POWER IN NUMBERS: Following a successful album is never easy, no matter what the style of music. In hip-hop, the challenge is arguably more difficult since the whims of the genre are constantly shifting, the sounds ever-evolving. On their second full length album, Power In Numbers, Jurassic 5 prove up to the task of answering one remarkable album their first, Quality Control, with another. Nobody could really doubt the result. The Los Angeles-based outfit has always displayed a blazing ingenuity and inventiveness in their craft, earning the four MCs and two DJs of the group a loyal, dedicated following that reaches throughout the world.
Jurassic 5 Ð MCs Chali 2na, Zaakir (Soup), Akil and Marc 7 and DJs Cut Chemist and
Nu-Mark Ð conjure an energy that recalls a throwback era in hip-hop, when the only thing that seemed to matter was the music and having fun. The time of park jams and block parties, of willful braggadocio and stylish wordplay, of crafty disc jockeys and handclap beats. J5 have always displayed characteristics of those back-in-the-day jams, like their powerful vocal harmonizing and amplified funk beats, but what the group embody more than stylistic flourishes is that era's spirit: making good music that connects with the people.
That sentiment is especially true on Power In Numbers, which the group describes as an altogether different sounding album but one still is very much a part of the Jurassic 5 tradition. "We all knew we wanted to do something different than what we had done before, with a whole new sound and a whole new texture to the music," explains Cut Chemist. "We were kind of starting from scratch with no regard to what we had done before, experimenting with technique and sound."
Jurassic 5's roots lie in the L.A. Underground, a hip-hop movement centered around The Good Life Café open-mic space in the heart of South Central Los Angeles' old jazz district, where dozens of MCs and DJs would congregate regularly to perform. During its most prolific period (1991-1994), the L.A. Underground was a Mecca of musical innovation, spawning groups like The Pharcyde and Freestyle Fellowship; more importantly, the movement encouraged its artists to constantly balance progressive styles and good music Ð an idea that still resonates with J5, the most successful group to emerge from that scene.
Jurassic 5 formed in 1993 as the union between two separate hip-hop groups, Rebels of Rhythm and Unity Committee, both frequent participants at The Good Life. The two groups came together to release a spontaneous, one-off single, "Unified Rebelution," which made a deep impression with true hip-hop heads everywhere. Its success emphasized the chemistry each of the artists had with one another and they decided to form Jurassic 5 as a singular musical unit.
The rest is well documented. Their self-titled EP was released in 1997 on the group's own independent imprint, selling tens of thousands of copies around the world. Signed to Interscope Records shortly thereafter, with a re-release of their EP, J5 found themselves mentioned in the same breath as groups like The Roots, De La Soul, Mos Def and Talib Kweli Ð artists who served as an important and welcomed counterpoint to the prevailing standards of hip-hop music.
With Power In Numbers, J5 prove themselves to be more than just someone's alternative. Their fans proudly display the J5 symbol on t-shirts as if it were a superhero's call for something grander and better. Which is why Power In Numbers, recorded over about 18 months from 2001 and 2002, will strike a chord with listeners who find something about themselves in the organic sincerity of J5's music. "If anything, this album has a darker, harder edge to it," says Marc 7 of the new work. "It's a sign of the times. Things are happening in the world and, of course, it affects us on an artistic level."
Jurassic 5 are using their skills to be deft cultural commentators while still rocking the party. "What means the world to me is being free / Live and let live and just let it be / Love, peace and harmony one universal family," Akil says on "Freedom," and his words echo the sentiment of the entire group.
Elsewhere, the new sounds abound. "One of Them" questions the motives of some of their peers, a vindictive edge to the group many haven't seen. "Hey," meanwhile," is a refined, mellow excursion into mood music, it's soulful melody and soft organ touches making it a defiantly new style for the group. "Thin Line" fits in the same category, featuring the talented, sinewy vocals of singing sensation (and J5 fan) Nelly Furtado, who helps create an infectious pop song contemplating relationships between men and women.
"I never thought that we could do a song like that," admits Cut Chemist. "But I'm listening to it and I'm thinking, 'This is a really good SONG,' a pop song when it was healthy to do good pop songs."
Power In Numbers features a little bit of everything. "Break" could be described as a classic J5 song with its metered beats and lyrical playfulness, but its heavier sound makes it bounce harder. "A Day At The Races" features classic lyricists Percee P and Big Daddy Kane as guest MCs. The song is based on a beat Cut Chemist created ten years ago, his homage to "fast-rap" artists like Kane and Kool G Rap. "That was a dream come true, to work with the two of them," says Marc 7.
J5 included new producers on their album, including JuJu from the Beatnuts (If You Only Knew, One of Them) and Sledge and Omas (Hey). However, the bedrock of the J5 sound lies with Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark, both of whom relished the opportunity to create a new palette of sounds for the new album. Their ingenuity in mining new sounds out of old records is unparalleled in hip-hop Ð almost a lost art considering the sparse minimalism dominating hip-hop music these days Ð and Nu-Mark's fetish for exotic instruments always adds another layer to the group's sound. This time around, the album was recorded entirely at Nu-Mark's new home studio in Los Angeles.
As always, Jurassic 5 remains dedicated to their live shows: energetic, tightly performed, can't-miss affairs that emanate infectious vibes. The summer of 2002 features the group on the road as part of the Smokin' Grooves Tour, with Outkast, Lauryn Hill and The Roots. That J5 can do this kind of tour, as well as something like the Vans Warped Tour in past years, only underscores the versatility they exhibit as a group and the breadth of listeners who appreciate their sound.
It all bodes well for their latest, Power In Numbers. "It's such a struggle every day because no matter what we've accomplished, we're still striving," says Marc 7. "It's not to be at 'the top,' because that means you have to fail. We're striving for consistency, to make a solid record every time. Every time out, J5 won't disappoint."