and the politics of
name calling (not shot calling)
by Maurice Downes
recently got to talk with Akil of hip-hop group of the moment
Jurassic 5. The name will be very familiar to many of you,
since Jurassic 5 are close to heading into their tenth year
of existence and have always been staples in SoCal's underground
hip-hop scene. Touring to promote their new album, Power
In Numbers, 2002 finds the sextet (?) gaining even more
love from the hip-hop community and some unprecedented attention
(a Jurassic 5 song
in a Sprite commercial???) But
with all the love always comes
nonsense, and as many
people have turned onto the music of J5, there are even
more who misinterpret what J5 stands for. To get a closer
understanding of what J5 is, and isn't, I phoned up the
boys on their way to NYC.
So, where are you at now?
This is some part of Connecticut
You're on the bus or something?
Akil: We're traveling right now. I just woke up,
trying to get me some breakfast
I'll make this short and sweet. Tell us about
Akil: My name is Akil. Been in this group since
94, late 94. We were in two groups: Rebels of Rhythm, which
was myself, Zaakir and a friend of ours who passed away,
Africa. And the Unity Community which was Chali 2na, Cut
Chemist and Marc 7. Later on we met Numark. We all met up
at the Good Life in LA.
See, I'm a New York cat, so I don't know anything about
that. Tell us about the Good Life.
Akil: It's like a health food store, and every Thursday
emcees would come down and sign a list to get on the mic.
Do a little performance, or whatnot. They had a no cursing
rule, and a please pass the mic rule. Pass the baton if
Well, people at those shows won't ever come out and
say that. They'll probably just be like [whisper] "You
should pass the mic
Akil: Yeah. But at that time in LA the gangsta rap
scene was real popular so a lot of the emcees that weren't
needed an outlet, a place to perform, and the Good Life
was that place. My group saw the Unity Community and liked
the way they performed, so we did a song together called
"Unify Revolution". A little bit before then we
met Numark at this thing called Rat Race, it was another
open mic. It wasn't really open mic, it was live performance
with a band like the Roots do. After '93 they'd just take
different bands that were good at performing and put them
on stage with a live band. And they had a D.J. who'd scratch
and stuff and Numark was that DJ. We all met at a rehearsal,
from that point on we did a song together "Unify Revolution"
our first single that got picked up by a label out of New
York. They picked it up, and worked it the best they could.
Then we put out our own EP with a distributor out of Northern
California, then we got picked up by a label from overseas,
"Play it again Sam", that wanted that EP with
a couple of songs on it. We shot it out there, and had an
album out there, and in the states. Then Interscope picked
us up, we put out Quality Control, and now here we are with
Power In Numbers.
Lead us through the albums.
Akil: Power in Numbers, was a step up for us, because we
were starting to get pigeonholed by people's perceptions.
What they think J5 is. We're just growing and maturing with
each stage. We're showing another part of ourselves. Once
you leave yourself open to other people's opinion you leave
yourself open to pigeonholing. We wanted to give another
aspect. Be progressive, while maintaining who we are.
What does Power in Numbers mean to you?
Akil: I think one of Numark's friends came up with it.
He just made a reference "It's a game to y'all
it's like Power in Numbers." I was like that would
be a tight name. From that point we just started playing
with the meaning of it. It's very general and stuff. It's
power to the oppressor. It's power to the numbers who are
ignorant. It's power of the numbers of people who say "It's
Jurassic 5 but they're six of you".
Shit. Even I've used that joke before.
I thought I was just so damned witty. "This shit's
tight." Then I realized everyone's used that joke,
probably a few years before I wrote the article.
Akil: A lotta people.
MTV calls you a "retro" rap group. What do
you feel about that?
Akil: That's what I'm talking about with perception. That's
what we came out doing, but it was just a concept. Just
for that album we were doing that. If people wanna describe
it as retro or whatever, but it's not really retro, it's
just retro ethics. You're just adding on to the many other
labels that divide hip hop, and I just say: we just do hip
hop. I don't really get into the semantics.
[static] I lost you for a bit
go through a tunnel?
Akil: Yeah we went through some mountains. But I was saying:
It just adds on to what people say about us. They've called
us alternative. That's wack, I definitely don't wanna be
called alternative, because alternative to what?
If it's the alternative to shit, though?
Akil: Yeah, you know. I mean when you have rock, and bullshit
rock, they don't say alternative rock. That doesn't even
mean anything. Hip-hop is a tree. Rap is a branch of hip-hop,
know what I'm saying? You got other branches from that,
but hip-hop is still a tree. I don't understand these terms:
hip-hop vs. rap, what the fuck is that <clearly flustered>?
Someone once said some bullshite like "Hip-hop
is rap that you could put to jungle beats"
Akil: [needing a few seconds] That is the stupidest
my God, that was the weakest answer I ever heard to
Akil: To anything. That really trips me out, how people
try to describe what hip-hop should be. I grew up at a time
where you didn't have to describe it. It's just a feeling.
It's a way of life. I might hear a song and say "that's
hip-hop", or I feel a certain way or I see a tag and
say "that's hip-hop." It's indescribable, but
describable at the same time.
What about "What's Golden"? That had to take
a lot of balls to put out. You're releasing a song that's
like: "we're not trying to roll around in big cars,
we're just rhyming." But it paid off.
Akil: It used the tactics of what they're used to. You
know, everyone used to ballin' and shot-callin'. Those are
familiar words. Once you say that we're not
adds on to it. It's like "Oh, I know those words. I'll
It's called "What's Golden", so they must've
thought you were talking about rims or something.
Akil: It's like we just reversed the energy. We're like
we're not balling or shot-calling. But any song with those
words will do well. It kind of added onto the Chuck D sample.
"I'm not ballin', but I'm past the days of yes y'allin.
" It was at a time when we were coming out of old school,
and it was about progression. Now we're at that point where
we need to bring it back.
There are very few that say "There are problems
with hip-hop." At one time you could say that. Do you
think someone told all the artists to just stand down on
Akil: It don't get you nowhere. One time it was bad to
do a collaboration with R&B and Rap. But a lot of artists
in R&B now are showing and proving. Musique Soulchild
and Erykah Badu and those. So now, doing a collaboration
with R&B is all good. If it's a good song it's a good
song. At one time, it WAS a lot of cheesy bullshit; people
were tired. But even before then, there was [sings] "The
Fat Boys are Back". That was chicks singing.
[Singing] "They're playing Bas-ket-baaaaall"
Akil: Right, you feel me. It's when the shit gets cheesy.
But you can't just complain. J5 never was complaining about
who's killing hip-hop and what killed hip-hop. There's nothing
fucking up hip-hop; there's always something good out there
that may not be as popular as some of the commercial stuff
out there. There's always a dope beat out there
always something out there. Right now it may seem bleak,
but there's something out. Hip-hop was before radio. WE
don't need radio to exist.
One of my favorite lines from Lauryn Hill was "all
I wanted was to be a Ghetto Superstar" and now it seems
like that's not enough for people now.
Akil: Yeah. Because they striving for other things. It's
more ghetto fabulous now. If you're ghetto fabulous, you're
happy being stuck where you are, you're happy being a thug.
A ghetto superstar is pissed about where he's at, and wants
to change it. But he still represents for the ghetto. Ghetto
fabulous, you just stuck. That's not progression.
Right. So, tell me, a Sprite commercial? I was a bit
surprised they heard of you.
Akil: You'd be surprised. At the J5 fans in different places.
It's one thing for your label to work and try to get you
on MTV. That's cool. But a lot of people, just regular office
people up at MTV love J5 'cause they love J5. The police
just pulled up on us the other day and said "Yo, J5!"
A lot of different genres
we had a 53-year old man.
Some people calling from prison
Philosophy question: Why do you think I hate that song
"Tight whips" as much as I do now, but before
LL Cool J's "Boomin' System" was ok back in the
Akil: It was more tolerable back then. They used to be
mad at LL because he wouldn't say any conscious shit. But
he used to be like "I'm not gonna change just because
everybody's on some pro-black shit." And you respected
him for it. I'm gonna be who I am. The community was mad
at him. They'd play P.E. after "big ol' butt".
But right now it's one-dimensional. People are tired of
I'll give props to Grindin' (by Clipse)
Akil: yeah it's pretty good.
Yeah, I mean
they are talking about selling cocaine,
Akil: Well, I can't get with that, but I thought it was
pretty tight. They just rhyming.
Exactly. They're not using the drum machine for once.
Akil: I thought "if they can come out doing this,
they can open up the door for people doing just regular
rap." I kind of disregarded what they were talking
about. No crazy chorus
it ain' the typical.
Ok, in closing, what are you into now, music-wise
Akil: I'm listening to a lot of Brazilian music
Listen to Nas, "the lost tapes". Scarface
man, that's a good song.
Akil: Yeah, that's hard. That reminds me of back in the
days. Hip-hop, it was like concept. He had something to
say, he was talking about his neighborhood, we've heard
many people talk about their neighborhood. That song inspired
me to write something. That's what it's all about.