Jungle Brothers Blaze New Trails

At CMJ music festival show in Manhattan, New York-based rappers perform familiar material, preview new sounds.

NEW YORK -- During the Jungle Brothers' CMJ MusicFest show at

Wetlands on Saturday night, Afrika Baby Bambaataa -- one-half of the

innovative rap duo -- poked fun at his status as one of hip-hop's "elder

statesmen" ... at the ripe old age of 28.

"I wrote my first rhymes when I was 9 years old," he said. "I made my first record in the 11th grade. I was 16 years old when 'Jimbrowski' [a track from the JBs' 1988 debut album] came out. You know how old I am? I'm going on my 65th birthday."

Then, Bambaataa (born Nathaniel Hall) revealed his true age and insisted that the JBs are still up to pushing the boundaries of hip-hop. As if to prove the contention, a one-minute reprise of the group's groundbreaking

rap-meets-house-music single, "I'll House You," gave way to the set's second

version of "Jungle Brother (True Blue)" (RealAudio excerpt), a track from 1997's Raw Deluxe album, retooled with a combination jungle/drum-&-bass beat. Sounding neither gimmicky nor forced, it retained all of the funky flavor of the song's original, syncopated hip-hop arrangement.

No wonder Bambaataa kept asking the crowd, "Are you ready to go back to the jungle?"

Although the Jungle Brothers -- New Yorkers Bambaataa and Mike G (born

Michael Small) -- spent most of their Wetlands show reliving past glories, this tantalizing glimpse of reinvention -- a preview of their upcoming album -- was enough to make the entire performance seem fresh.

Mike G, clad in a camouflage jacket and Yankees cap, and Bambaataa, simply

attired in a blue sweatsuit, kicked off the show with the original version of

"Jungle Brother (True Blue)." The duo, backed by DJ Mike Loe, traded body

jukes and rhymes with all the skill and synchronicity one would expect from two guys who have spent about 12 years rapping together.

They drew heavily on their first album, Straight Out the Jungle

("Jimbrowski," "Straight Out the Jungle"), and 1989's Done by the Forces of

Nature ("Black Woman," "Feelin' Alright"). DJ Mike Loe, replacing the

departed Sammy B, spun fattened-up beats that gave new life to the songs.

Meanwhile, Mike G and Bambaataa whipped up a loose party, dancing jerkily, sparking crowd chants and generally goofing around. As Bambaataa rapped the "Jimbrowski" line "The thing's so big, you need a U-Haul to haul it," he stretched the crotch of his sweatpants to the limit as a demonstration.

The JBs ended the show with another familiar number, "What U Waitin' 4," from Done by the Forces of Nature.

After the performance, Mike G said the group's next album, set for release in

May 1999, will include the jungle/hip-hop remix of "Jungle Brother (True Blue)," as well as more nods to the ensemble's familiar hip-hop sound. Two songs are complete, he said, adding that the JBs plan to finish about 20 songs in studios in New York and Florida, with Alex Gifford of the electronica group

Propellerheads helping out on production.

Before the Jungle Brothers' headlining stint, L.A.-based retro-rappers Black

Eyed Peas turned in an electric, acrobatic set, and MC Guru of Gang Starr

appeared fleetingly during rapper Afu Ra's show.

"I came to see the Black Eyed Peas, but the Jungle Brothers kept me here,"

Scott Flipiski, a 28-year-old hip-hop fan, said. "I've been living in Osaka [Japan] for five years and not getting much hip-hop culture, so it's like I'm coming out of the desert and drinking water."