentum it generated was not of a mind to follow the same fate, so a man who goes by the moniker of Rhygin picked up the torch and decided to turn it into a website, a site that quickly became and remains one of the foremost sites for new skool jungle on the internet. One of Rhygin's right hand men, The Archangel, is largely responsible for the continuance of that momentum, and is the one who attends to the majority of the troll-policing dirty work. If you're new to the music, or are familiar with the music but haven’t encountered the site, I suggest you give it a gander, though be duly warned, it can be an addiction easily succumbed to, and one from which it can be very difficult to extract yourself: www.ragga-jungle.com.
The site, if I recall correctly, started in 2002, and what happened shortly thereafter was nothing less than a microcosmic explosion of the rave scene that had sprung into existence ten years earlier in the United Kingdom, primarily in England. In quick succession, alliances were formed, crews were born, producers found their calling and, all of a sudden, labels were spun from the blunt-induced thoughts of legacy, dubplates were trading to and fro, junglettes were winding their big and little bottoms, the excitement was catching like wildfire in a Kansas corn field and, in 2003, North American jungle culture found itself teeming and thriving.
At the time, I was a rather outspoken and passionate virtual presence, and by dint of being so, I had the good fortune of making the acquaintance of and developing friendships with many of the major and minor players in the scene, enthusiastically collaborating with them to push this nebulous field of energy out in as many directions as possible – connecting artists with label owners, DJs with promoters, and most importantly, junglists with tunes they hadn't heard before. One of my guiding principles in my involvement was to try to be a kind and generous influence upon whomever I met (which isn't to say I didn't have my own share of heated conversations), so when the alliances began to erect their walls, and the territorial marking and subsequent bickering began, I, for the most part, maintained a friendly correspondence with at least one artist in each of the presiding camps.
At this point, I felt I was in a position to do something unique, both in terms of benefiting the community and leaving my mark on the history of the music. Two of my closest friends from college also had more than a marginal interest in the genre, one of them being a stellar jungle DJ and producer and, incidentally, the very man who had introduced me to jungle, so we decided to form our own label to help spread the art to a wider public, with the intention of releasing tunes from established artists and the moles of the underground alike, regardless of their affiliations, and focusing solely on the artistic merit of each piece of work. Thus was born 'Trinity Don Recordings.'
One of my partners had an acquaintance who was affiliated with a man that owned a pressing plant, so we utilized that resource to press our first record, which featured North Carolinian, The Archangel, and Canadian, Debaser, two of the leading representatives from each side of the North American divide, though we didn't give it any such thought at the time. As anyone who has pressed a record has probably experienced for themselves, we were plagued by unforeseen delays, and in the middle of the process, the guy who owned the pressing plant ended up closing shop and funneling his unfinished business to another plant in Canada, without, I might add, notifying his customers. To take the cake, he then left the country one night without paying the owner of the new plant the remainder of the money he had already collected for the pressings he asked her to finish. Luckily, we had only paid half the cost up front, and after some very frank and cordial conversations with the owner, she agreed to finish our project, for which the master plate had already been cut, for the second half of the previously negotiated cost – a rather unusual act of charity for a business owner from my perspective, and one which I think represents the general spirit of the movement. Unfortunately, the mastering hadn't been very well done, and as a result the records didn't live up to their promises of glory, but I still feel a mixture of humility and pride holding one in my hands, and hope that despite the less than ideal sound quality, they helped many a raver brock out in the wee hours of some dark, nameless hole in the wall.
Our second release was scheduled to feature emerging breakcore god, Enduser, and one of my favorite rising stars from my home state, Illicit, and the third to feature a still underrated talent from Germany, D.I.S., and the two heavyweights behind Mos Hi Recordings, Sumone and Jahba. After that, there were plans to add Ohioan 9mm to the roster, as well as Sixteenarmedjack, Taktik from New Zealand, Ripclaw from the Czech Republic, and a slew of others whose names begin to grow fuzzy when I try to probe that particular lobe of memory...our hopes were grand and our intentions were to achieve something along the scale of Suburban Base Recordings, but sadly the first record suffered abysmal sales, and after not being able to shift 500 units within two years, and under the resultant weight of waning interest, the label slowly fizzled out and that second release never came to fruition.
I wish I could say that the movement enjoyed a better fate, and that it was still as strong or even stronger today than in those formative years, but as occurred across the pond around 1996, the watering holes began drying up in 2006, the drama of warring vital organs poisoned the beast from within, and the new skool jungle culture took, not a major hit, but many minor ones that altogether cost it more than I think anyone can say.
Four years later, though largely a shadow of its former self, the culture is still alive, there's no doubt about that – the diehards and constant influx of newcomers and departure of wagonriders ensure its survival – but many of the artists and enthusiasts who were such a driving force behind the times have moved on to other styles and genres (myself included), the current state of the global economy has made releasing vinyl a more difficult flag to wave, and, to state an opinion that my instincts tell me I shouldn’t, I sense a lack of cohesiveness in the current scene than that which I felt in its earlier climate, a burning of disparate fires whose light reaches one another, but whose flames do not meet and light the night anew as though we with our hearts and heads together could make of ourselves a second sun.
This may not be a story where all ends well and every junglist finds his ideal junglette and they ride off into musical bliss, but I will end the tale on a positive note, a note of gratitude for the impact the experience has had and still has on my life – the direct insights into the creative abilities people can have and draw upon when they harbor a genuine love for their art and its audience, the opportunity to witness firsthand the ways in which small, homegrown communities can prosper and falter, and most importantly, the friendships it has allowed me to forge and lose and rebuild along the way.
And then, at the end of the day, when even those close-knit relationships fall away, we still have the relics of what happened to hold between our ears, both the painstakingly wrought and half-assedly slapped-together physical and digital objects of all that chaotic outpouring of emotion, the reason we congregated and did what we did and made our beds and laid in them: tunes, records, compact discs, mp3s – in a word, music, that aural angel of beauty whose song we love to use as fodder, as the precious and priceless key to our enjoyment of life as sensitive human beings endowed with the gift of hearing.
And when we enter one of our modes of reminiscence, wonderful things may happen; a microcosm of the microcosm might even make itself into a mix. And if, after you finish the mix and put your ear to the ground, you hear a small but steady murmur all too hauntingly familiar, you can lift up your head and nod and smile that smile that says you know it could all very well happen again, and that, if the notion of a ten year cycle holds any water, 2012 is just around the proverbial corner.
Rather than following my usual write-up format, I thought I'd try something different for this mix and say a little bit about each artist and/or tune since I happen to have met or known something about the majority of the ones included. Before I amble down that path though, I'd like to say a little about the ideology behind the mix, which as often happens with my ventures, has now turned into a series of new skool mixes, lest it feel an incomplete representation of the picture I'd like to proffer.
When I began gathering the tunes for it together, I simply meant to weave a few of my favorites from the era, but I soon sensed something larger taking shape, and subsequently came to realize it would take a good three or four mixes for me to feel content in letting the momentum generated come to a natural state of rest. Of those four, two will focus on ragga-jungle (of which this is the first), one will focus on non-ragga new skool, and the last will feature tunes that were in some way related to what I had hoped would become of 'Trinity Don Recorings.'
Looking back over the tracklist for the first mix, I noticed another pattern had asserted itself, though it wasn't intended at the time, in that there's nary a Canadian in sight on the first installment, whereas the tunes I've lined up for the second are, for the most part, all from members of the Maple Guard. And as one who likes to use nature's geometry as a springboard for his ruminations, this locale-driven pattern seemed as good a reason as any for stringing together a loose, metaphorical map of what I like to call old skool new skool.
Tykal - Mi Likkle Tin Pyan Sound
01 (0:00:00) Anima Sound System - From the A to the Z - Capitol - 2003
02 (0:03:58) Alk-E-D - Shine On Me (Remix) - Knite Force Again - 2003
03 (0:07:57) Illicit - Ain't No Sunshine - Ruffah Ras - 2006
04 (0:09:56) Sub, Erb & Kaos - So Much Trouble - 2002
05 (0:12:04) Baby Demo - Into the Jungle (Never Look Back) - Unreleased
06 (0:15:21) D.I.S. - Raggagangster - Unreleased
07 (0:18:59) Scottfro & Stada - Clean Living - Survival Story - 2007
08 (0:23:22) Herb LF ft. Sizzla - Taking Over (Jungle Remix) - Jungle Warriors - 2002
09 (0:27:06) Soundmurderer & Sk-1 ft. Wayne Lonesome - Whowanseekwar (Rewind Mix) - shockout - 2003
10 (0:31:39) Hattrixx - Heads Burst Rewind - Unreleased
11 (0:35:05) Lo-Key - Test the Champion - Lockdown - 2002
12 (0:38:25) EOSS - Wacko Macko Is Backo (DJ C's Babylon A Fall Mix) - Mashit - 2004
13 (0:42:32) Tuffist - Makesound - Unreleased
14 (0:46:17) Human - 'Murda' - Unreleased
15 (0:49:33) [Boss Daddy] Banger - Big Brown Eye - Unreleased
16 (0:52:25) Criminal Sound - Soundboys on the Floor - Unreleased
17 (0:55:27) Sumone - Summertime Bad Bwoy - Sprengstoff - 2005
18 (0:59:33) The Enemy - The Reign - 2003
19 (1:03:49) Nkogliaz - Serious - Unreleased
20 (1:06:40) Ripclaw - Runaway (Jungle Chainsaw Massacre VIP Mix) - Mos Hi - 2005
21 (1:10:27) 9mm & Paulie Walnuts - Money Well Spent - Unreleased
22 (1:13:29) Jacky Murda & RCola ft. Bass Nacho - Don't Wanna Run Up Inna Dat - Chopstick - 2003
01 Anima Sound System – We get started, not in the U.S., but in Hungary of all places, with a group that dabbles in an interesting blend of Hungarian folk and various styles of electronic music. I hadn't encountered them or this tune until a year or so ago, and I've never heard anyone else play it, but it's an extremely well executed example of what was happening in North America at the time it was released (2003), and makes me wonder what, if any, influence the movement had on them.
02 Alk-E-D – For the second tune, we stay on the other side of the Atlantic before skipping stateside, this time heading over to the Motherland, England, for a 2003 remix of a 1994 tune on the behemoth of a label, Kniteforce. I may be off-base, but I sense a hardcore breaks influence here, a movement which was burgeoning alongside new skool jungle amongst the 92-93 hardcore lovers in the UK. An O.G. at the controls, General Levy on the vox, and one bam-diddley of a bassline – need I say more?
03 Illicit – Kicking off the U.S. leg of the trip, we begin where I began, in my home state of Florida, with one of the more recent tunes on the mix. I fell in love with this guy's work from day one, and had hoped to release his tune 'Inspire' on my second release. That never happened, but fortunately other label owners (including himself) recognized that this was a talent that needed some airtime, and he's got more than a handful of releases to choose from: http://www.discogs.com/artist/Illicit+%283%29
04 Sub, Erb & Kaos – I don't know anything about these guys, or where they're from, but alongside the labels that were created for the distinct purpose of releasing NSJ (new skool jungle), several labels from the mainstream DnB circuit cashed in on the movement and released a record or two in the style. This seemed a promising bridge between the two, but the rift never quite closed, and I don't think it ever will. Nevertheless, some pretty great tunes came out of the cross-pollination, and this I would say is one of the better examples.
05 Baby Demo aka Babylon Demolitionist – Heading over to the pacific northwest, Seattle in particular, and in stark contrast to the guys above, I could say a lot about this guy, but I think he'll appreciate the simplicity of saying he's a mountain, inside and out, and one well worth climbing if you ever get an itch to delve into the Rasta side of the movement. I also realized while making the mix just how much attention he pays to the structure of his tunes, and in a land where mixable intros and outros seem to be a near mythical creature, this one's a deejay's wet dream.
06 D.I.S. – Taking a break from the U.S. circuit, we jump over the pond to Germany for one of the more irie tunes on the mix, featuring another artist whose work I've admired since the beginning and which I hoped to make part of my stable. Unfortunately not many of his tunes have seen the dark of vinyl, but if I had to pick a top 5 of NSJ artists, as a good guy with a good heart and great tunes, he would invariably be among them.
07 Scottfro & Stada – The only honorary Canadian on the mix, but a midwesterner by trade and one of the few I was fortunate enough to meet in person, Scottfro's another guy whose personality I sensed a natural affinity with, and whose production seemed wholly a product of his own creation rather than a borrowing of the influences around him - not that borrowing's a bad thing in a sample based music – but it takes a special person to blaze their own trail, and he's one of the few to have done it and done it well. Stada I saw perform in various constellations, first at the infamous Trilogy vs. JPK battle, and he never failed to rock the mic and always bought an upbeat, positive vibe to the dance that I for one appreciated, and which makes a good pairing with the energy of the producer on this fare.
08 Herb LF ft. Sizzla – Back over to Germany, here's a one-off that padded many a NSJ deejay's record bag in the mid 2000s. I don't know about other forms of electronic music, but white labels and obscure one-offs seem to have a special place in jungle, and this is one that deserves a permanent place in one’s rotation.
09 Soundmurderer & SK-1 – A Detroit dynamo, this duo does what the former’s name implies: murder. Most of the guys on this mix I would say are more on the underground side of NSJ, but these guys are far from it. One's an ex-owner of a DnB shop and has releases on Rephlex and Planet Mu, and the other is none other than Ghostly International star Dabrye. Their first and second releases are holy grails to many NSJ collectors, and have been known to easily fetch upwards of $100 on the open market.
10 Hattrixx – Keeping up the game of continental hop-scotch before we embark on an extended tour of the U.S., the series simply wouldn't be complete without this tune. A semi-yearly ragga-jungle.com production competition was instituted at one point, and this UK based master-producer stepped up out of nowhere and cleaned house. Then he came back the next year and did it again. I don't think he had much other involvement in the scene, but as good as those two efforts were, he didn't need to. He offers his services to others who'd like to fine-tune their production techniques, or who want to go into the studio with him, at any skill level, and make a tune. If I were ever in his neck of the woods and had the spare cash, I'd take him up on it: http://www.hattrixx.co.uk/
11 Lo-Key – Now that I think of it, this guy may be Canadian, and throw my whole scheme into the pit, but until recently I thought he was from the U.S., based on a conversation I had with Jacky Murda, who played a hand in making the record. Lo-Key only had two releases, and they both rank among the more highly sought after rarities from the early days of the scene. Last I heard he was somewhere in Hawaii, leaving his jungle past behind him. That may be wrong, but in any case, I remember the way my ears perked up when I first heard this on the radio, dialed up the studio, and scampered my ass down to Breakbeat Science to pick up a copy, and knowing how quickly it flew off the shelves (they were all gone a week later), I'm surely glad I did.
12 DJ C – Living in New York City, I didn't have much exposure to the Boston scene, but DJ C and his Mash It label made an impression on me ever since I went to the first record's release party (at which Soundmurderer killed it), so much so that I've kept close tabs on him and it ever since. He's another guy that, like Scottfro, wasn't afraid to bushwhack, and who, under his EOSS moniker, has been making experimental jungle in the U.S. since the mid-late 1990s.
13 Tuffist – Returning to my home base of NYC, Tuffist, alongside his longtime partner Human? (aka Pinnacle), was one of the key players responsible for my taking such a shine to ragga. I was never much of a party-going socialite, but I spent many a Monday evenings at Konkrete Jungle nodding my head to their selections, and many more smoke-filled nights blasting their tapes in Spanish Harlem. If memory serves me well, he's since migrated to Spain, and become part of the Chopstick Dubplate crew, but I'll always remember how he, as part of the Survival Crew, got my feet to dance despite my brain insisting otherwise.
14 Human? – Another NYC native, this one's tricky. Human's a hell of an MC, brings some of the most intense energy I've ever seen brought to the dance, and loves all things jungle (including the music from which it was born) so fiercely that I'd call him one of its most loyal ambassadors. He's also a damn good DJ and producer and is one of the few people I've met who can speak so passionately it’s all too easy to let him lead you into his world. And yet he's also the person with whom I've probably butted virtual heads the most, I guess in part because we both put so much of ourselves into our positions. We may not always have seen eye to eye online, but I always had a cordial, enjoyable experience while hanging out with him in person, and I'm a believer that one strong mind could often use another to keep it on its toes.
15 [Boss Daddy] Banger – An NYC transplant by way of Cleveland, Banger [dubbed Boss Daddy by yours truly], aka DJ Epic, is one of my closest friends and confidants and, as luck would have it, one of the most skilled jungle deejays I've ever seen work his magic at the decks. I probably wouldn't be into jungle if it weren't for him, and I certainly wouldn't have as keen or demanding an ear if it weren't for the countless hours we spent plowing our way through everything jungle had to offer. This one could easily be an essay in itself, but saving that for later, I'll just say that my experiences with him at Columbia University, The Urban Jungle Show on WKCR (89.9FM), and forming Trinity Don Recordings, are three of the highlights of my life for which I am utterly grateful.
16 Criminal Sound – Riding the rhythm upstate to Buffalo, we make a stop for a producer that I'm surprised didn't get more releases considering how well he infused oldskool elements into the new skool style. He may not have had many releases, but I know his dubplates made the rounds, and based on the always friendly conversations I had with him on soulseek, I bet I'd have spent plenty of time in his company if I had been located a little further north.
17 Sumone – Trekking out to the midwest, where a cluster of crews made a significant impact on the scene, our first stop is Sumone, a producer from Indiana who has since made quite a name for himself in the drumfunk world, and who I was fortunate enough to watch develop throughout various stages of his career. Alongside his partner Jahba, and some members of Illacrew from Colorado, he was part of the group behind Mos-Hi Recordings, and had a string of excellent ragga and non-ragga releases on the labels Jungle X, Mos-Hi, Sprengstoff, Zion's Gate, Mash and Black Track.
18 The Enemy – I know next to nothing about this guy except that he's part of the darkside DnB crew Evol Intent and that he hails from Atlanta, Georgia. One of those rare new skool gems released on otherwise DnB-oriented labels.
19 Nkogliaz – An Ohioan genius, unless you were a frequent visitor to the soulseek ragga jungle room during the heyday of NSJ, it's unlikely that this guy was on your radar, but he should have been, as he's one of the most technically skilled producers out there. Apart from the tempo, I'd hesitate to even classify his tunes as new skool, because they're just that good, and all you need to say about them is what they are, kick-ass jungle, plain and simple.
20 Ripclaw – Nearing the home stretch, we make a stop in the Czech Republic to visit Ripclaw, a name every self-respecting new skool junglist should be familiar with, a guy infamous for his rat-a-tat-tat staccato drumwork. He’s another one I would have liked to feature on Trinity Don, but luckily my favorite tune of his was picked up by Jahba for Mos-Hi and wasn’t denied the listening public, and thus he earns a spot as an honorary midwesterner since the label this tune appears on was based there.
21 9mm & Paulie Walnuts – Keeping it Ohio before the final uppercut, we have 9mm, generally a lone-wolf, and one half of Mad Dem Sound, Paulie Walnuts, both of whose beats were known to bash a soundboy to a lengthy dirt-nap. A short and sweet tune featuring some catchy soundclash vocals, and drumwork as heavy as your grandma’s Thanksgiving gravy.
22 Jacky Murda & RCola ft. Bass Nacho – Our final destination is back home, NYC, where Chopstick Dubplate had its base (in Brooklyn) during the majority of NSJ’s popularity. To be honest, I’m not much of a fan of their catalogue, but I can’t deny their dedication and output, and if nothing else, am forever indebted to them for making and releasing this tune, my personal pick as one of the anthems of the era, featuring one of the most inventive jungle MCs ever to grace the microphone.
I’ll start working on the next installment sometime in the next few days. It generally takes me a few weeks to a month to finish a mix, so you can expect it sometime around then. It’ll mostly feature the Canadians, and some of the more popular new skool artists like 16aj, Rhygin, Debaser, Tester etc.
On a parting note, while thinking over the experience some more, I’ve realized what a glaring lack of documentation there is on what happened with this music, so if any other of the people who were involved in it would like to write up their take on the movement, and need assistance doing so, I’d be glad to offer my editorial services for free. Who knows, there might even be a book in the making…