RIP-Jurassic 5 (1990-2007)
The first time I ever heard Jurassic 5 reads like an easy cliche. It was nearly 10 years ago and I was packed into a sweltering, non-air conditioned dorm, first week of school, freshmen year. Blunts were being passed around a room, swarming with stoned freshmen new to school, anxious to ramble on about the merits of chronic, girls and hip-hop. At one point, a kid who I never saw again stood up, mumbled something about "some shit that we needed to hear," inserted a CD into the stereo, turned the album to track five and pressed play.
The classic piano keys of "Concrete Schoolyard," floated across a twisting breakbeat, MC's seamlessly transitioned every few bars, led by Chali 2NA's resounding baritone and tongue-twisting flow. Simultaneously old and new, a true hip-hop collective emerged with back-breaking turntablists and proficient MC's. I was sold. Copping the original EP a few days later, it was the first record that I truly loved during the "underground" hip-hop golden age of the late 90s, where for a while there seemed to be no shortage of talented rappers dropping gems by the day. From Del and Kool Keith's experiments with Dan the Automator, to Kweli, Company Flow, Pharoahe Monch, and Mos Def at Rawkus, to Blackalicious and Quannum in the Bay, to the Stones Throw Camp and J5 in LA, it seemed that positive "backpacker" hip-hop was the perfect antidote to the materialism and excessive Big Willie Talk that teetered on the verge of self-parody. Nastradamus anyone?
Jurassic 5 wasn't the best of the bunch, but they were fun as hell and their music captured a sense of joy that seemed exciting and fresh to a generation of kids that hadn't been alive for groups like the Cold Crush or The Furious 5. With beats supplied by Nu-Mark and the Cut Chemist, upbeat, uplifting (if didactic) lyrics and a tireless live show, Jurassic 5 seemed like LA's official hip-hop home team. One closer to the Lakers than to the Clippers.
Shortly thereafter, J5 signed to Interscope and started to record their major-label debut. In the meantime, they constantly rocked shows throughout LA. If if you liked hip-hop, you caught them somewhere. While they sometimes got a little repetitive, never once did they fail to move the crowd.
When the Interscope debut came out, it was a bit disappointing. Unable to match the sky-high hopes that the EP had promised. At 15 songs and 50 minutes, the conscious but not really all that conscious schtick wore thin almost as soon as it had started. And other than Chali 2NA, none of the MC's were much better than average. They seemed to just cycle through the limited permutations of: being conscious, not a weak MC, and being old school. At some point, writing lyrics about how good your lyrics are gets old, no matter how good of a rapper you are.
J5's fan base grew with 2002's Power in Numbers, as they built steam with an album of solid beats and slightly-evolved lyrics. Trying to defend their major-label status, they hoped to increase their fan base beyond their core of underground heads, hitting the Warped Tour and rock-heavy festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. But in their attempts to widen the tent, many felt they came off as insincere. Particularly on their last album Feedback. Truth is, there's only so "real" you can keep it when you're asking Dave Matthews to sing a hook, or using beats from Scott Storch.
It was easy to cast stones at J5 for selling out. But then again, you can't blame them either. Doing doing their best in a difficult situation, they were never going to sell enough records to stay on Interscope. I saw the guys one last time in 2006, writing about it for Rap-Up, trying not to rip too hard on my old favorites. But the truth was, I left slightly more than half-way through the show. The act had grown stale.
So Jurassic 5 is dead. Sure to re-unite in a few years to capacity crowds of 30-somethings nostalgiac for their college days. While it's sad to see them go, the time had certainly come. Sometimes, there isn't anything left to say. Better to leave now than tarnish the legacy by doing something stupid like collaborating with Nelly Furtado (never mind). Nonetheless, Jurassic 5 remain one of the finest group's in LA hip-hop history. Devoid of any classic LP's, their greatest hits can go head-to-head with almost any group. And maybe even Chali 2NA will start up that much-discussed, never realized solo career. In the meantime, a school year winds down and college kids graduate to "the real world" (or something). But in the the Fall somewhere another group of 18-year olds will be getting stoned in a a baking hot dorm room. But Jurassic 5 won't be around any longer. Someone else will have to provide the soundtrack (may I suggest the new El-P or Devin the Dude?). And so it goes.
Download In Zip Form:
The Unofficial Passion of the Weiss Greatest Hits of Jurassic 5 (left-click)
1. In The Flesh
3. Concrete Schoolyard
4. Great Expectations
5. Quality Control
7. Remember His Name
8. What's Golden
10. I Am Somebody
11. A Day At The Races (ft. Percee P & Big Daddy Kane)
12. Baby Please