Artist Spotlight: Jurassic 5 – Or How MTV Got Me Into Conscious Hip Hop

Artist Spotlight courtesy of Ninjaneer

The year was 2001. Hip-hop was finishing its golden age as P. Diddy’s form of “product placement shiny-suit rap” (which would be picked up later by the likes of Pitbull and Flo Rida almost a decade later) was slowly fading from the airwaves, the wave of crunk and chopped-and-screwed was on the horizon as The Dirty South began to claim a greater foothold, and auto tune was a tool reserved for bubblegum pop stars with a lack of singing talent (You know who you are!). I, a young apprentice in ninjaneering, was in the early days of college and became quite disillusioned with mainstream music. Much of that came from my sister and step-brother’s constant need to dominate the family television with the likes of BET and The Box in order to play “the same five songs, fifteen times a day, for three months”.

Then on a cold winter’s day, I came across the likes of MTV2. At this point MTV had not fully devolved into the cesspool that it is today, but music on the main channel was definitely not the focus anymore. MTV2 was to alleviate that by allowing them to go back to their roots without disturbing the lucrative business of mass producing Real World/Road Rules spinoffs. It was promoted not only as a means to see music videos from popular mainstream artists, but also musicians that most of us would not have access to on the radio or television. On this particular day they had been running a marathon of new videos for their one-week free promotion in order to entice people to add the premium channel to there subscriptions, and the moment I tuned to MTV2 I ran headlong into this:

Watching this once and I was hooked. The catchy sample, the myriad of voices that all get equal time in the track, at times even harmonizing, and the fact that it did not include someone talking about the amount of money they have, how they stole your girl, or what alcoholic beverage they were drinking (a part of hip-hop that they are happy to give their opinions about on this track) were all major selling points for me. Just a good song with guys seemingly having fun putting together bars on the track. It was awesome and I immediately wanted more but there was one problem: I missed the name of the group and the name of the song. At this time, Google didn’t exist and Jeeves, Lycos, and Metacrawler were not a big help. I was forced to watch MTV2 obsessively for the rest of the free week until by the last day the video returned for viewing. Armed with the name of the song and the album, Quality Control, I made a trip to the local CD store and bought the album, never regretting that purchase and becoming a devoted fan.

The group’s history gets plenty of mentions in their albums as they are the combination of two hip-hop groups from the Los Angeles area, The Rebels of Rhythm (Akil, Zaakir, and DJ Numark) and Unity Commitee (Chali 2Na, Marc 7even, and Cut Chemist) who would frequent the famed Good Life Café in the area for open mic nights and quickly became fast friends and even faster collaborators. They came together for the first time to create the single “Unified Rebelution”. The name for the group came about when Chali 2Na had played the song for a friend’s mother who stated,”You guys think you sound like the Fantastic Five, but you sound more like the Jurassic Five.” The name stuck and soon became the name of their first EP.

While never really becoming a household name, Jurassic 5 were a group who were showered in plenty of critical acclaim. The closest they seemed to get to mainstream success is the appearance of their tracks on popular sports video game franchises such as the Tony Hawk series, NBA Live, and Madden . As what happens to most music groups with a large number of egos in the mix, the band started to come apart in 2006 with Cut Chemist leaving early that year before the release of their fourth and currently final album, Feedback. By 2007, the band completely disbanded.

During their short run, Jurassic 5 showed me that there were artists in hip-hop willing to make smart, thought provoking lyrics and put me on a quest to seek them out. Eventually I would become a fan to the likes of Common, Talib Kweli, Mos Def (bolstered by their collaborations with Kanye on College Dropout), De La Soul, Childish Gambino, and Kendrick Lamar. Two of the members have also become impressive solo acts with Cut Chemist’s The Audience’s Listening being my favorite album of 2006 and Chali 2na with a stellar output of mixtapes and albums (those two had also collaborated together to help form the group Ozomatli, something that I’ve been meaning to check out for quite some time). I wished I could have seen them live before they had broken up (which was fairly difficult since the majority of their shows where on the opposite coast), but was surprised to learn recently the complete group had reunited and are currently on tour and discussing creating a new album. With any luck it will be as great as the tracks I remember them best for if not better.

Grade A Choice Prime Cuts