Jurassic 5: J5

[7 December 2008]

By Andrew Martin

Jurassic 5 was one of those acts that anyone, no matter which genre that person preferred, would listen to. If you want to a party during the late ‘90s/early 2000s, you most likely heard at least one of their tracks—and that goes double if it was a frat party. For whatever reason, the frat guys took to J5 like the second coming. And at the same time, hip-hop heads from the mainstream to the underground were digging the California group, too. A big reason for that widespread love was their debut EP, which was then expanded into a full-length album with a few more cuts a year later. And joints like “Jayou” and the undeniably fantastic “Concrete Schoolyard” launched this group of emcees and turntablists/producers into the hip-hop stratosphere.

No one could deny their ability to bring listeners back to the early ‘90s boom-bap and even the late ‘80s, when the rap and hip-hop culture were blooming and evolving. J5 harnessed that sound mostly because of DJ Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist, who have become world renowned for both their skills on the turntables and their crate-digging. It should go without saying that the group’s four emcees—Chali 2na, Akil, Zaakir, and Mark 7even—were more than blessed to work with such a talented pair, though Cut Chemist would inevitably leave before their disappointing farewell piece, Feedback.

Although the Jurassic crew is no more, Decon has provided disheartened fans and newcomers alike with a fantastic reissue of the group’s seminal debut, which dropped ten years ago. Now, if you know anything about hip-hop, you know that a decade is more than a lifetime for the genre. But you will also know that for any truly good music, time means nothing. That is not to say that J5’s debut is “timeless”, but it is just as enjoyable today as it was when disgruntled backpackers were looking for the next best thing. Of course, if you had not heard J5, or the group itself, prior to 2008, this record might just dominate your free time. The aforementioned “Jayou” and “Concrete Schoolyard” will no doubt grab hold of you first, but everything else, except for the brief skits, will hold your attention equally strongly. “Without a Doubt” is as tight as ever and so is “Action Satisfaction”. And who could forget “Improvise”, a track that lets each member introduce himself and was later updated on their stellar major label debut, Quality Control.

But the real story here is not the reissue of what many of us have heard already. The two extra discs are what really steal the show. First, there is a packed-to-the-brim collection of rare tracks that range from radio station promos to collaborations, like the political and exceedingly dark “Ducky Boy”, off DJ Babu’s Duck Season 1. The other featured outsider is guest producer Marvski, who helped lace the beat for “(Who’s Gonna Be the) Next Victim”. This track, similar to another one here, the piano-laden “Ghetto Diplomat”, is an all-out verbal attack from Chali 2na, who rips the mic in his usual fashion. For hungry J5 fans, though, these tracks act as both a tease and a gift. They are a nice treat to all the 2na-lovers, but they also make you crave his long awaited solo album, Fish Outta Water.

The whole group gets together on “Verbal Gunfight”, a track almost as gritty as “Ducky Boy”, and “Long Road to Glory”, which turns out to be a chance for each rapper to get his shine on. Then there are the radio station promos that, if anything, are fun, quick listens that remind you of the days when turning on your favorite hip-hop station didn’t make you cringe. One of the best joints here, however, is the funky party anthem “Unified Rebelution”.  Among other things, it conjures images of the six-man group rocking a stage like they had done for years.

Luckily for those of you who didn’t get the chance to see the group live, and even for those who did, the DVD in this reissue offers a 25-minute concert from the Brixton Academy. Just as they did when I was lucky enough to catch them four years ago, J5 sound album-perfect, get the crowd hyped, and never stop having fun. Although the footage could have been extended, it still provides you with a chance to immerse yourself in the video like you were actually there. Highlights include both Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist showing their respective chops on an MPC and the ones and twos—at one point, Nu-Mark plays with Clipse’s “Grindin’” beat. As for the emcees, well, they kill it as usual on joints like “I Am Somebody”, “Improvise”, and, most impressive, “A Day at the Races”, a wordplay workout.

As if this was not enough, there is also the video for “Concrete Schoolyard”, which should take you right back to the ‘90s, and a nearly 40-minute tour documentary. While the documentary is scant on details of the group’s creative process, it provides insight into each member’s personality, from Zaakir to Nu-Mark. Most of the mini-film is dedicated to the hilarious antics of both J5 and their friends, like Sway, who cracks numerous jokes about 2na. Also, since they were touring with DJ Babu, there is a plethora of ridiculous, goofy clips involving him. For example, one part has him reciting a part of Superman II‘s storyline during a trip to Niagara Falls and another has Babu freestyle battling against the bus driver.

Typically, reissues, especially after only ten years, can be dismissed as nothing more than a quick cash-in. But this one goes above and beyond the call of duty. The included bonus disc might not be monumental, but it’s enough to keep J5 fans and newcomers excited. And the DVD’s three sections are all fantastic. Had this album somehow slipped past you in 1998 or the years after, maybe it’s for the better now that you can experience this outstanding debut with all these extra goodies.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/66333-jurassic-5-j5/