Into the Light

The Jurassic 5 make a heroic ascent from the hip-hop underground.

Sometimes, even if you are an up-and-coming artist with a major-label deal and steady album sales, it can take a near-tragedy for the hip-hop powers that be to take notice. Consider the Los Angles-based The Jurassic 5: Despite the fact that the group sold an entire pressing of its independently produced EP in 1997, signed with Interscope soon after and released Quality Control -- one of the year's most creative efforts -- in 2000, it was a near-fatal accident that eventually landed it in the pages of one of hip-hop's tastemaking publications. In August, while the J5 -- as MCs Chali 2Na, Zaakir, Akir and Marc 7, and DJs Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark are known to fans -- were on the road with the punk-oriented Vans Warped Tour, the group's bus crashed in a ditch near Houston. The accident landed Chali 2Na in the hospital, where he underwent surgery for a fractured skull; Marc 7 and Akil suffered minor injuries. According to 2Na, The Source reported the accident and falsely stated that the band would subsequently cancel all tour plans for the rest of the year.

"I didn't really appreciate that article, because they don't really know what they are talking about. It was a speedy recovery, but, you know, it's like, 'Damn, how long have we been doing this stuff, just trying to put our records out, and it takes us to crash the bus for y'all to talk about us?' And then to tell everybody we ain't going to do a tour this year because of our crash -- and we're out here on the road when the fucking magazine comes out."

West Coast artists having beefs with the East Coast-leaning Source is nothing new -- remember Ice Cube's rant about the mag's lack of respect for L.A. artists a few years back? -- but 2Na makes a point: The J5 deserve more than mere blurbs from major publications, especially if they're printed only when something goes wrong. The Jurassic 5 have a sizable, growing following. In June, Quality Control hit number one both on the College Music Journal charts and in The Gavin Report, the two main methods employed by the record industry to track college radio. During the past year, the group has blazed shows in America and overseas, extending its reach beyond urban capitals with traditionally large rap audiences. The J5's performances in Colorado this week are sold out (as were its gigs here last year), which means hordes of hip-hop fans will cram into the Fox Theatre in Boulder, not exactly an urban metropolis. Even MTV, a network that continually appears dedicated to pandering to the lowest common denominator of any musical genre, had the J5 battling it out with another L.A. underground act, Dilated Peoples, on a recent episode of Direct Effect (DFX). The show, hosted by Tek from the Real World cast in Hawaii, allows the viewers to choose online which video to air.

They've got four turntables and four microphones: the Los Angeles-based Jurassic 5.
They've got four turntables and four microphones: the Los Angeles-based Jurassic 5.


9 p.m. Sunday, October 29, and Monday, October 30

Jurassic 5 and Dilated Peoples. In-store appearance and autograph signing
1 p.m., Sunday, October 29
Twist & Shout, 300 East Alameda Avenue
free, 303-722-1943

Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder

Quality Control was three years in coming -- light years in hip-hop time -- and finds the band further refining its trademark amalgam of four MCs and two DJs. The album is a welcome alternative to the steady stream of fast-food rap that threatens the health of the hip-hop nation. Spewing fly B-boy boasts and introspective social commentary, the MCs flow effortlessly between the skillfully concocted Nu-Mark/Cut Chemist beats. The J5 could be hip-hop's equivalent to the Magic Johnson-era Los Angeles Lakers (whom they reference on "The Game"): confident, capable, strutting down the court, taunting the opposition with their skills.

"We were just getting our business right, making some cool songs that were quality songs. It took us a minute to get everything right and solidify the deal with Interscope. We were also in the learning process about this business and what to do," says 2Na when asked about the gap between recordings. You can't blame the guys for getting their business tight, because unfortunately, the hip-hop road is littered with far too many artists who haven't gotten paid as a result of shady business deals.

According the 2Na, the deal with Interscope was worth waiting for. The contract allows the group to maintain full creative control and provides the kind of financial support that simply doesn't exist for most indie artists. "[The deal] just gave us money and a little leeway to do more of the things that we wanted to do, as far as touring and getting the record distributed to more places than we could have done ourselves on the independent label," he says.

There is a collective vibe emanating from the crew that differs from more inwardly directed rap artists; Quality Control resounds with a reverence for artists of the past and the good ol' Sesame Street notion of co-op-e-ration. It's a feeling that's well captured in the lyrics to "Improvise," which finds all four MCs rapping in unison (something they do fairly often): "And together, we'll show you how to improvise/Reminiscent of the Wild Style '75/'Cause it's the brothers on the mike occupying the drums/Taking four MCs and make them sound like one."

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