“I refuse to bust gats and water down my raps/ To get me caught up in the trap and set me years back/ F—k that”
— Akil, “Where
Jurassic 5 won’t apologize for not making gangsta rap music, even though they hail from the west and were raised on a healthy diet of Ice T, Eazy-E, and Toddy Tee, in addition to East Coast offerings Run DMC, the Cold Crush Brothers and LL Cool J.
“That particular subject always bothered me,” explains Akil, “because I’ve heard conversations that go on about the type of music Jurassic 5 makes. I think it’s an issue of perception, in terms of what has been promoted. When people see us perform they understand.”
The five-man collective that also includes Zaakir (Soup), Chali 2na, Marc 7, and producer/DJ Nu-Mark may have shared concert stages in the U.S. and abroad with mainstream acts Bruce Springsteen, Fiona Apple, Green Day, D’Angelo and OutKast, but their music has always maintained the underground grit of their 1997 self-titled independent EP that sold 300,000 copies worldwide.
Feedback, their third major label release, has its share of crossover tracks. “Work It Out,” the album’s first single, is a collab with Jam Band superstar Dave Matthews, and “Brown Girl,” featuring vocals from new reggae sister act Brick & Lace, is a bonafide pop hit sculpted by Scott Storch. The rest of the album, however, is heavy on their trademark old school hip-hop, and even a dose of world music.
The Salaam Remi produced “Radio” could have been on the soundtrack for the 1984 cult classic hip-hop flick Breakin’. The J5 MCs trade lyrics like sprinters pass the baton, telling the history of rap through their own stories.
“In The House” is a nostalgic tribute to old school West Coast party rap groups like L.A. Dream Team, Egyptian Lover and J.J. Fad. While their nostalgic sing-song choruses are no doubt influenced by the Cold Crush Brothers, J5 wanted to rep for their home based influences as well.
Akil: It’s a part of our history. It says we’re from the West Coast and not just doing East Coast.
Zaakir: When we in elementary school or junior high listening to KDAY, lyrically, L.A. Dream Team was not my favorite, but the beats is what kept the party live. I found myself missing the old LA sound.
Elsewhere on Feedback, “Gotta Understand,” “Baby Please,” and “End Up Like This” explain their disposition on their music, relationships, and modern times over infectious ‘70s soul samples.
Feedback is a response to everything that has transpired since Power In Numbers, their last album released three years ago. “When you do art, you’re going to get feedback,” Chali explains. “It’s like our output from people’s input,” Akil adds. “In order to get sound, a certain amount of feedback has to be produced.”
The members’ varied background allows each to bring a different perspective to the table. Zaakir and Nu-Mark have worked at record labels. Zaakir, a former college radio promotions rep at Loud and Interscope Records, was instrumental in getting Mobb Deep signed to Loud Records in the early ‘90s. While working at indie label Correct Records in the mid-‘90s, Nu-Mark tried to sign Kanye West to the label, but the company passed on the opportunity. Akil and Chali were always engulfed in the art. Akil’s father was a local DJ, and his mother a dancer. Chicago native Chali 2na’s history as a respected Los Angeles graffiti artist is documented in the book The History Of Los Angeles Grafitti. The Patterson, New Jersey rooted Marc 7 moved to L.A. when he was 15, and quickly embraced the new scene, considering among his most influential moments, seeing Ice T introduce Eazy-E to L.A. audiences at the Casa back in the late ‘80s.
Their passion for their art earned them acclaim even before they scored their major label deal. Prior to forming J5, the members were involved in two separate hip-hop groups, who both happened to have an old school hip-hop sound.
Chali 2na, Marc 7 and Cut Chemist, who exited J5 last year to pursue solo projects, were members of Unity Committee, and Zaakir and Akil formed Rebels Of Rhythm. The groups met in 1993 while frequenting The Good Life Health Food Café, a former open mic venue for unsigned acts. Several significant Los Angeles acts from the early ‘90s came out of this scene—The Pharcyde, Freestyle Fellowship, Volume 10, Ahmad, and Skee-Lo, among others. After years of suggesting that the Unity Committee and Rebels Of Rhythm work together, the groups recorded “Unified Rebelution,” which became an anthem, prompting the groups to merge.
Their independently released Jurassic 5 EP helped them secure their deal with Interscope. In 2000, they issued wmode=transparent quality Control, fueled by the title track, reached gold status. In 2002, they dropped Power In Numbers which made impact with “What’s Golden.”
With Feedback, J5 plans to take things to the next level.
Zaakir says a recent conversation he had with an old friend made him put things into perspective. When he ran into the friend he had not seen since The Good Life days asked him how J5 managed to reach their level of success while Freestyle Fellowship had essentially fallen off, he was stumped.
“I really wasn’t ready for no question like that,” Zaakir recalls. “I was like I don’t know. Maybe business decisions. Maybe being able to compromise, and tolerate people’s ways. I’m sure this type of shit came into play. I feel like everybody got their shot. The Pharcyde came out had their shot, but they broke up. Cypress Hill definitely had their shot. Alkaholiks had their shot. I don’t feel we had our shot as far as like radio. That’s the only thing I wish. Can we go hard one time? Then I would feel like we got our shot.