"Junglist" was a 1996 Jungle track by English MC and producer Michael Alec Anthony West who, for this album, went by the name of Tribe of Issachar, but is more commonly referred to as Rebel MC or Congo Natty.
The song begins with the distinctively fast, kick-drum-less, break-beat sound characteristic of Jungle music, "a harsh and metallic, yet also danceable, groove that does not pound with the distinctive bass drum kick of most House/Techno". It is this sound, as well as palpable hip-hop influences, that set Jungle apart from other electronic music genres developing in the Acid House and Hardcore Dance scene of Britain in the late 80s; "if Hardcore Dance speeded up Techno, then Jungle took this speed and transformed it through applying it to hip-hop breakbeats", as well as through adding the definitive reggae and dub sounds whose deep sub-bass often provided the underpinning rhythm, commonly paired with an MC in the ragga style.
Jungle was birthed at the crossroads of various musical genres and, notably, the cultures which begot them. The creators of Jungle were influenced by the happy-sappy, ecstasy-popping Acid House ravers, the bold hip-hop rumbling assertively from across the Atlantic, and the mystical grooves of the reggae and dub from the West Indian immigrant communities who were at the vanguard of the sound.
The track begins with a distinctive sample- "Now before making records, the hood was my savior"- taken from the Underground Lord's "Tic Toc", one of the various samples used throughout the track which evidence its hip-hop influences. The cross-Atlantic influence on Jungle is an important example of the ongoing conversations between different strata of the African diaspora, with phrases such as "Too Black, Too Strong", sampled from Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise"- a reference to Malcolm X's "Message to the Grassroots" which highlights their shared identities as black beings in oppressive nations, grounding an affirmation of self-determination in the struggle for emancipation.
This empowerment is furthered by the monikers used in the video- such as Congo Natty as "Tribe of Issachar" and fellow Jungle producer Peter Bouncer "as Defending Souljah". Tribe of Issachar is a reference to The Twelve Tribes of Israel, a pillar of some schools of Rastafarianism, and the names used are evocative of the Rastafari spirituality underpinning the music.
It is this identity- the black and the spiritual- that separates Jungle music from other genres of the UK's rave era. The tenor of Rastafarianism set in the melancholy atmosphere of concrete London evokes a darkness that tangible in its foreboding sub-basslines. And it is no surprise that Jungle would not take up the carefree hedonistic tones of Acid House- for Jungle producers were not just ravers- they were largely second and third-generation immigrants from the West Indies, in an England beleaguered by both state oppression and nationalist, racist civilian movements, epitomized by groups such as the far-right, fascist British National Party, which was formed in 1982. Congo Natty points to these realities, and their inseparability from the music which he created: "Little did my [grandfather] know that his grandson is going to be growing up in a regime that hates him, that could literally brutalize him," he says. "Oppression manifested itself directly, overtly, with the police, the way they had the right just to stop and search us, throw us in the back of a police van, abuse us physically…We were victims of a regime."7
From this pain came Jungle's transcendent power. It was an affirmation of the Black-British identity of the Caribbean diasporic community, using the dynamism of electronic music to envision new futures, as described by as Kowdo Eshun who in 1998 wrote of Jungle as "the product of a new, post-human black identity, communicating 'paralinguistically from a future which today's media can't even begin to decrypt'". In the iridescent heart of Brixton, the cultural hub where Congo Natty was from, the bleakness of inner-city London both seeps into and is confronted by the music. And when the line sings out "I'm a Junglist", it is a call to a wider community of people carrying forward this vision of spirituality, freedom, and futurism, it is the power of the soundsystem.
"We were born in a soundsystem culture, and the soundsystem culture was about sound, word, and power." - Congo Natty