Jurassic 5, or J5, are the foremost proponents of the sound and values that marked hip-hop’s golden age (roughly 1980-93). The six-man crew, which includes four rappers and two deejays, brings an uplifting, fun-loving feel to a genre that often glamorizes thuggish behavior, gangster ethics, and blatant materialism. In this regard, Jurassic 5 are champions of the positive, consciousness-raising legacy begun by A Tribe Called Quest, the Pharcyde, and De La Soul. Commentators consistently praise Jurassic 5 for their tight vocal interplay, crisp rhythmic deliveries, and intelligent rhymes, as well as their ability to bring these talents to vibrant life onstage, which can be rare in hip-hop. While not the most innovative group musically, Jurassic 5 boast two producers—deejay Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist—who evoke the punchy funk and feel-good soul of hip-hop’s halcyon days with panache, rarely failing to create danceable tracks with memorable hooks. Speaking to David Espinoza in an interview for the alternative California Metro Newspapers website about his ensemble’s so-called old-school rapping style, Chali 2na said, “I feel like I’m a reaction to a lot of the stereotypes that have been put on rap. As a group, we want to go back to the essence of where rap was first and start over.”
Members include Akil, rapper; Chali 2na (born Charlie Stewart), rapper; Cut Chemist (born Lucas Macfadden), deejay, producer; Marc 7 (born Marc Stuart), rapper; Nu-Mark (born Mark Potsic), deejay, producer; Zaakir/Soup (born Courtenay Henderson), rapper.
Group formed in Los Angeles, CA, 1993; released debut EP Unified Rebelution on Blunt, 1995; issued a self-titled EP on Rumble/Pickininny; signed with Interscope, released Quality Control, 2000; played Vans Warped Tour, 2000, and Smokin’ Grooves Tour, 2002; released Power in Numbers, 2002.
Jurassic 5 came together when two separate groups, Rebels of Rhythm (Akil and Zaakir) and Unity Community (Chali 2na, Marc 7, and Cut Chemist), joined forces at Good Life Cafe, an open-mic space in South Central Los Angeles in 1993. They discovered that they had a superb combined chemistry that surpassed their individual outfits. Coming up through Los Angeles’ competitive and highly creative underground hip-hop scene, Jurassic 5 recorded their debut EP, Unified Rebelution in 1995, and it quickly became a college-radio hit and a fixture on mix shows. But Jurassic 5’s real breakthrough was their nine-track Jurassic 5 EP, released on their own Rumble/Pickininny label and later reissued by Interscope. The disc sold more than 200,000 copies in America and the United Kingdom, a remarkable figure for an independent record. The EP broke into the British top 40 chart and brought the group serious attention from major labels. Jurassic 5 eventually signed with Interscope.
Jurassic 5 alerted the world to this sextet’s impressive ability to recall old-school hip-hop while still maintaining their own distinctive sound. Countering the era’s popular trends of gangsta rap and “ice-and-Courvoisier,” flaunting mentality pushed by artists such as Puff Daddy (now P. Diddy), Jurassic 5 exalts hip-hop’s original four elements: rapping, deejaying, breakdancing, and graffiti writing. The song “Jayou” spotlights J5’s stripped-down but supremely funky production style, in which flute, bass, and drums create an infectious foundation over which the four rappers enunciate lines like, “We conjugate verbs and constipate nerds” and “We’re Jurassic 5 MCs and we got the cure for this rap disease.” On songs like “Action Satisfaction,” the slow, seductive funk arrangement allows the four rappers plenty of room to verbalize intricate verses and unison-shout catchy choruses. “Concrete Schoolyard” vividly conjures an outdoor summer party with its indelible piano sample and declarations like, “We take you back like Spinal Tap/Preparing your intellect before your final nap.” “Lesson 6: The Lecture” showcases Cut Chemist’s collaging, mixing, and scratching skills, as he weaves a dizzying array of musical styles and snippets from spoken-word instructional LPs in homage to turntablist pioneers Double D and Steinski. In a Rolling Stone review, Josh Kun commented: “[Jurassic 5] gives hip-hop’s forgotten roots plenty of water and sunshine by matching charismatic solo rhymes and infectious group harmonies with deftly collaged beats and colorful sampling…. Jurassic 5 remind us that the true creative home of hip-hop is still somewhere underground.”
In 2000, Jurassic 5 made their major-label debut with Quality Control. While earning nearly unanimous positive media coverage, the album failed to reach gold status despite being on the powerful Interscope imprint. In an attempt to boost sales, Jurassic 5 participated in some tours—including the punk-oriented Vans Warped Tour and opening for Fiona Apple, an MTV-friendly pop diva—that put them in front of audiences who typically don’t appreciate hip-hop. While traveling outside of Nashville, Tennessee, in 2000, Jurassic 5’s tour bus crashed. Most of the group escaped with minor scrapes, but Chali 2na suffered a fractured skull.
While not a significant departure from the self-titled EP, Quality Control reinforces everything that made that earlier release so enjoyable. With the greater amount of space a full-length release can obviously afford, deejay Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist concoct a more diverse palette of sounds while still keeping the songs fundamentally funky. Diversions from J5’s past work appear on “Monkey Bars,” where metallic gong percussion buttresses the incredibly fat funk beats, and on “Swing Set,” in which the group’s deejays use 1930s swing for the track’s rhythmic basis, a novelty that sounds surprisingly fresh.
Elsewhere, J5’s rappers spin near-infinite variations about their superior lyrics, but they do so with consistently entertaining wordplay. One exception to this rule is “Lausd,” which denigrates the shallow materialism of Hollywood and shows a rare bit of modesty: “We are no superstars who wanna be large and forget who we are/Don’t judge us by bank accounts or big cars/No matter how bright we shine, we’re far from being stars.” John Bush observed in All Music Guide: “The four-man crew take on major media and the responsibilities of adulthood with a degree of authority, eloquence, and compassion never before heard in rap music.” Nathan Rabin summarized Quality Control’s merits for the Onion: “Drawing on more than 20 years of progress, Jurassic 5 captures the best of all worlds on its remarkable debut, embodying the upbeat vibe, vocal harmonies, and endless possibilities of the old school but adding inventive samples, sophisticated production, social commentary, and thematic diversity.”
By the time Jurassic 5’s sophomore album Power in Numbers was released in 2002, rap commentators and fans were wondering if the group could break out of their tried-and-true formula. Most agreed that Numbers displayed a darker, more aggressive sound. “We all knew we wanted to do something different than what we had done before, with a whole new sound and a whole new texture to the music,” Cut Chemist remarked on the group’s website. “We were kind of starting from scratch with no regard to what we had done before, experimenting with technique and sound.”
One such experiment occurs on “Thin Line,” in which the group and unconventional pop/rock singer Nelly Furtado sing about men and women negotiating the problematic boundary between platonic and romantic relationships over a reflective funk backing. “A Day at the Races” is the fastest song in J5’s canon, boosted by guest appearances from rap legends Big Daddy Kane and Percy P. “One of Them,” which scorns thuggishness in hip-hop, shows that J5 indeed possess a dark side with its ominous Tubular Bells-like sample and sparse, rugged beats, courtesy of guest producer JuJu of the Beatnuts. The album closes with “Acetate Prophets,” another platform on which the band’s deejays unleash their skills and expose their obscure records. This time Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist take the listener on a sonic travelogue whose stops include Africa, Brazil, Japan, Mexico, Iran, and America. Oliver Wang praised J5’s second album in the Source: “True to its title, Power in Numbers is more than the sum of its parts and achieves synergy by artfully juggling party anthems alongside relationship reflections and conscious think-pieces. In doing so, Jurassic 5 break their own mold and with it, any traces of the sophomore slump.”
Unified Rebelution (EP), Blunt, 1995.
Jurassic 5 (EP), Rumble/Pickininny, 1997; reissued, Inter-scope.
Quality Control, Interscope, 2000.
Power in Numbers, Interscope, 2002.
Rolling Stone, December 11, 1997.
Source, November 2002.
“A Break from the Underground,” Metro Newspapers, http://www.metroactive.com (February 10, 2003).
“Jurassic 5,” All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (February 10, 2003).
“Jurassic 5: Quality Control,” The Onion A.V. Club,http://www.onionavclub.com (February 10, 2003).
Jurassic 5 Official Website, http://www.jurassic5.com (February 11, 2003).
Members: Akil, MC; Chali 2na, MC; Cut Chemist, DJ; Marc 7, MC; Nu-Mark, DJ; Zaakir (Soup) MC.
Best-selling album since 1990: Quality Control (2000)
Jurassic 5 is a collective of six individuals who together helped bring back hip-hop to its early roots by employing the basic formula of vocal interplay and turntable beats.
Although its debut album was not released until 2000, the group came together in 1993 when members met at the Good Life Café, an open microphone venue in South Central Los Angeles. During the early to mid-1990s, the club was the epicenter of the underground hip-hop movement in the city. At the time, gangsta rap was shaking up the mainstream. Featuring stars like Tupac Shakur and groups like N.W.A., gangsta rap ignited controversy for its brutal portrayal of inner-city street life. As the 1990s wore on and the hardcore images of gangsta rap faded, mainstream hip-hop became filled with stars like Sean "P. Diddy" Combs and Shawn Carter, also known as Jay-Z. In real life, these artists doubled as corporate moguls and their music became less about the travails of street life and more about women, jewelry, and the enjoyments of living the high life.
As mainstream hip-hop went from guns and gangs to rhinestones and luxury cars, the underground concentrated on keeping it simple. Taking cues from early hip-hop innovators like De La Soul and Kool Moe Dee, Jurassic 5's music was about harmony and the simplest production possible. Its members originated from two hip-hop groups, Rebels of Rhythm and Unity Committee. After releasing the single "Unified Rebelution" under both names in 1993, they ended up forming a new group. Four years later, they independently released the self-titled album Jurassic 5 (1997), which ended up selling tens of thousands of copies and sparking the interest of Interscope, a major label. (Interscope released the album in 2000.)
Unlike their gangsta rap peers, Jurassic 5's music emphasizes peace and social justice and also pays tribute to their hip-hop heroes. With the backing beats of its two DJs, the four MCs combine the harmonic interplay of doowop singing with the individual freestyle rhyming of contemporary rap. Their debut, Quality Control (2000), was hailed by critics who declared it one of the freshest albums of recent years and a return to the playfulness, economic production values, and memorable melodies of hip-hop's roots. The group quickly became associated with other like-minded groups of the alternative hip-hop movement including the Roots and Dilated Peoples.
As with those groups, Jurassic 5 found they played to a mostly white audience—exactly the kind of fans who felt alienated from the ghetto tales of gangsta rap or the pimp fantasies portrayed in latter-day hip-hop. Jurassic 5 toured with singer/songwriter Fiona Apple and later shared the stage with Dilated Peoples, the Beat Junkies, and MC Supernatural for the "Word of Mouth" tour. The group returned two years later with its second album, Power in Numbers (2002). Once again breaking stereotypes, the album presents a variety of styles including soul, jazz, and pop, with songs ranging from political to party jams.
In 2002, Jurassic 5 joined the "Smokin' Grooves" tour featuring Lauryn Hill and the Roots. The group remained an alternative in the larger hip-hop picture, emphasizing group unity rather than individual braggadocio.
Jurassic 5 (Rumble/Pick-ininny, 1997); Quality Control (Interscope, 2000); Power in Numbers (Interscope, 2002).