Hip hop music's current climate is about to experience a quantum surge with the anticipated major label release of beloved rhyme scenarists, Jurassic 5. This just may set the pace for a renaissance of sorts. With the recent signings of the J5 and their contemporaries, Dilated Peoples, heads may yet enjoy a well-deserved shot in the arm to the weary urban playlists currently comprised of thuggish, ruggish platinum playas.See Also:
Zaakir, Chali 2na, Marc 7even and Akil are bringing back the innocence of hip hop's infant years with their fluent days-of-wayback flows backed by Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark's penchant for stirring communicable beats. The J5 re-acquainted listeners to the days of le coq sportif and Cazals, earning them brownie points from North America to Europe.
With their full-length debut on Interscope, Quality Control, just above the horizon, the only matter left is sample clearance. Otherwise, the engine is revved for a tentative release in April.
"If we don't come back with an album that's better than that EP, then we're in trouble," muses 29-year old Akil.
Expect a more personal offering from J5 this time around, with more room to exhale and an album that offers the six participants' entire psyche.
"The EP couldn't describe our goal, our expression," states Akil about the limitations of the nine-track release. "...together / we show you how to improvise / reminiscent of the wild style '75 / cause it's the brothers on the mic / occupyin' the drum / takin' four emcees and make it sound like one" - Improvise, 1999
Akil explains the objective of the J5 as "goin' back to a time when people were creative with their music and felt good with their expression...just being honest." Rather than being referred to as "messiahs" - as one publication did - the quintet are satisfied with sparking creativity in a land of lost rappers.
Akil firmly believes "people in America take hip hop for granted." He points to the current tired formula of bitch-ridin', cheddar-bathin', narcotic-influenced rhymes that seep in and out of Soundscan's top 10.
"Whatever's in becomes a formula," says Akil as he points out a creative board with no room for growth. Might he be referring to the oft-celebrated jiggy memoirs of a select group of rhyme writers?
Akil's own creativity began in high school after seeing West Coast pioneer Jazzy D do his thing in 1984. So impressed was he that it was only a matter of time before Akil was rockin' rhymes at talent shows around L.A along with Zaakir and their boy Africa in a crew called Rebels of Rhythm.
Crushing his ankle during a football game helped too.
The injury led to his decision to pursue music full time. He realized he had to build on his niche in rhyming.
Before long, the trio found the emcee breeding ground known as the Good Life Cafe.
"From the beginning, it was always a creative ground for artists in Los Angeles," reminisces Akil about the Thursday night open mics that set it off for people like Chillin' Villain Empire, Abstract Tribe Unique, Hip Hop Clan, S.I.N. and of course, Freestyle Fellowship.
"It was so much creativity comin' out of that place."
Akil stresses the two most considerable aspects of the Good Life were steering away from what the west coast was known for - gangsta rap - and the fervent need to come up with neoteric vocabs and melodies.
"Nobody was tryin' to be like anyone else," states the J5 member.
"You know you was gonna find someone doin' something different every week.
It was during those open mic nights that Rebels of Rhythm and Unity Committee - Chali 2na, Cut Chemist and Marc 7even - developed a mutual affection, which led to a single, Unified Rebelution, on Blunt Recordings.
"They thought we was just a novelty group," states Akil, "they never believed in us as a whole project."
With little push and high expectations, the relationship was destined to crumble. It was then that the group decided to jumpstart their own Rumble/Pickininny Records with an associate. The EP became its only release.
"The business aspect wasn't handled correctly."
Offers were already on the table from various majors from Sony to Virgin, but it was Interscope who dispensed the best option. The house Iovine built gave them full creative control and "wasn't tryin' to fix something that wasn't broke."
It also helped that Chali 2na and Cut Chemist were already signed to a subsidiary, Almo Sounds, with their group Ozomatli.
Should there be any worries about being dropped if sales are below expectations? Not in this case. Jurassic 5 comes to the table with an established worldwide fan base. This is not a case of pulling MC New Jack off the street and sticking him in a Hype Williams production. Their selling potential is there, giving the label "a gauge; a grid to go by."
"I urge every independent artist to put something out first. Prove yourself to yourself, to people that pick up the records, then the people (labels) will coming looking for you," proclaims Akil.
"If they know that you can score, they gonna pass the ball to you."
Conservative backpacker mentalities can and do sometimes cloud what should be heralded as a step forward. Too often, "underground" heads will cry the sellout blues after hearing of their hero's descent into the "hells" of major label hallways. Just ask Mr. Marshall Mathers.
Akil feels distaste in his mouth at the mention of the topic.
"Everybody is capitalizing off of hip hop, but when the artists who created this art form wants to get paid, suddenly he's looked at as a sellout."
Akil and his bredren in Jurassic 5 are poised to bring their talents to a wider audience indeed and are in a position to provide to not only their core listeners, but to the uninitiated as well. They have the beats, lyrics, and showmanship required to entertain heads from here to the white cliffs of Dover.
To best sum up the J5, one need only compare them to product currently resting on store shelves. Before Sean Carter, Ecko and MP3's there was Antonio Hardy, Troop and vinyl.
Now if you could bring back the simplicity of hip hop's early days, before the million dollar videos and profit-driven marketing schemes, there would be no better way than to pop in some J5.
"Jurassic 5 is a culmination of all the things in different eras of hip hop that we went through."
MTS Centre, Winnipeg - May 26, 2008
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