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features archive: jurassic 5
Look, Up In The Sky!
six men with one mission -- making the best hip hop they can
It's the J-U-R-A-Capital S,
another S-I see five emcees
in the flesh, bound to catch wreck, hit the deck,
cause we'll pop the trunk, bust the tape in your cassette
Hip hop needs Jurassic 5.
In an age where everybody is rolling the Hummer and the E-Class, fat politicos turn demogogue eyes on parental advisory stickers, and "the only radio station representing real hip hop" was playing Whitney and Luther when the Beasties and Public Enemy were doin' it, hip hop needs Jurassic 5 like t'ai chi at sunrise. This is musical medication for a sick friend.
Lots of media pundits talk about "is hip hop dying?" They'll tell you through a haze of indo smoke and bullet casings that rap music is dying off. They need to hear J5 -- a group that represents banging on lunch tables, freestyling in parks and on busses, a sound that you can play in front of your boys or your mom and not catch any hell.
Poised to release a full length album following the strength of their 1997 J5 EP (still in stores y'all), Jurassic have taken a long road from their humble beginnings as underground LA rappers, trying to get put on like everybody else.
"Jurassic 5 came to be from the Good Life, and a little bit from the Rat Race," Zaakir reminisced about how this musical collective came together. Originally there were two groups -- Unity Committee, featuring the taciturn Marc 7even and the gregarious Chali 2na with DJ Cut Chemist, and Rebels of Rhythm with Akil and Zaakir (the artist formerly known as Soupe) with their DJ Nu-Mark. From that humble and authentic origin -- The Good Life was once the name in west coast hip hop, where MCs would show off freestyle ability and not be able to curse, bringing a higher level of creativity to the game, and the Rat Race was doing live instrumentation with hip hop before anybody had heard of the Roots, Spearhead, or Wyclef -- MCs worked at the craft, studied the way that syllables and similes fell together over pounding drum beats. Unity and the Rebels were among the founding fathers of LA's underground sound -- down in the trenches with Freestyle Fellowship, Hip Hop Klan, Volume 10, CVE, and Western Hemisfear -- and their names are still spoken of with reverence by MCs and fans who know the deal.
"The whole process of how we came together," said Marc 7even, "it just happened. 'Unified Rebelution' was the centerpiece for us to get together. People were calling us a group, from there we were just like 'let's become a group.'"
"More success collectively than from the groups we were originally in," Zaakir agreed. "Why not mesh the two together and see what happens?"
The sound was a tradition of Black music wasn't exactly new. The four-MC-in-chorus sound had been laid down by Cold Crush and LONS, had been inspired by the Four Tops and Temptations back in the day. The difference was the LA sound - speedy yet understandable lines, unexpected line breaks and ideas that bleed from one rhyme couplet into the next, setting their own boundaries and creating freshness.
"But there's six of them," astute observers might note. "Only four of them rhyme! And what's up with those white guys?" The answers to those concerns lie with DJ/producer Nu-Mark, "the 'sic' in Jurassic 5," Zaakir joked. Most often behind the boards and behind the scenes, he has let Cut Chemist swing his orange dreadlocks over the wheels of steel in most public occasions. Nu-Mark, the "mad scientist" of the group, is always concerned with the details, be it the group's business, one decibel crackles in the background of a sample, or what have you. For the sake of avoiding confusion, he's often the group's Fifth Beatle, the behind the scenes cat who makes his presence felt but doesn't have to be seen.
The fact he's not mad tall also helps -- Chali 2na and Cut Chemist kind of tower over the scene, Zaakir's the drill sergeant, Akil's always smiling, and Mark 7even gets spotlight from rhyming. Nu-Mark sort of lurks in the background, a mad Igor with a crate fulla rare grooves.
It may not add up on paper, it sure adds up in the sound, a crispy organic feel that's almost entirely samples, but plays like a live band. Without almost any practice, "more of a mental process," Chali says, they merge like a fine pot of gumbo, and this is what hip hop needs more of to cure its sickness.
Let's take it back to the concrete streets
Original beats from real live MCs
Playground tactics, no rabbit-in-a-hat tricks
Just that classic rap shit from Jurassic
Already building a massive following in Europe and Asia (at presstime, Chali 2na was doing double duty with Ozomatli on tour in Japan), J5 is ready to make their move on Amerikkka. "Cats out in the States take hip hop for granted," talkative Zaakir commented. "It's just about being humble. If you ain't humble, shit will come back on you."
"People are picking rap over hip hop," Marc 7even agreed. "They'd take a Ma$e, who I'll say is a rap artist, over a Black Star, which is a hip hop act. They just don't get it like we do. I mean, we go in there and we try to blow off the roof, and they appreciate that. We're not trippin' - we'll hang out after the show, we'll talk to people, you know. We just had a common goal. We wanted to wait until the opportunity was right for us to come out, we was blessed. No matter what, we was gonna be Jurassic and we was gonna do this when the time was right."
Call Frank Black and the Millennium Group -- the time is near.