yungle is not the most traditional TV show you will ever watch. In a sense, she’s a spiritual successor to Top Boy, given her gun-toting stories and appearances in which his crime-based livelihood revolves around the London drug trade. But it’s also musicals – television’s first musical training, in fact – and the bulk of the cast are top notable British actors. It is also set in an alternate sci-fi reality where the capital of England is filled with fantasy technology such as watches under the skin, cars with number plate barcodes, and policemen armed with electrified billy sticks. If you had to kind of give it a go, it would be Faye Rap Opera’s crime.
“We didn’t just want to make a typical gangster drama,” says Junior Okoli, one of Jungle’s authors. “Congratulations to all the products offered before us, I think they did a great job, but we wanted to do something completely different.”
Jungle is the television debut of Okoli and co-author Chas Appetit. Appeti is a music video maker who has “filmed pretty much everyone in the UK scene – Giggs, Lethal B, Chip, Ruff Sqwad, Tinchy Stryder”. Okoli worked in managing artists—with a sideline as a mixed martial artist—and as he traveled around the world with musicians, he noticed that wherever he was, he saw the same thing happen in his hometown: inner-city poverty leads to a life of crime.
When the two met, they began working on videos together and decided to create Jungle “to highlight the kill or be killed mentality that comes with living poor, with a lack of opportunity.” In the end, they succeeded in pitching it to Amazon, and quickly made the show — although there was certainly a strange feeling in the initial meetings.
“After about five or six sessions, I realized they were all searching for my name on Google and looking at cage fights,” O’Cole says. “My fights were pretty brutal back then, so they must have thought I was absolutely brutal!”
Given their backgrounds in music, and a desire to engage younger viewers, the tale told through the song was a natural fit. Or at least I did it for them, if not for the talent in question. “They hated it at first,” O’Cole says of trying to convince a cast of presenters including Tini Tempa, Daisy Rascal, and Big Narsty to collaborate on using their songs on the show, despite playing the music solo.
“At first it was very annoying like, ‘Who is this guy telling me what to do — with someone in the corner writing notes? “We had to earn their trust and respect, so we ended up talking to them outside their homes, sitting in their cars, and trying to understand their background and history and what inspires them.”
The result is a narrative that seamlessly shifts from traditional dialogue to clips delivered entirely in rap. For the first three episodes – all released for preview purposes – the events focus on a heist that went wrong, perpetrated by a reluctant criminal, Gogo’s father (Ezra Elliott) and his violent and horrifying co-star Selim (performed by British rapper Ra.). While the wand is filled with spoken instructions for handing over the payload, a low volume line kicks in in the aftermath, and the thieves rap for frantic post-match analysis. At one point, Gogo had a three-way appeal to himself, exchanging bars with his good inner voice and his bad voice.
“If you were in the studio with us when we were writing it, you would look like, ‘What is this world? O’Cole says of the complex writing process, where they had to tell a story via both music and dialogue. They took lyrics created by the cast (or rap ghostwriters for actors who were also not presenters), and then rewrote the spoken word segments to either remove Or add additional textures depending on how well the rhymes are related to the plot.
Just in case that wasn’t difficult enough, the lyrics had to be written in complete ignorance of the series’ overall plot. Abette and O’Cole kept the scripts secret from the cast members because “London is such a small place. We didn’t want the scripts to come out,” O’Cole said.
Shooting was not an easy feat either. As soon as the councils in London heard the phrase “musical digging,” they immediately refused permission, as the genre often made headlines blaming him for inciting violence. But since the series focuses on inner-city crime, the scenario is so full of street confrontations and real estate-based gang meetings that this wasn’t an option. “We’d jump on Zoom calls, show them we’re straight people, and they’d say, ‘Okay, cool! We’ll help you!’ Not that any of this was an attempt to rehabilitate the drill’s reputation.
“We haven’t started to address the stigma associated with digging,” says Appite. “We are storytellers. But digging is just another art form. Hip hop had the same thing in the beginning, as did a UK garage, even in the woods. Every new and developing genre is initially stigmatized.”
“You can’t suppress popular culture,” O’Cole says. “You can’t. It doesn’t work. And the more you try to shut it down, the more popular it gets.”
Even without the council’s opposition, Jungle scenes isn’t exactly the easiest movie to shoot in a crowded city. At one point, a huge crew of gang members gathered at Canary Wharf on quad bikes, and they staged a strategy meeting for the loud engine soundtrack. In another, a retiree exploded from a building and fired a shotgun after thieves left before unleashing a terrifying attack dog.
“Junior was the one who had to hold this dog before he was released! He was basically wrestling with her. I swear the dog was trying to take for him For a walk!” Abite says.
“At one point, she turned to me and I could see in his eyes that he was thinking, ‘Can I just bite this guy?'” O’Cole says. “I doubled back to get me back a second after I left her, but I shut the door by then.”
One of the most amazing things about the Jungle is how amazing it is visually. Every interior looks as if it belongs in an Instagram photoshoot, whether it’s drenched in neon red light or mahogany-clad, it could be an old school men’s club. Cars are the kind of vintage cars you’d expect in a Hitchcock movie. London itself has been reimagined as a Blade Runner-style thing, lined with Dubai’s skyscrapers as women dance on giant video screens.
“Blade Runner is my favorite movie of all time!” Abiti says. “But right from the start it was our job to make sure every shot looked so good it could be taken and put on the wall [like a picture]. “
Stylized shots incorporate the liberal use of slow motion. In one scene, we see a character being graphically killed in literally bullet time, with the projectile moving millimeter by millimeter across the screen, until it fires an arterial spray of blood that slowly travels across the screen. It’s like the second coming of The Matrix.
“The Matrix hit me when I was a kid and I said, ‘I want to do something like this!'” says O’Cole. “But when I was a boy running in Streatham, I had no idea how to do it. I didn’t know how to enter this field. Brit School was for a certain type of high school guy, and I wasn’t. You find yourself, later in life, subconsciously trying to repeat these inspiring moments.”
Okoli has put so much of himself in Jungle that he acts as a narrator, breaking the fourth wall in each episode to deliver a monologue. In one, we’re treated to the heartwarming tale of him buying his first bike, charmingly excited over black-and-white shots of a cheery kid holding a mini chopper while the cheerful spirit plays. And in another movie, he gave a motivational speech urging viewers to “read every book you can read” and “dream so big that you feel uncomfortable telling your dreams to small minds.”
These are the show’s most emotionally touching moments, and they make perfect sense when you consider Appeti and Okoli’s desire for Jungle to serve as a warning about inner-city poverty that drags youngsters into crime. After all, the more you can make the story personal, the more likely it will have an impact.
“We don’t just want people to sit in front of the TV and say, ‘That was a good story,'” O’Cole says. “We want viewers to know that our backgrounds didn’t lead us to this success—it’s the choices you make, how strong you are, how hard you attack them. If people are inspired by Jungle, so should the creators From this world. We’re trying to appeal to more people to do that.”
Let’s hope that happens. After all, Jungle cannot be the only crime opera in the rap world…
Jungle on Prime Video from Friday September 30.
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