Energetic L.A. posse bring hiphop back alive
JURASSIC 5, performing as part of the Warped Tour ’00, at Molson Park (100 Molson Park Drive, Barrie), Saturday (July 22) at noon. $25.25-$32.75. 870-8000. And as part of Rhyme & Reason 2000, with the BEASTIE BOYS, RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE and QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE, at Molson Park, Wednesday, August 2. $38.50-$46.50. 870-8000.
Los Angeles hiphop dream team Jurassic 5 never shy away from a challenge. Given the opportunity to join Cali cohorts Dilated Peoples in counteracting the race and genre bias of the annual summer thrash-bash that is the Warped Tour, they gladly accepted.
For the six-strong rap powerhouse — whose old-school approach to ripping rhymes in four-part harmony have earned them a rep for delivering the most entertaining shows in hiphop — playing the Warped Tour isn’t a mere promotional swing. Performing is what they’re all about.
Jurassic 5’s just-released Quality Control album is more a direct representation of the way they attack the microphones and turntables on stage each night than a sample-rich studio creation.
In fact, the reason the record’s so long overdue has just as much to do with the J5’s non-stop gigging regimen as with the two-year-long label bidding war over the group that Interscope finally won.
“We’ve got a really good work ethic,” reasons rapper Zaakir, the 29-year-old former radio promotions rep who was fired by Interscope, ironically, for having a poor work ethic. “We roll up our sleeves and get busy.
“I think people overseas have taken to us because they’re so used to hiphop artists playing for only 10 minutes and leaving — if they show up at all.
“Like with the Wu-Tang Clan, you never know who’s gonna get onstage. It could be RZA, Meth or maybe some Wu members you don’t even want to see. But people know when they go to a Jurassic 5 show, everyone is gonna get at least their money’s worth, sometimes more.”
When it comes to a live showdown, the J5 posse are down for whatever or whoever. If their pairing with sexy soul crooner D’Angelo was a bit jarring, their appearance as the opening act for Fiona Apple’s high-profile Roseland Ballroom showcase earlier this year was just plain weird.
Apparently, the moody Ms. Apple fell in love with the J5’s boisterous jams upon hearing an advance copy of their Quality Control album and had to have them on the bill. Who knew?
“Not only will we go anywhere we need to be, but we’ll play with anybody. Whether we’re headlining, co-headlining or opening the damn show, it doesn’t matter. Maybe after we sell a million we’ll be all ‘Oh, no, we couldn’t possibly go on first,’ but for now we’re ready to rock.
“We really wanted to do the Fiona Apple show because it just had to be the wildest experience ever. And it was about like we expected — y’know, eyes bulging and mouths wide open.
“Some people were receptive, but a lot of folks were, like (affecting an uptight New Yorker whine), ‘Who the heck are these guys?’ We came out telling everyone that Fiona personally asked us to do the show, so they wouldn’t get the idea that we slapped her down and pushed our way onstage.
“Still, the whole time, they were looking at us like we had Fiona tied to a chair in the back. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but entertaining people and making new fans is what it’s all about.
“Everyone was cool. After the show, people came up to us saying they liked our stuff, and we signed all kinds of autographs. The whole thing turned out great.”
It’s their live entertainment value that gives J5 an edge on the competition, who are no longer required to prove themselves before an audience of peers to claim celebrity status.
The Jurassic 5’s phrase-swapping ensemble sound — reminiscent of the Cold Crush Brothers’ full-on posse joints — wasn’t planned. It’s a style that evolved organically over seven years of democratic push and pull.
Before that, Zaakir and high-school pal Akil were honing their freestyle skills with the jazz-funk combo BlackNote every Monday night that they weren’t fronting the Rebels of Rhythm.
It was at L.A. hot spots like the Good Life Cafe that they’d share bills with the Pharcyde, Freestyle Fellowship along with future J5 cohorts Chali 2na, Marc 7 and DJ Cut Chemist, then of Unity Committee.
The J5’s sixth member, DJ Nu-Mark, who arrived on the scene later, could see the enormous potential in an eventual merger between the Rebels and Unity Committee.
“The Rebels of Rhythm were a live band with a drummer who had an 808 triggered by his bass drum so it sounded like he was playing hiphop beats,” explains Nu-Mark, who pioneered the wah-wah pedal turntable hookup that Qbert popularized. “The Unity Committee had a completely different style based around 2na’s ill voice and Cut’s awesome turntable skills. But they were both dope groups.
“Everything came together at Cut’s house. He’d invite everyone over, I’d bring my drum machine and we’d load beat for beat. When we came up with something cool, the fellas would shout, ‘Yeah, I’m feelin’ that,’ and start rhyming.
“Cut’s mom would come by, like, ‘What are you boys up to?’ And she’d chill with us. It was all good, y’know, very homey-home.”
You can take the hiphop group out of the rec room, but you can’t take the rec room out of Jurassic 5. They weren’t born thugs, they weren’t raised thugs and they’re mature enough to have no interest in playing the thug role for anybody.
If maintaining a good-timey party vibe at the expense of gunplay and debasing slurs means they get called “soft” now and again, Jurassic 5 can live with that, even if Tupac Shakur couldn’t.
“I am a young black male living in America,” states Zaakir. “Ain’t nothing soft about that. I’ve endured too much in my life to let anybody tell me what’s hardcore.
“What kind of reaction do people expect to get out of me by calling us soft? Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. The only time I might have a problem with it is if somebody thinks they can come up in my face and disrespect me or my people. We’ll see who’s soft then.
“I really don’t get the thug thing. Tupac and Biggie got killed over that. Did they really have to die over some silly shit? If being hardcore means getting shot up, then count me out. I won’t be that — no, I can’t be that fool.
“We’ve made a positive record that has some humour and what I think is some very good music. If you dig that, then get aboard. If you don’t, well, maybe we’ll have something for you next time, but we can’t cater to people’s expectations.”