Jabari “Jungle” Jones is in a league of his own. As the younger brother of Nas, Jungle’s entryway into the rap business began with an appearance on Bravehearts. Yet his step into the limelight was paved only after pivoting the careers of artists like N.O.R.E., Nature, and even Swizz Beatz. The Queensbridge native’s recent find was New York City upstart Dave East. For Jungle, much of his grind is all in a day’s work, as his music business savvy has lent itself to helping launch careers, as well as being the unequivocal sounding board for his big brother in studio.
In 2014, we saw the depths of Jungle’s heart (and personality) in the documentary Time Is Illmatic, and nothing has changed since. Jungle is still a character. Fearlessly protective of his brother, and still full of heart. In his candid interview with Bevel, Jungle takes us back to his life growing up in the Q-Boro, his fair weathered relationship with the music biz, and drops a few gems about his brother we didn’t know before.
BevelCode: So you’re Nas’ younger brother, but you’ve always kind of been a big brother to Nas, right?
Jungle: Yup! He got the talent, I got a lot of heart and I always wanted to protect him. We’re from the streets, you know, and I just always wanted to protect him. I was like that before rap too—always wanted to protect him for some reason, even though he’s my older brother.
BC: What was life like growing up in Queensbridge?
Jungle: Wow, see – growing up for me was different than now. Queensbridge is cool now. When I grew up, it was like the crack era just came out, so it was almost like living in The Walking Dead times or something. It was really tough. A lot of zombie-like people that you used to see that was respectable people, they looked like zombies and shit! They was robbing and stealing and shootouts every night. This was when I was a kid, before I could even come outside! By the time I started coming out, a lot of people was drug dealers. A lot of kids and people a little older than me were drug dealers and into shootouts and shit, so it was real crazy. It was real wild. There was a bunch of corrupt, crazy police. But it’s different now.
BC: When did you decide to do music? I know you were part of Bravehearts.
Jungle: Once I realized that it wasn’t just a quick thing. I thought music was just something that you do in the hood, and you might get a video or something. I didn’t know you could make money and live a good life too. So one time, my brother was doing his thing and everybody in my family used to ask me, so what am I gonna do? And I’m like shit, I don’t know! So at first I tried to manage. I was telling everybody I’m a manager, but I didn’t know what a manager had to do. So I read up on that, and I started managing artists. I started managing this guy named Nature from Queensbridge, then got him a record deal. Then I managed Noreaga for a little, and got him out of his deal and got him a solo album, N.O.R.E.
I helped produce that album, and that was the first work I ever did in the music business. I was still a kid! After that I stopped managing. I didn’t like managing because the 20% of somebody’s money and all of the shit you gotta do just for that. I didn’t really like to manage, but when I used to go places with Nature, they thought I was Nature a lot. They thought I had the swag to be an artist, and I thought I did too. I didn’t really know how to rap, though. I would write rhymes and be embarrassed to say them and shit like that. After a while, the crew influenced me to get on a mic in the studio. And after a while, we made a song! We made “Oochie Wally.” I wrote that and they thought it was a joke, but the fans liked it and chose that to be a hit record! It was all just work and fun to me. We were having a lot of fun that just turned into a career and life.
BC: Everyone knows you now as Nas’ confidant. You’re the only guy that Nas consults on his music and you’re in the studio with him all the time. Would you say that Nas is mainly the artist that you work with now, or are you bringing other artists back on and you’re doing your thing?
Jungle: Yeah I only worked with Nas like that after Noreaga and Nature for a little bit. I only worked with Nas like that for my whole life, but this year, after we found Dave East and I told him he should sign Dave East. I seen what Dave East is doing, I’m like “Yo, I’ma do that shit again. I’ma start developing new people. Instead of just finding the person, I’ma find them and work with them.” So that’s what I’ve been doing now. I wanna like, be the CEO of Nas’ label of course, but he’s doing his thing and I don’t wanna bother him with his shit. I wanna do my own thing too, but I really wanna do my own thing through him. I wanna bring these young dudes in through him and under him.
BC: So you put him on to Dave East?
Jungle: Nah, he asked me. He told me to listen to it. He just asked me to listen to a few people, and when I heard him and saw the video that he did… I saw one of my friends in the video, my friend Chill Will, and I was like, “Yo, I would sign him out of all of the dudes that you showed me and let me listen to! I would sign this dude.” That was it. I ain’t know nothing, and then after that, they signed him! Then Nas was like he wouldn’t have done it probably if I wouldn’t have told him that.
BC: Well I mean of course, I’m sure he knows that by now you’ve got the ear.
Jungle: Yeah, they were looking at him and they played him to me and I co-signed it. My co-sign definitely pushed it. I like Dave. He’s a good dude, and he’s a dope artist.
BC: You’ve always been protective of Nas and guarding him like a big brother. During the era where things started getting real—we started losing artists and then Nas got himself in a little bit of beef with Jay Z… As a “big brother,” I’m sure you were trying to protect him. Did you have a hand in telling him to kind of leave the beef on the table, leave it on wax, do what you gotta do but don’t let it escalate?
Jungle: Yeah, yeah. Back then, Nas was everything to me. That’s my big brother and it’s only us two in the world. We got other brothers but they weren’t from my mom and they didn’t grow up with us in Queensbridge. So it’s a little different. It’s like when any beef happens with him, I’m listening to him and I’m with anything that he’s with. Whatever he says, I’m like aight fuck it, let’s do that.
But sometimes like when he wanted to leave the beef alone, like, “Man I’m not battling nobody!” I’m like, “Fuck that, you have to! To me, you’re the best in the game!” So anybody tried to play with you that’s known for lyrics, you have to! You know, somebody that’s not known for lyrics, they’re like a clown, you don’t gotta respond to them. But somebody like if somebody like Jay, known for lyrics, says your name in their rhymes disrespectfully, you have to come back at them for hip-hop and the world. I’m with whatever, though. I ain’t never letting nobody, anybody—ain’t nobody gon’ do nothing to Nas if I’m alive. Period.
BC: So if Nas makes something in the studio that you’re not with, do you tell him it sucks and he has to do it again?
Jungle: Oh definitely! All the time. Since I ever heard him rhyme, I was his worst critic. I always tell him my opinion no matter what. Even if he thinks it’s his favorite song, I tell him if I don’t like something or not, always! He don’t listen all the time, but I tell him.
BC: You and I both like It Was Written more than Illmatic.
Jungle: Oh definitely. That was my favorite Nas album. That and Stillmatic are my favorite two Nas albums. Which ones did you like?
BC: It Was Written was my favorite Nas album.
Jungle: Alright, alright. Yeah that’s mine too, It Was Written. I just like the whole album. I think “Black Girl Lost” is one of my favorite songs. That’s one of the ill songs that people don’t make no more.
BC: No they don’t! Not even “If I Ruled The World!”
Jungle: Mm-mm, nah. People don’t make music no more. It’s different. They should call it something else instead of hip-hop.
BC: So you’re arguably more wild than Nas, is that correct?
Jungle: Nas got more class than me; I would say that. I’m kinda ghetto. I love the ghetto; I love being me. I’m like an athlete, he’s more of a musician. I’m more of a ball player and a sports-watching guy. It’s different, we’re different. We’re the same, but we’re different. Nas is wild too, shit.
BC: What’s it like being a wild dude but also a father?
Jungle: Oh man, it’s real because you don’t want to be a bad influence. You don’t want your kids to pick up the bad things that they might hear about you, and think that was something that they should do too. But it’s like you don’t want to start acting like somebody that you’re not, just to set an example. You want them to know that this is who you are. I could change who I am, but would it be better? I don’t know. I am who I am. I tell them all the good things and I hope that they listen to what I say and not glorify any wild shit that they hear about me. I’m not really wild no more, that was my life when I was growing up in the hood in the beginning of my life. Now, I’m a peaceful dude. I’m just a smart guy. People don’t really think I’m as smart as I am, but I’m really smart and that’s it. I’m tryna move forward in life. You know, the world don’t like gangstas no more. If Tupac was alive, they wouldn’t like him right now. So it’s a little different, the world is different.
BC: Now grooming wise, you always have a hat on! Every time I see a picture of you, you got a hat on!
Jungle: I don’t know, I wear hats a lot because it matches the clothes I wear I guess. But I got like, a little baby nappy afro going on right now.
BC: So what’s your grooming routine? How often do you go to the barber and stuff?
Jungle: Oh, I go to the barber maybe once every two weeks, three weeks sometimes. Sometimes I woof out. I like to let my hair woof out a lot and go to the barber after like a month or something sometimes. But I’m a two-week barber person—every 10 days or two weeks or so. I got clippers in the house just in case I’m running, and I can’t make the barber. I can clean my face and keep it moving.
BC: I remember a few years ago when Time Is Illmatic came out, you straight up stole the show. Your presence in that was so important. Do you think you’ll go into making documentaries in the future or something with that?
Jungle: Yeah, I wanted to do a web series just showing me and my friends hanging out every day, so everybody could really see how I am. I wanted to show people more of me like that. I don’t wanna do no corny shit like a reality show, I want it to be a little realer than that and I could inspire people and teach people at the same time, instead of looking crazy. I am an entertaining kind of wild spirit that’s funny, so I would love to show people more of that. I was thinking of writing a web series that I could do right now. I want it to be on HBO or something, but I would start off with a web series.
BC: What’s one thing that people don’t know about you?
Jungle: I don’t know, people don’t know how cool I am. I’m a cool dude, I’m a funny guy. I like to laugh more than anything. So I laugh a lot. I like to snap on people. I’m sorry, but I do. I like to tell jokes all the time and I’m a funny person to be around. I’m not as wild as everybody thinks. I used to be wild, now I’m chillin. I’m just not a sucker. I’m just not soft at all and I’m smart, so I catch every little word that people say sometimes and it’s different. But I’m a cool guy.
BC: What’s one thing that people don’t know about Nas?
Jungle: People don’t know how funny he is! If they really knew what kind of person he really is instead of thinking as soon as you picture him, you think he wants to go to Africa or he’s this 5-percenter or some shit. He’s just a regular down-to-earth guy, like any friend that you know. He likes to laugh and watch movies and just do normal shit, man. He’s a cool dude, man. He’s not all uptight and intellectual and all that shit that people think he is.
Accommodations provided by Filthy Rich Barbershop.