Michael West has been rocking out parties since the early ’80s. He started out with ska-pop group Double Trouble, who enjoyed chart success with singles Just Keep Rockin’ and Street Tuff. West moved on to solo shows, continuing to use the name Rebel MC for his more break beat-orientated work.
From the release of Rebel Music in 1990 and Black Meaning Good in 1991, West has represented the face of UK Jungle music like none of his other peers. As Congo Natty, Jungle Revolution marks his first album release on Big Dada, home to acts such as veteran Roots Manuva, Mercury Prize winner Speech Debelle and UK grime minister, Wiley.
The visceral-sounding bongo drums of Jungle Souljah open the ‘revolution’. Gentle acoustic backdrops and delicate horn tones follow, indicating a rather mellow introduction. At 70 seconds in, the yell of ‘bombaclat’ floods the speakers, and the tempo changes. A signature jungle break beat comes in – one with a mesmerizingly deep and fantastically warped bass line, atop which Natty declares: “I don’t care about your charts and your playlists, in come the junglists.”
Right from the opener, Congo Natty barely slows down. The explosive lead single UK Allstars features a whole host of guests, including reggae heavyweights Tenor Fly and Top Cat and jungle god General Levy. As well as each of them chiming in with their own eight bar verses, drum and bass maestro Benny Page also boasts his production wares on the track.
As a whole, the LP features guests ranging from the hugely familiar to the up and coming. Regardless of their familiarity or otherwise, they most importantly represent the different generations of sounds which collectively form jungle music. In terms of the older generation, you have the likes of the legendary Adrian Sherwood on mixing duties and old skool ragga singer Daddy Freddy lending vocals on tracks. But it is the newer generation of lesser-known, younger vocalists which particularly shine on this album. For example, long-time collaborator Nancy Correia does a great job at providing sound backing vocals on some of the album’s most vital tracks, including the dubbed-out swagger of Revolution, and the early single Get Ready. Although it first surfaced way back in 2011, the latter still sounds fantastic. But the inclusion of two-year old singles may leave fans yearning for more new material; after all, it is Congo Natty’s first full album in nearly two decades.
He doesn’t hesitate to make his influences clear in his tracks, with many of them featuring vocal samples from artists who influenced the sound and mentality of jungle music. For instance, after heavy samples of both KRS-One and Bob Marley, Revolution explodes into a fanfare of horns and woozy harmonicas, giving off a strong resonance. Cinematic influences are also present, with the caliginous London Dungeons incorporating a sample taken from 1981 cult film, Babylon.
Although there are plenty of adrenaline-infusing moments on Jungle Revolution, Congo Natty fails to keep up the momentum throughout. In consequence, rather than sounding like a fully formed piece of work, it sounds like a number of singles shoved together to make a collaboration album. The record is a colourful one, full of signature dub chimes which resonate across bass-heavy soundscapes, backed by frenetic beats. Rapid-fire syllables which carry the message of revolution and references to the African Diaspora are also very frequent here. All in, it’s an enjoyable listen that marks a welcome return.