From infancy to ubiquity, hip-hop has always been an act of generational subversion. Particularly within, and towards, itself. But no crew embodies its fun-loving, soul-searching, jazz-snatching adolescence quite like Native Tongues.
The inter-borough colossus— comprising The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Queen Latifah, and Monie Love at its core, with peripheral members Black Sheep, Brand Nubian, and Leaders of the New School, rounding out the mile-high roster — united The Mecca’s most undefinable misfits and created a safe space for their free-loving follies.
Stemming from a chance encounter between The JBs and The Plugs a short trot down 95 at a show in Boston, the collective’s ties were loose, fluid, and formidable, all at once. Soon after, Q-Tip caught word from Baby Bam that there was another tripped-out trio in New York. And it wouldn’t be long until these oddly mirrored images bloomed into an era-defining movement. Albums synonymous with this period include both De La and Tribe’s respective debuts (3 Feet High and Rising and People’s Instinctive Travels on The Paths of Rhythm,) as well as their slumpless sophomore projects. but their earliest collaborative work can be heard on The Jungle Brothers frenetic hip-house classics, Straight Out The Jungle and Done By The Forces of Nature.
Where Clyde Stubblefield and Sly Stone pillared its earliest years, Roy Ayers, Ron Carter, Idris Muhammad, and Eugene McDaniels, slipped into the support system via newly refined sampling practices that piled on the chops with reckless abandon (and rendered De La Soul’s catalog almost entirely absent from the streaming landscape due to clearances.) Hip-hop wasn’t merely growing bolder with their influence, but more sophisticated and free, emulating the trajectory of the genre from which the lion’s share of source material would be gathered. Another (definitively) American institution was being forged in its free-form spirit.
Whether it was in response to the steel-toed, at times militant, sounds that bludgeoned disco rap into obsolescence, or the mere supplementation of its grizzled tone, Native Tongues established a fresh, floral framework for hip-hop’s collectivized creative kinship. And finally, there was room for it all.
Hear the final episode of our Family Affair playlist series below, featuring the whole crew and some honorary late arrivals (The Pharcyde, Pete Rock, and more.) Hit the link to subscribe to Okayplayer’s Spotify channel and jump back for previous sets on The Soulquarians, Wu-Tang Clan, and The Dungeon Family.
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