Jurassic 5 leads hip-hop's retrolution
In this sampled-beat, reissued-sneaker, Shaft 2000-culture, style is a direct product of what has come before. Music, cinema and fashion don't simply borrow from the past anymore, they take out a second mortgage. So when a hip-hop group in the year 2000 boasts two DJs and four MCs who harmonize, pass the mic on chops of rhyme and bring a stage presence in the old-school showmen's tradition, it's tempting to wonder if we're looking at yet another reissue.
Unlike those gleaming Adidas shell-toes, or Samuel Jackson as the ubiquitous black private dick, however, Los Angeles hip-hop collective Jurassic 5 is no novelty reproduction. Invoking the spirit of the past and charging it with the advanced skills and perspectives of the new century, Jurassic 5 represents a retrolutionary movement in hip-hop. J5 takes old-school and makes it ahead of the times.
"The situations that we speak on are the difference," says Jurassic MC Chali 2na, "and the advancement and development of style that we use. Along with incorporating old-school tactics, we're developed MCs. We are MCs who started rhyming when Run-D.M.C. was ruling the nest."
The result is a group of MCs who posses the individuality and independent skills of the '90s-favored hip-hop solo artist, as well as the sense of fellowship and harmony of the early '80s rap group. Pair this with DJs Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark, who bring an analogous mix of old-school break-spinning and scratching with the more contemporary practice of flossing obscure samples into meticulously crafted instrumental productions, and you have the Jurassic 5 approach. It is an authentic best-of hybrid of hip-hop styles that has garnered much attention as a threat to the current status quo.
"It's a changing of the guards," Chali 2na says, "and I love that I'm a part of it, and that my group is a part of the change. But it's the whole 15 minutes of fame theory, man. Every genre, every person, every group, whatever, will get their 15 minutes if they just wait their turn. Like Run-D.M.C., Public Enemy and that first changing of the genre was ushered in by N.W.A., Ice-T and all those guys. Gangster rap took over and it had its time, but it started to die, people started to get tired of it. It was subsequently replaced by the smoother player/hustler Jay-Z-ish type of cats."
Jurassic 5 represents a movement of hip-hoppers who bring the same pomp and confidence of their ice-and-gold-chain contemporaries, but who choose live performance and presentation rather than a Lincoln Navigator as their vehicle of exhibition.
"The whole flashy style is going back to a more showmanship aspect of hip-hop, to where it started, when brothers didn't have videos, and had to blow their show up. They had to make you remember their show when they left the club. You couldn't turn their show on MTV. That's what we're trying to bring back, the whole showmanship aspect of hip-hop. And the whole positive aspect as well, simply because we are positive people. If we were negative people, you best believe you would be hearing some gunshots, and a little crack selling in our music, but it ain't like that because that ain't us."
Indeed, Jurrassic 5's irrepressibly positive nature has even kept them from embracing the label of underground hip-hop heroes that fans and the press have insistently attempted to pin on them.
"We don't really look at it like an overground-underground type of thing," says Chali, his signature baritone growing slightly excited. "Hip-hop is all hip-hop. That's just a media ploy to separate us all and pit us against each other, and I'm not with that shit. But the way that we keep it down-rooted is that we are down-rooted people."
With their "down-rooted" sensibility evoking the very essence of the keep-it-real underground mentality, however, it is easy to cast Jurassic 5 as the antithesis of the hyped mainstream acts that dominate pop music right now. But true to the high-minded positions of their lyrics, J5 isn't about empty hip-hop ideologies and alignments.
"Everybody wants to pit us against Puffy and Jay-Z and these cats. I'm gonna tell you like this — them dudes are the epitome of underground. And I'll fight anybody who says they ain't. Why? Because they took their underground labels and brought them overground. They did the necessary things they had to do to make their independent labels successful. And that's a lesson for every underground head who wants to keep it real."
Jurassic 5 headlines the Word of Mouth Tour, also featuring Dilated Peoples and the Beat Junkies, at the Variety Playhouse, Sun., Oct. 22. Tickets are $17 in advance, $18.50 day of show. For information, call 404-521-1786.