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The Boston Phoenix Jump-Up

The junglist hop of Aphrodite

By Alex Pappademas

DECEMBER 7, 1999:  White British jungle brother Aphrodite rocks a ponytail and looks like a mountain climber who plays the electric guitar; and close examination of his solo debut's inside sleeve discloses (a) photo collages of happy Caucasian ravers throwing peace signs in the air and (b) the fact that his name's actually "Gavin." This muthafucka wants to get his mitts on our hip-hop? Yeah, and -- national pride aside -- we'd be gloryhallastoopid not to let him, because Gav's hip-hop-fixated drum 'n' bass doesn't stretch envelopes, it straight-up bombs the mailbox. In brief: Aphrodite is the (possibly self-crowned) kingpin of a jungle/rap crossbreed called "jump-up," a dorky genre tag that nonetheless captures both his music's animation and (even when the burnt-rubber beats bark, "Stay the fuck back") its eagerness to storm your pleasure center.

Right now he's got a pair of complementary projects in stores, the aforementioned solo work Aphrodite (Gee Street/V2) and an even better mix disc called Urban Jungle (egil_music/Priority). Of the two, Aphrodite has longer stretches of jungle-as-usual -- same drums microscopically crosshatched, same drain-snaking bass lines, same Goldie-style seagull noises that lead me to believe every British jungle guy is issued the same sampler CD on entering the field. But it's also got "BM Funkster," a bumper-car duel between the O'Jays' "For the Love of Money" bass line and the horny horn stabs from Marva Whitney's "Unwind Yourself," the latter of which you may recognize from DJ Kool's phleghmboyant crowd pleaser "Let Me Clear My Throat," or DJ Mark the 45 King's "The 900 Number," or the old Yo! MTV Raps theme. It easily redeems its title, though I don't want to know what BM funk sounds like. The organ freaked into a thousand loping loops throughout "Rising Quince (Slider Mix)" -- dope song/unfortunate name #2 -- is Quincy Jones doing "Summer in the City." But the memory it really triggers is the Pharcyde's hot-for-teacher "Passin' Me By," on which future Real World love interest Slim Kid Tre and company bobbed to said loop while dropping schoolboy-crush confessions from the monkey bars. (A landmark of sensitive-guy hip-hop, "Passin' Me By" is something of a drum 'n' bass touchstone. The 1997 single "Cracklabincalifornia"/"Passin' Me By," by Gardena (California) junglists Oscar da Grouch and B-Boy 3000, flipped the original as, depending on which side you played, a steel-drum band breezing at a 21st-century street fair or a blues Dante dogged by his Beatrice in Hell's subway tunnels.)

And I'm leaving out "King of the Beats" (title by Mantronix, beats by Tuff City Records staff drummer Pumpkin), and the song with L.L. Cool J trolling for a woman to roll with his arrangement, and the Isley Brothers cover. If you sense a caveat surfacing here, it's that Aphrodite's work really pops only when it's dishing up the hip-hop quotables: don't think it's a coincidence that Urban Jungle, featuring Aphrodite's rewire of the Luniz's hauntingly wind-chimin' ode to indo smoke, "I Got Five on It," showed up around the same time as the Puff Daddy panty thrower and BET fave "Satisfy You," which samples the same Luniz tune. I'd call Aphrodite the P-Daddy of jungle if it didn't sound like such a diss: like Sean Combs, he's a pop genius who thinks in hooks, and though he fucks up a melody's program with a flurry of percussive buckshot whenever possible, he can't say no to an anthem 'cause he's too busy sayin' "Yeah!"

Which brings us to Urban Jungle, an Aphrodite-blended suite of hip-hop tracks retooled by Aphrodite and similar-minded jocks like Dillinja and E-Sassim that I've been using lately as a caffeine substitute when the afternoons get slow. The remixers mostly juice their source material for density, not pure speed, and most of 'em (wisely) don't dump the vocals, so this is the first drum 'n' bass record that admits there ain't no party like a West Coast party 'cause a West Coast party don't stop. One could undoubtedly raise endless cultural/intellectual property objections about English studio lab rats geeking out on Cali gangstas talking gangsta shit, but somebody else will have to pen that term paper, because this shit's action-packed: Ice Cube bending corners and popping slap-bass shots at the sky; ranters and golddiggers and writhing funky worms; Mack 10 hoo-bangin' in four dimensions; a novelty hit about how to rockrockrockthefunkybeats; and Jungle Brother Mike G. puttin' on a couple of pounds the better to catch the mad beatdowns.

Last song is ex-Bostonian and one-time Garment District regular Armand Van Helden putting whale noises behind Aaliyah's "One in a Million." It's the only cut that doesn't work, mainly because producer Timbaland made an end run around jungle when he hooked up the original back in '96. He's from Norfolk, Virginia, and when British scrubs from The Wire fly down there to ask him whether there's any jump-up in his up-jumps-da-boogie, he just laughs and laughs.

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