Having hip-hop drop in our inbox can be met with a shoulder shrug, but as soon as we put Jungle Brown’s Full Circle on, we knew this was a different beast and it soon became one of our favourite albums this year. On the band’s first tour we got to spend some time with the group and learnt that it was our lack of education that had led to our lack of interest, but with compassion the misfit trio taught us that hip-hop is more than music: it is about belonging and finding your place in life.
Although the group are now based in London the trio met in Bournemouth, so this was part homecoming-part normal tour date. Ric-Flo tells us how the trio have “known each other for half our lives… from Myspace days to now.” This led them into reminiscing about who had supported which acts early in their friendship in 2005. 13 years on you can feel the group as fresh as pre-pubescent teenagers as they head down memory lane; Jungle Brown is not their band, it’s their family.
It is at this point that the early murmurs of belonging start to float about the conversation. The band don’t comment about being from Bournemouth in general but tell us the exact districts where they grew up. It’s also where Ric-Flo tells of how he had to find himself in different ways. “I was fostered, so I was all over the place [in different placements in Bournemouth],” he tells us. The band express happiness about making a brief visit to where it all started but comment how when they were growing up “Bournemouth didn’t have a sound”. MAEAR puts it simply that as a youth with goals “you move to the energy” which Ric-Flo clarifies further, “you’ve got to either move to London or you have to elevate people’s aspirations from the town.” Unfortunately at that time none of them felt the town wanted to be elevated. They now have warm memories of Bournemouth and say they have noticed lots of changes.
“I genuinely thought I was 50 Cent when I was 15.” Tony Bones
Having grown up in a coastal town MAEAR feels that “some people ae raised in a sound” but he wasn’t, and neither were his band mates. Talking of their heritage and how they became the people and the musicians they are now, MAEAR doesn’t feel like this lack of ‘sound’ was negative for him as it’s created a diversity in his interests and when he and his band mates as youths found records that fitted them, they grabbed them with both hands. “I genuinely thought I was 50 Cent when I was 15,” recalls Tony.
At this point in the friends’ lives most of the time they were being spoon-fed from their homes and from the media around them, but these early influences shaped them. “I was raised on [rock music], but I make hip-hop beats. That’s what my dad raised me on,” says Tony. On a different end of the spectrum in a different part of Bournemouth, MAEAR’s family was “listening to Highlife [Ghanaian traditional music], but my brother was listening to hip-hop.” Fast forward all these years and as a band they are now signed to Mr Bongo (who have a long history in culturally important records). This is all due to their childhood influences and crafted skill.
It’s hard to gauge whether it’s the bar’s outdoor heat lamp emitting the red hues from the band or whether it’s a rouge of warmth thinking about days past. Without asking the band to pinpoint the exact times the first met each other as teens, Tony is most vocal about his journey as a young musician. “I met a guy in school who beatboxed and I was in awe,” he tells us. So like a malleable teen it wasn’t long before Tony had mastered the art too. Like most teens Tony and his future band mates hung on street corners and youth clubs and eventually on two separate occasions Tony ended up beatboxing for Ric and MAEAR to rap over. “Around that time someone recommended that I download [music production software] Fruityloops,” Tony explains, “so I did and here we are today.”
“Hip-hop helped a sense of identity when you live in a white town. It helped find familiarity in a world that feels unfamiliar, because everyone treats you unfamiliar.” MAEAR
Ric-Flo is very open about his heritage as child who grew up in foster care and in our conversation with the band the depth of the bonds between the members can be felt. MAEAR told us how “Hip-hop helped a sense of identity when you live in a white town. It helped find familiarity in a world that feels unfamiliar, because everyone treats you unfamiliar.” After the interview Ric personally told us how MAEAR’s words about identity in the interview had summed up thoughts of his that he had never managed to speak about. The words MAEAR spoke were a touching moment between friends. Ric “grew up in foster care… mainly living with white carers” and was a complete outsider to his culture stating that he remembers “one-time hearing [Irish musician} Daniel O’Donnell [at my placement].” Out of a lack of belonging Ric-Flo and his band found this to be an inspiration articulating that “the reason I took music so seriously was because none of these people spoke for me, so I needed to speak for myself.” With passion in his voice Ric wanted to make sure that we were clear about its importance to him, finishing by saying that “regardless of influence it’s more about belonging.”
“Full Circle is actually the same name as Flight 314…314 is Pi and so really Full Circle is an extension from Flight 314” MAEAR
Jungle Brown are on their second release with the recently dropped Full Circle three years after Flight 314. FC is on the legendary independent label Mr Bongo which the band didn’t take for granted nurturing it until it was ready for the larger audiences Mr Bongo allowed them to reach. “This is 2.0 in the sense of Full Circle,” reveals Ric-Flo. “We did have a Full Circle that we self-released, but this is souped-up having all the features [by other artists] and it has taken it to the next level. We just got better at the sonics.” It’s not only that the band kept refining their work until it was at the level that they felt reflected them best but also Jungle Brown was always a project with a plan. “Naturally we have an artistic way of doing things,” MAEAR tells us. When we comment that Flight 314 feels like a concept album MAEAR sheds light that the duo of albums is a ‘concept pair’ for want of a better phrase. “Full Circle is actually the same name as Flight 314…314 is Pi and so really Full Circle is an extension from Flight 314”, MAEAR reveals. “So, we took a Flight 314 and now we’ve arrived Full Circle.”
Aside from both releases to date being linked concept albums and the natural progression an artist takes through their career, the live arena taught them hope to shape their pieces further. “Catalyst for the hype was Glastonbury because we were playing after Lisa Mafia from So Solid and garage [is much higher tempo] and we [were anxious] taking it back to 95-100bpm” says Ric. “So that gave us the boost to make it more hype.” With clear goals to stay true to themselves whilst keeping relevant, Tony Bones as producer has a keen eye on diversity. “We’ve been branded as old school hip-hop a lot, so we always want to balance things out because that’s not all we listen to.” Although Tony is the least talkative of the trio he is an equally pivotal member and as producer often steers the sound of Jungle Brown the most. “Normally when I get to the studio I’ll have a certain sound in my head which I feel like generally we’re missing and I’ll think, ‘what haven’t we made yet’ and I’ll attack it from that approach.” Ric steps in to add further points about the creative process. “We’re quite quick. Within half a day at the studio, the skeleton of the tune is done.”
“If you don’t see yourself in society, tell your story unfiltered and that’s what hip-hop is.” Ric Flo
The hometown feeling had persuaded us to step in the opposite direction of any questions scribbled down and had also led to our interview finishing 5 minutes before stage time. We wanted to learn about what’s influencing the band but once again we went right back to the start which for Ric was Will Smith. “He was a household name, so I used to do him [at talent shows].” And for MAEAR: “The first time I properly dissected rap was Jay-Z, that was mine and I listened to it all day every day.” To finish our part interview, part seminar into the ethos, Ric sums it all up. “If you don’t see yourself in society, tell your story unfiltered and that’s what hip-hop is.”