Straight Out the Jungle: An Interview w/ Afrika Baby Bam
Afrika Baby Bam: Straight Out the Jungle to Organic Hip Hop
By Tony Muhammad
Afrika Baby Bam is a legend that needs to be recognized for his ground-breaking efforts within Hip-Hop music and culture. He is credited for coining the genre phrase “Native Tongues,” which encompasses the fun, witty, mischievous yet intelligent sounds of the likes of artists that emerged during Hip Hop’s golden era such as his group The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Black Sheep and the more known today The Roots, Common and the Chicago based All Natural. He is also credited for naming noted artists such as Q-Tip and The Beatnuts. Afrika along with his partner Mike G pioneered various innovations within Hip Hop, including the late 80s House-Rap fusion classic Girl, I’ll House You and various Drum’N’Bass oriented jams in more recent years. Currently, he is working on a solo project which is oriented to bringing back the zany, mischievous yet intelligent sounds that the Native Tongues have been known for yet at a much more high impacting “Parliament Funkadelic” oriented level. As an artist, he has also been spearheading an organic movement within Hip Hop with an anthem type song, ItalStew, featured in Urban America’s first ever Organic Hip Hop Compilation Album. He also hosted the entertainment portion of the first ever Organic Hip Hop Symposium at Florida International University Biscayne Bay Campus in 2004. He will be fulfilling this strong role at the 3rd Annual Organic Hip Hop Symposium on February 24th, again, at Florida International University Biscayne Bay Campus. UAN had the opportunity to speak to this Hip Hop mentor about his upcoming projects, the current state of the music industry and about the Organic Hip Hop Movement.
UAN: I’ve been informed that you’re currently working on a solo project. What direction are you taking with your new album? Generally, how would you describe the sound you’re bringing?
ABB: My new album is called "BABYBAM"! I open the album with a song called "The Mentor". The song answers the question "How do you stay successful as an artist in the entertainment business?" My new album is all about real Hip Hop with integrity. I don't beat you over the head with it. I'm not preachy. I say true things that are easy to understand and that will make you laugh at times. Most of my songs come listening to people when they talk to me. You'll enjoy it. I put samples of it up for you to check out at www.myspace.com/babybam1.
UAN: Musically, what direction do you feel the industry is headed towards right now?
ABB: Musically the industry is headed toward keeping things on a pop vibe in every genre. From RNB to Hip Hop to Reggae to Rock to Country, they’re promoted as pop music. The indies are the only labels creating new styles of music. The majors have a big mouth to feed called "shareholders" and they can't come up short of platinum with something that's not a self-seller.
UAN: I remember growing up and the news media stereotyping Hip Hop back then for being "violent" and "overly sexual" and so it would get very little air play. Interestingly, today there seems to be a huge lack of balance as to what is being marketed in the industry and it seems like Hip-Hop today is perpetuating what it was most criticized for back in the day. Would you consider what you are doing now out of a sense of mission to restore some balance in Hip-Hop?
ABB: There has been an imbalance for a while now. Musically "Hip Hop" in general has been about catching a vibe and doing what feels right. That could be bragging and boasting, battling, freestyling. Social commentary gave the art form balance but there are no rules and this is the entertainment business and people for the most part want to be entertained. Unfortunately that puts the craft back in the gutter but that's where the craft was born!
UAN: What other artists are you currently building with and on what level?
ABB: Aside from producing records for myself I've had the privilege of collaborating with Salam Remi. Salam Remi is a great producer and one of Hip Hop's seven wonders. I've also been building with Prince Paul the inventor of putting 1 minute skits on a record. Prince Paul is a prodigy when it comes to creating sounds with sampled music.
I will also be working with (spoken word artist) Kimani and (Drunk) Drew from Area 61 on TV and Film projects. I'm working with DJ 2nen to host mixtapes for the new Baby Bam album and a Golden Age mixtape that features classic Hip Hop jams from the Native Tongues Posse and many others.
UAN: I am aware of you plans for a "Baby Bam" clothing line. What are your plans with this?
ABB: For the clothing line I plan to do some creative things with camouflage for the urban jungle look I made popular in Hip Hop fashion. I'm also designing Baby Bam classic Hip Hop t-shirts.
UAN: What other goals are you looking to pursue in 2006?
ABB: Goals for 2006 are to release the new "Baby Bam" album and Jungle Brother album “Worldwide” on Jbeez/Baby Bam Records. I'm doing voice-overs for a cartoon coming out on Nickelodeon. I'm also currently developing a new artist named KIP for my label Baby Bam Records. 2oo6 is the year I establish myself as a business owner of Hip Hop culture. I will also be setting up a website for the label/clothing line with a blog to give my free advice to those who have questions about how to make it in the music business.
UAN: Reflecting on the concept of taking ownership of Hip Hop culture, you are currently getting ready to host the entertainment portion of the 3rd Annual Organic Hip Hop Symposium. How did this whole Organic Hip Hop movement begin for you, including the making of the song Ital Stew?
ABB: The movement and the song "ItalStew" began for me while I was in the studio. I've always had a foot in the matrix of the music business but I gave myself the opportunity to do something that was purely from me and not industry driven. I've tried many different directions in my career but I never forgot where I came from musically and that's what I used to create the song which led to the movement. The song basically says that today’s rap music is like eating fast food. It all taste the same and you can get sick from eating too much of it. Organic Hip Hop or Vegetarian Hip Hop is music that is meant to nourish and give you different flavors to enjoy like a home-cooked meal. It’s something you make from the heart when your mind is free to make something that's not just commercially driven. I simply invested money from the game back into the culture and that's righteous.
UAN: What are you looking forward to most with this year's Organic Hip Hop show?
ABB: I'm looking forward to seeing a very humble and generous soldier by the name of Brother J. We were born into the Hip Hop world together and even though our paths don't cross much we've always had a rock solid respect for each other and a similar sense of importance for what Hip Hop culture means in our lives. I had the honor of meeting him in high school and he's been my urban jungle brother ever since. Kimani from the Original Kings of Floetry has a similar spirit and to see them both standing in the same room would be an honor in of itself. With this year’s movement I expect the movement to nourish whoever attends. I hope we all gain something positive from it that inspires us all to do great things for Hip Hop.
UAN: Any final words?
ABB: I'd like to thank you Tony Muhammad for staying dedicated to being a real person with integrity and representing Hip Hop culture in the same way. Urban America is the only paper in the world that is committed to keeping Hip Hop out of the matrix and being truly supportive of the community. Stay positive and keep Hip Hop Fresh for 2006!
Afrika Baby Bam could be reached at BABYBAMJAMS@AOL.COM