Puff Daddy: not in the house. Tupac: not in the house. DMX: silly boy not in the house. Bandanas, weapons, macho posturing, sexual conquest: not in the house. Have we killed enough rap stereotypes to get on with the review?
Jurassic 5: Not one, not two—four MCs who “strive to make four voices sound like one.” Think Fats Domino, think the Temptations. Yes, this is hip-hop and no, this is not R&B or some boy band. They aren’t singing, true, but the Four Housemen are a tight enough vocal group to invoke the kind of comparisons usually reserved to describe a thrown rope, a hard-hit baseball, or a well-swung axe. Add two DJs who often collaborate, and feel some of the same old-school influences that the vocalists do. R&B shuffle beats. Piano. Horns. You’ve got roots music.
Jurassic 5 was born of two late’80s/early-’90s L.A. crews, the Rebels of Rhythm and U.N.I.T.Y., straight out of the geographical center of Los Angeles, back in the era when Cheech was singing “Born in East L.A.” The four MCs recruited a couple local DJs, Nu-Mark (my favorite Croatian, since Vlade Divac is such a crybaby) and Cut Chemist (who’s recorded with everyone from Seattle’s Herbaliser to Phoenix’s Future Primitive), and Jurassic 5 put out a debut EP, just eight songs, in 1997.
Which sold a quarter million copies, and still counting three years later. Last copy I saw at the House of Elvis lasted two days.
Fast-forward: collaborations with the World Famous Beat Junkies and Quannum Projects, shows with the Black Eyed Peas, Pharcyde, Dilated Peoples and the 1999 Warped Tour (owning it). The sophomore effort, Quality Control, is released in 2000.
Articles appear in Magnet, Spin, Rolling Stone, Vibe, Source, Revolution, CMJ, etc. The Big Hype. Going to single-handedly change the dynamics of hip-hop. The demographics. Did I mention J5 opening for Fiona Apple? They want everybody listening.
And they’re justified. They’re doing some things musically that no one has done yet. They’ve produced early evidence that this is an album that appeals to both suburban soccer moms and veterans of the street. The fact that these men rose above the meanest streets of them all to put out something so well-adjusted, so clean, so wise-yet-not-world-weary just thrills me. They’ve made the cross-over totally irrelevant.