Jurassic 5 keeps ‘old school’ fresh
August 30, 2006
Every band gets ripped on when starting out, especially when they’re trying something different, but most bands don’t name themselves after it. It was back in 1993 when two crews, Rebels of Rhythm and Unity Committee, met up to do a song. Rapper Chali 2na’s girlfriend listened in.”You guys are trying to sound like the furious five, but you just sound like the Jurassic five,” she said afterwards, to Chali. “She was trying to be funny,” said Zaakir, aka Soup, one of the group’s members. “It just stuck. He told us about it and we were like, let’s use it. We weren’t called anything. We were two different groups. We just wanted to do a song together and it turned into this.”Jurassic 5 wanted to be old school from the beginning. The Jurassic 5 LP was first released at the end of 1998, but it sounded like it could have been from 1988 or even before then.All too many people lump together A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul with Jurassic 5, when really, Jurassic came along 10 years later. They were trying to get back to that sound, refresh it, bring in something new, but stick to the social agenda that crews like De La and Tribe brought as part of New York’s Native Tongues Posse in the late ’80s. “Let’s take it back to the concrete streets, original beats from real live MCs,” rapped Jurassic, on that first LP. “Playground tactics, no rabbit-in-a-hat tricks, just act classic, rappin’ from Jurassic.”De La and Tribe were breaking new ground, but perhaps Jurassic is the first of the groups to come along who want to refine that genre. Sometimes the early work on a new sound can be rough, and groups that come along with the intention of following up on something that worked can be the best anyway.
Jurassic 5 has often been compared to a hip-hop barbershop quartet, with their harmonizing, finishing each other’s lyrics and older feel. It’s a throwback to another era. Jurassic’s first album doesn’t actually sound all that different from their latest, “Feedback,” released on July 25. They do a song with Dave Matthews, but neither are breaking from the party line. “I don’t think we’re taking it into any unkown territory,” said Soup, of their latest album. “We’re just doing what we’re doing. It’s an opportunity to build a legacy.”
To some extent, J-5 could be more closely aligned with professional musicians than with artists. They might freestyle a little, but they’re more about sticking closely to the script. And for an audience that wants to come out and hear “Quality Control” or “Red Hot,” it’s exactly what Jurassic delivers. “We don’t freestyle during the show,” Soup said. “People don’t come to see us freestyle. Freestyle is a bonus. J-5 don’t go around freestyling. But at the end of the show we’ll do some over certain beats. It’s not really a playtime for us until the end of the show. Nobody wants to see that. They want to see what’s golden and I’m freestyling? No. We’ll do the real stuff first, then we’ll sit around and giggle and eat cake later.”For Soup, being on the road is work, and a show is work. “We come out there and entertain,” he said. “We perform. We give them that 35 or 40 bucks that they pay for the ticket.”That doesn’t mean it’s not a good time. “The whole show is fun,” Soup said. “We do close to two hours’ worth of work. Period. We travel all over. The whole thing is the funnest part. When someone pays their hard-earned money to come see us. That’s fun.”
Jurassic 5 originally started out with two DJs (Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist) and four MCs (Akil, Mark 7, Chali 2na and Soup). Though they weren’t originally five, they are now, because Cut Chemist is off doing his solo thing. Soup said the break wasn’t tough, there were no hard feelings. Everyone gets along, and if someone wants to go do his own thing then that’s OK. So it has been when Cut Chemist and Chali 2na have hooked up with Ozomatli. Or when 2na has appeared with Pharcyde or Soulive.”It’s a gang of guys on a bus,” Soup said. “I prefer to just do what you do. Then everybody get along. But we also have problems. That’s just life. Ain’t got nothing to do with the group. We’ve never had fistfights. Have I wanted to punch somebody in the mouth? Yes. Have guys wanted to punch me in the mouth? Yes. But we never have.”Some of the writing takes place on the bus, or in hotel rooms, or when bandmembers take a break at home. Jurassic 5 won’t be throwing down a new rhythm onstage. But everything they’re saying is their own concoction. “Everyone writes what they want to say,” Soup said. “We put them together and come out with what we come out with. Someone might already have the hook. Someone might have an idea. Or maybe Nu-Mark has a beat that sounds cool. There are a few ways of doing it. We hear what everyone has to say.”The words and the beats just fall in place. Sometimes someone says he’s excited about one of the other guy’s lyrics or a new rhyme, and sometimes they just remain silent.
“We might say, ‘you can write something better,'” Soup said. “We don’t practice. We write as we go. It’s not like Wednesdays and Fridays we’ll write. We just do what we do. We just get together when we do. It’s not a set anything with this group. We always just flow freely. That’s how we make it work all this time.”Just because Jurassic 5 goes for the old-school feel and focuses on the positive side of hip-hop doesn’t mean that they’re only cranking up the Jungle Brothers on the radio. Of course they are into all kinds of music, even gangsta rap. “Is gangsta rap the first time anyone heard negativity? I don’t think gangsta rap invented negativity,” Soup said. “If it’s done good, I’ll buy it and bump it. I like all type of music. The so-called ‘bling, bling music,’ yeah, if it’s good, I’ll buy it. J-5 is not on a crusade to stop gangsta rap. All so-called positive rap ain’t tight. Some people think we wack, so – that’s just what it is.”Soup said he’s happy to be heading up here to Aspen on Friday, though he’s not going to have much time to hang out because they are playing Red Rocks the following night. “It’s a beautiful spot,” Soup said. “We’ve been there when it’s snowing. That’s off the hook when it’s like that. I’ve never had a night in Aspen when we went out clubbing or some shit like that.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org