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Jurassic 5 are the ultimate crossover group.
In CD cases, their albums are as comfortable sharing pages with Blink 182 and John Mayer as they are with Grandmaster Flash and Aceyalone. For many people, the band provides their first (and in some cases, only) taste of hip-hop history and aesthetics. Chali 2na, the group’s most popular and outspoken emcee, calls Jurassic “the Ghetto Diplomats.”
Hip-hop began with DJs spinning music at parties, and Jurassic take this origin to heart, putting their collective energies into live performance. During their show at Brandeis University last month, they declared: “We don’t give concerts. We throw parties.”
Likewise, Jurassic’s DJs play an integral role in the group, sharing the spotlight with the emcees on stage and in the studio. At Brandeis, Cut Chemist made jaws drop when he strapped a turntable and a crossfader to his body like a guitar.
“The live show speaks for us because it’s kind of our commercial or advertisement,” 2na says. “The way that we connect with the crowd is to let them in. A lot of cats that are tough or whatever don’t [connect]. We treat the audience like people.”
And this community-building attitude has won them many fans. College students are among Jurassic’s most loyal followers in the U.S. The band’s spring concert schedule reads like a high schooler’s college tour itinerary. Although 2na resists the notion that they are a “college band,” he says J5 especially enjoy playing colleges.
2na says he believes that students just want an escape from homework and exams.
But how did Jurassic, with their throwback beats and battle rhymes, break into a demographic that generally prefers rock and alternative music? Fans like Joy S. Hurd ’06, who doesn’t listen primarily to rap music, say that Jurassic’s appeal is in their lyrics.
“Most rap is violent these days,” says Hurd. “They just rap about stuff that’s not violent.”
Talia J. Rosenberg ’06 says she appreciates that Jurassic speak on topics that pertain to her life and don’t focus on excess and violence. “They make references that I get,” she says. “I don’t feel uncomfortable with them.”
2na explains that there is common ground between Jurassic’s brand of hip-hop and the music that many of their fans also enjoy.
“A lot of the rock crowd right now is listening music influenced by punk,” he says. “Both punk and hip-hop were created out of young kids rebelling against oppression and for social change.”
2na explains that in the early days of hip-hop, one could find punk rockers watching break dancers in parks in New York, and says that there were even similarities in the way the two groups dressed.
Impressively, Jurassic have continued both musics’ tradition of dissent without sacrificing their mass appeal. At Brandeis, the group made a powerful statement.
“We stand here against this war!” shouted 2na, “Fuck this war! Fuck this war!”
Then the beat dropped and Zaakir spoke the words: “I’m never hesitant to say / fuck the President.”
“People in music should speak what they feel and that’s really the end of it,” says 2na. “The American public is being basically snowballed,” he says. “The American media is pulling the wool over American public’s eyes.”
“I don’t like to discuss politics with people because it can get you in trouble.” he adds.
But Jurassic’s 2002 release, Power In Numbers, is much more political than their party-oriented Quality Control, which devotes only one track to political commentary.
Power strikes a balance between Jurassic’s signature old-school party sound and so-called “conscious rap.” The result is juxtapositions like 2na’s couplet, “Some of you like the way my words caress tracks / While some of these politicians secretly suppress facts.”
In tracks such as “W.O.E. is Me (World of Entertainment).” Jurassic also criticize the music industry.
“I don’t have any gripes with the state of hip-hop,” says 2na, “I’ve got a gripe with the state of the people who are running the companies that sign artists. The way it’s being displayed only shows one aspect of what hip-hop is.”
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