Our 2006 exclusive interview with Jurassic 5
For over 10 years, “from the metal monkey bars to concrete schoolyards,” Jurassic 5 has been carrying the torch for independent, Los Angeles-based Hip Hop. Through their fondness for the simpler days of street corner battling and party-emceeing, the prehistoric crew has been responsible for introducing a whole new generation to the way Hip Hop was, while at the same time influencing the direction the urban art-form is headed. By calling in some big name producers and slipping in one genre-jolting collaboration on their latest album, Feedback, J5 has set their sights even higher. Zaakir aka Soup talked to us about getting panned, getting down in the club, and getting the group together to do what they love.
Heads Lifestyle: It’s been a long time since Power In Numbers. How has the group been keeping busy?
Zaakir: We steady tour. You’re going to find something to keep you busy, whether it’s staying in the studio or out on the road touring, and we’ve happened to do both. It just took us a little longer than it takes the average Hip Hop cat now.
HL: J5 is actually five members finally, with the departure of Cut Chemist. Was everything cool with that?
Z: You know, as cool as it can be. Nobody came to fisticuffs, or said bad words to each other. It was one person deciding they wanted to do their thing, and the other people were like, Go on and do your thing. You can’t hold a grown man back from what he wants to do. You have to let that person go out the door and do their thing. I wasn’t mad at all.
HL: So does Nu-Mark handle the beats now, solely?
Z: Nah. He did a lot of production on this particular record, but we’re going to also go out and find other people to do what we need to do. We worked with Salaam Remy, Scott Storch, this cat named Exile, another cat named Bean One. So Nu-Mark isn’t going to do just every beat we got, but we’re definitely going to look at what he’s doing, and see where he’s at, when it’s time to make music.
HL: Seeing J5 in concert, I get the impression that you step up as the statesman and father figure of the group.
Z: (laughing) I never heard anybody say that.
HL: I don’t mean it in a condescending way. I just feel that you put your presence in front, and everyone feeds off you lots of times.
Z: Well, thank you. I didn’t take it in a condescending way. I mean I don’t look at it like that, because I tell people, everybody plays that role. Sometimes I’m not strong on certain situations that another person is strong on, but then they step up and do what they have to do. I don’t ever want to make it seem like I’m the one going, We need to do this, or Hey, don’t say that, but at the same time, I know what I won’t do, and when I don’t want to do it, I’m not doing it. I’ve always been this way as far as knowing what I want to do, and I don’t really like to bullshit myself. Not so much other people. I don’t like to bullshit myself—because if I’m not bullshitting myself, I can’t bullshit you.
Jurassic 5 (left to right): Cut Chemist, Chali 2na, Zaakir aka Soup, Akil, Dj Nu-Mark and Marc 7.
HL: Talking about the new album, it seems that in a way you’ve gone more old school, but you’ve also beefed up your sound. What would you say about the album?
Z: You know, I just read an album review that said Jurassic 5, “they stayed with the same prehistoric flow, and they are alienating a huge chunk of the younger listeners.” They [the reviewer] basically said we’re stuck. You are who you are, man! But at the same time, it’s hard to swallow shit like that. When I listen to the quote on quote new shit, all the new shit is the same. All that the new shit talks about is candy paint on the car, spinning wheels, bitches, guns. And this particular conversation about the content of Hip Hop has been going on for years. And it’s just funny to me how we could do what we do, and after three albums nobody’s tired of the shit they keep forcing down your throat, but you tired of what we do. Nobody said we have a song with Dave Matthews—ain’t nothing old school about that!
HL: How did the collaboration with Dave Matthews come about?
Z: Dave always liked what we’ve done, and he invited us to come on tour with him, and it kind of just blossomed from there…we decided it would be cool if we kick off and do a song, and you know, you do what you do. If we don’t have Dave Matthews we get panned, and if we do have Dave Matthews, I’ve heard people pan us, like, Aw man, why are they doing that? It’s like Hip Hop is so terrible…(pauses) Aw man, it’s just some terrible shit right now.
HL: Is there anything in Hip Hop right now that is inspiring you?
Z: (pauses) No, no. There’s nothing out there, man. There’s nothing out there because I just don’t feel that the artists…(pauses). The only person I feel that’s doing something cool, and it’s not even fucking creative, it just sounds good to me, is Kanye West. I like what Cee-lo does, and people are like, Oh that Gnarls Barkley shit is so creative. It’s just those people doing what they like doing, and it sounds cool. Creative? Like what Outkast was doing was so creative? I don’t know—that shit still sounds like Hip Hop to me. I don’t know what’s super different about it. And I think it’s not the artists, it’s these so-called radio cats, they are the confused ones…they aren’t hearing the other shit that they are bumping nine times out of a thousand times a day, and I just sit back and go, So that’s creative? It’s like the mentality of the consumer is tore up, man. The shit is tore up. And it got me thinking we’re crazy.
HL: I’ve heard that during performances of Hey, you actually encourage the crowd to light up, saying, If you’re going to do it, do it now. Do you feel heat ever for fostering a ganja-friendly environment?
Z: You know what? The thing is that we’re at a club, man. If I don’t tell you to light up, you’re still going to be intoxicated. They’re selling drinks there. And it’s funny, if I tell you, Everybody throw up your drink, you wouldn’t even trip, because that’s what they do there. I wouldn’t go in a church, or a mosque, talking about light up, we’re gonna do this little show. I wouldn’t be in a daycare saying shit like that, but I mean in a club—man, you’re in a club. And light up your weed, trust me, when we say that, people don’t go off, Oh what the fuck? When we say, Light up your weed, they holler. And they already be lighting that. They had that shit lit before we even went on (laughs).
HL: Since you are coming out with a new album, how do you think it’s going to affect J5’s success in the future?
Z: How do I look at it, as far as helping J5? It’s more catalogue, man. It’s more opportunity, to where every time we put something out, the opportunities open up for us. It’s more catalogue, it’s more visibility for J5. The motivation was to get something out because it was time. It’s been time; it was overdue.
HL: That’s all that you can really hope for.
Z: That’s all, man. You’re right. All you can hope for is the best, for what the situation entails.
HL: You guys always make a strong effort to come out and talk to everybody in the crowd. You feel a need to give back to your fans?
Z: Yeah, man, yeah—because you don’t have to come. There’s a whole lot of stuff you could be doing. Anytime somebody spends their money on us, I appreciate that. The least I could do is come out and talk to you, and not make you feel like I’m brushing you off. We could sign autographs, we could do an interview, take pictures. I love doing that. If I could do more, like come over to your house and eat up your food, to show my gratification, I would do that. But I don’t think you would invite me.
HL: Oh, you’re always welcome.
Z: (laughs) So until then we’re going to sign autographs and take pictures.
Jurassic 5: Feedback
Jurassic 5 knows its natural history. Moonlighting as paleontologists with a microphone, the group has brought to life the long-extinct Hip Hop land-before-time, embracing the best aspects of an era when crews of eager rhyme-spitters ruled the block with a carnivorous braggadocio and an untainted adoration for making rap music.
For the dinosaurs, however, who too once reigned, it was three and out. After nearly 200 million years of earthly domination, they disappeared, an inadaptable casualty of a rapidly changing world. The members of J5 must be all too conscious of this prehistoric parable, as evidenced by their third full-length album, Feedback.
With no desire to become another glorified relic of a time far removed, the group has made a forward-minded record that, in many ways, is befitting of its 2006 release date. But with the current state of Hip Hop being what it is, that isn’t necessarily a positive attribute. Even with lyrical skills fully intact, the group’s earnest approach at emceeing is sometimes lost in the over-buffed, synth-heavy soundscapes provided by guest producers Scott Storch and Salaam Remi.
But when the Mesozoic dust resettles and in-house DJ Nu-Mark takes charge on gritty, pulsating tracks like Back 4 You, Red Hot, and Where We At, J5 deftly demonstrates that it still knows what’s golden. More importantly, the group shows that a band steeped in history is not always doomed to repeat it.
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More about Jurassic 5 here
This article first appeared in Heads Vol.6 Issue 08 - October 2006