War’s music has always fascinated me from the moment I heard it. Primarily a group of black LA musicians who came out of the Latin rock school,they began their recording career as the backing band for Eric Burden before launching out on their own. Their music became key to the development of what Rickey Vincent calls the “united funk” era-especially with their emphasis on percussive rhythmic bounce. This was helped out by the late percussionist Thomas “Papa Dee” Allen and drummer Harold Brown. It’s Brown’s birthday today. And since I view him as part of what makes War so special to me as a band,wanted to discuss a song of theirs I loved before they became the Lowrider Band.
Even though some of War’s commercial success tapered off in the late 70’s and early 80’s,I find their albums from this period to be some of their most significant creatively. During this era,a lot of the original members began to leave. And the newly regrouped War left their label of their salad days MCA in 1981. A year later the new lineup,including among others former Sly & The Family Stone saxophonist Pat Rizzo,released a new album entitled Outlaw. As a commercial entity War leaped back into life with songs such as “Cinco de Mayo” and “You’ve Got The Power”. It was an 8+ minute album closer that really got my attention,and it was called “The Jungle”.
The song begins with a snaky,multi tracked cinematic synthesizer orchestration at the beginning from Lonnie Jordan. This segues into a more blippy,digitized line. After this the main body of the song literally fades into itself. It finds Brown providing a heavy drum thump with Allen’s percussion accents. Howard Scott plays a rocking low guitar throughout along with wah wah,chimes and the squiggly “video game” synthesizer of Jordan adding to the rhythmic intensity. The spoken word/rapped lyrics are accompanied by the bands harmonizing backup choruses. A bridge of the song is held up by newcomer Luther Rabb’s sliding bass line before the song goes back to itself to fade out.
This extended song,presenting itself in a medley form thematically,is one of the most powerful slices of P-Funk to come from outside George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic. It’s more than just an influences. It fully embraces the hard grooving musical ethic and instrumental futurism to make a potent sociopolitical point-one that resonates very strong today. The lead vocal rap presents a theme similar to what Melle Mell was saying on The Furious Five’s “The Message” during the same year-that for poor black people lower class neighborhoods had become violent reservations. This combination of a driving groove and topical lyrics showcased War were still on funk’s forefront in the early 80’s.