The Jungle's Still Massive: Why is General Levy's "Incredible" So Popular 20 Years On?
We tried to work out why a decades old jungle tune is going through a renaissance moment. You can thank Ali G and Jammer...
I was still a pubescent, rose cheeked duckling when Sacha Baron Cohen's terrible, regrettable Ali G Indahouse slunk its way into the world in 2002. Amongst the sexual references I feigned a deep understanding of and the cheap knob gags I forced myself to laugh at, an awakening of sorts occurred. Thanks to one of the more liberal of my friend's parents I was watching a 15 rated film full of cheap knob gags, setting myself up for early onset osteoporosis via finger clicking and being introduced to jungle via the hiccupping delivery of General Levy and M-Beat's "Incredible".
Although I discovered the track almost a decade late, crowded around a TV trying to figure out why a ping-pong ball was jettisoning from an unseen netherworld of the Thai ambassador in the UN meeting scene, it seemed pre-programmed into my then limited bank of musical knowledge. "Wicked, wicked jungle is massive" is one of those refrains that you know before you hear, a sound plugged into our collective consciousness like the riff in Deep Purple's "Smoke On The Water" and the booming chortle of Brian Blessed.
The track represents one of those rare moments when everything comes together exactly on cue; the jungle scene had been bubbling away for a couple of years and was primed for a definitive record, Levy had discovered his own vocal niche and M-Beat was a burgeoning producer in search of his opus. From 1991 to the year of its release in '94, you could still just about describe jungle as operating on an underground level, but the scene was expanding rapidly. What "Incredible" did was consolidate that festering mainstream potential and turn it into something gargantuan, galvanising more people to sit up and listen and removing any remaining semblance of exclusivity — for better or worse. Prior to '94, all the major releases – Bodysnatch's "Euphony", Doc Scott's "Here Come The Drums", Lennie De Ice's "We Are I.E." – had remained harboured in key areas of London, on the pirate airwaves and in a network of soundsystems, but the release of "Incredible" and SHY FX's "Original Nuttah" (another '94 classic) marked a second phase in the scene's popularity. Now, over 20 years on, "Jungle is massive" has become the unofficial motto for the entire movement and "Incredible" remains, arguably, its most recognisable tune. It's even become the punchline of a shit joke. Why did the lion get lost? Not many other songs can say that.
It's easy to look back with fondness on "Incredible". It permeates top DJs' list of favourite jungle bangers, still has that ability to titillate both aged and adolescent toes on sticky, rum-splattered dancefloors and can enlist an infinite amount of fire emojis. But, soon after its release, the tune and General Levy were marred by controversy and blacklisted from the scene. In an interview with The Face, Levy was quoted as saying "I run jungle" which many of jungle's top brass in its 'committee' thought endangered its camaraderie; putting one name, face and voice above the movement itself was not something that could be allowed to happen and so "Incredible" was banned from venues and the pirate airways. The community shunned Levy and M-Beat.
Ironically, the decline of Jungle perhaps had more to do with the overbearing bureaucracy employed by this committee than it did with "Incredible". Despite the mainstream success of the track, there's still an atmosphere of deep set affection that hangs from the shoulders of jungle and instead of destroying it, "Incredible" only helped to widen its scope — and only the snobbiest of purists would ever argue that that's a bad thing. 20 years on, it's a track that people still love and still play out. In fact, it's had something of a renaissance in the last year or so.
The beginnings of this renewed interest in "Incredible" and, by extension, Levy himself, arrived with the help of a BBC Radio 1xtra appearance alongside grime royalty Dizzee Rascal, BBK, Lethal Bizzle, Tempa T, Fekky and Footsie last August. Even without the aid of Mr Incredible himself, the show — MistaJam's Sixty Minutes Live — was a rowdy classic. It's literally impossible to get MCs of that magnitude in the same room without things going off hugely. Listening back to it now is a genuinely intense experience. You sort of expect to be hospitalized at the end of it.
Then General Levy took the mic 17 minutes later and all the heavy built, hyped ex-road men turned into 17-year olds at a Beatles gig in the 60s. The furious energy remained, but it was the unbridled energy of a room full of fan boys rather than that of one of the most notoriously aggressive urban UK music phenomenons. You can almost see Jammer reach a state of enlightenment; a frenzied look in his eyes that only occurs at a point of great revelation or copulatory climax. Since that video, it seems that Levy understands any previous controversy has been forgotten and has reacted by reinstating himself as the UK's jungle general. You can see the same energy, the same buzz, in this video of Levy's appearance at Tim and Barry's Just Jam takeover at the Barbican late last year when Levy pops up with D Double E and Sticky.
Although there's only a tenuous link between grime and jungle sonically, their histories share a heritage that explains at least some of the fanatical reception of Levy in grime's circle of veterans. Most pertinently, both genres are heavily influenced by hip hop; Jungle's breaks are essentially hip hop beats sped up and augmented by additional, micro-engineered drums and grime was the UKs reaction to a US lineage which was beginning to decline. Aside from that, both jungle and grime are inherently British, taking US influence and reshaping them into something completely idiosyncratic; urban music that UK youth can take ownership of without any sour taste of plagiarism lingering in their mouth. They represent two of the last truly innovative, organically home grown exports that we have; our very own musical fish and chips, without the grease and salty regret.
For all of this analysis, though, General Levy and his 'Jungle is massive' call to arms will always be synonymous for me with sitting in a room of fellow 11-year olds trying to understand dirty jokes and how to make Ws with our fingers; a skill I'm proud to say I have mastered with lighting speed and accuracy despite the terrifying likeness my fingers have to cocktail sausages. It's a marker for the song, however, that a few minutes at the beginning of a film can galvanise you into following up and discovering an entire culture. Respect!