Jurassic 5, or J5, was an LA underground hip hop collective that released one of the greatest albums in hip hop history, 2000’s Quality Control. They emerged out of the hype of the LA underground, formed back in 1993 out of an LA venue, Good Life. J5 were not, however, a five-piece, but a six-headed monster, comprised of rappers Akil, Soup aka Zaakir, Chali2na, and Marc 7 plus DJs DJ Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist. In a lot of ways, J5 is the last of the great hip hop collectives, like the Wu-Tang Clan, emerging out of a place and a scene. They’d dropped their first single in 1995 on TVT, and then their first ep, Jurassic 5 ep, two years later, and this cemented their place in the hip hop underground, along with such luminaries as Company Flow, Kool Keith, Blackalicious, Black Star, Aesop Rock, Black Eyed Peas, and the like. When they signed with Interscope, the ep was repackaged with some new tracks as their eponymous début full-lengther. Quality Control was their sophomore album.
I first heard J5 around 1996 or 1997, not sure if I had the ep or someone had it on a mix, or what. But I was immediately attracted by the phat, funky beats, and the very distinctive styles of each of the four rappers, particularly Chali2na’s deep voice and ridiculous flow and Soup’s lighter lyrical dexterity. At any rate, I forgot about them almost immediately, so much music, so little time.
By 2000, I had relocated back to my home town of Montréal, having extricated myself from a dead relationship and commenced my PhD studies. I was bewildered and happy, and the music from this era is deeply engrained on my soul now, the soundtrack to my first real feeling of freedom as an adult. I remember buying this, at HMV on rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest in downtown Montréal (it is now a Canada Goose outlet), along with St-Germain’s Tourist. I fell in love with this album immediately and played the living hell out of it all fall and winter, 2000-2001.
Quality Control kind of grows out of the G-Funk sound of Dr. Dre and his accolytes in the 90s LA hip hop scene, but here, it’s been reprogrammed to give it more of a funky feel, and more sunshine. For an East Coast kid, this was the kind of music that could only come out of LA and Southern California. Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark constructed these ridiculously funky beats, and I always appreciated this about J5, the very fact that they had DJs, members whose job it was to create the beats, like in the old days. And over that fat beat, the four rappers laid down their rhymes. It was not just Chali2na and Soup who could spit rhymes with the best of them. Akil and Marc 7 didn’t just hold their own, they rivalled the other two rappers. And, they somehow got Sherman Helmsley (aka: Mr. Jefferson) to appear on this album, which only added to its dopeness.
The album begins with the funky bassline of ‘How We Get Along (Intro),’ which essentially lays out how this collective of rappers and DJs/producers relate and made this music through a bunch of spoken samples, and then we lay right into the 70s funk of ‘The Influence.’ Soup kicks off the album, but then each of them takes a verse, then the hook, and then the four of them trade verses the rest of the way, and we’re off to the races.
The title track begins with ‘Quality Control (Intro),’ which is some P-Funk era funk and the repetition of the word ‘quality’ in a series of samples, and then the track kicks off, with the kick and snare, some spoken word samples, and then the rappers talking and then all four of them sing the chorus, one of the things that kind of made J5 stand out in this era, they could sing, and they did, usually as a chorus and then Soup steps up to the mic and drops a rhyme of old school hip hop braggadocio:
(Soup, you plan on rocking something fierce?) Oh, am I
Zaakir’s the name, the A.K.A. super
The verbal acupunture from the dope old schooler
I used to be the brother for others that used to dumb on
Now they be the lovers of brothers that can’t front on
Put me in the mix, LP 12-inch
SP, the elegant, poetic pestulence
I’m carbonated, the Fanti-confederated
Highly commemorated, and the most celebrated
For connecting it (Word!) Like verb subject to the predicate
Plus I got the etiquette
To keep it moving, and showing cats how it’s done
Cause it’s the verbal combat, position number one.
Despite the four very different voices of the four rappers, the way they flowed together was part of the appeal, this was not just four dudes randomly taking verses and handing off, this wasn’t a modern-era MF DOOM guest rhyme, this was, well, teamwork.
‘Quality Control’ also had a wicked video. It centres around, first, an ice cream truck, manned by Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark, and a bunch of kids getting, well, ice cream. We then follow this little African American boy back to his mom’s woody wagon (the video is set in the early 80s), and he jumps into the back seat and picks up his Viewmaster, and as he clicks through, he sees J5 in various sets, configurations, and clothing singing the intro, and then Soup finds himself up to the mic first, except he’s sitting in some dude’s lunch, all in the kid’s viewfinder, as we see the jump cuts to each of them rapping. I do have to give Akil credit for his low crouch on his rhymes. My knees just hurt watching.
I’ve always been a fan of the bassline of ‘Lausd,’ (which is the acronym for Los Angeles Unified School District) which also sees J5 lay out their manifesto:
Yo, we are no superstars
Who wanna be large and forget who we are
Don’t judge us by bank accounts and big cars
No matter how bright we shine we’re far from being stars
Cause stars fall, and disintegrate before they hit the
Asphalt, they incinerate cause we came
Not to destroy the law but to fulfill
For those who appreciate those with skills
And fresh windmills, and graf that kills
What is a DJ without the scratch to build?
Without the elements, it’s all irrelevant
N***** love to Freestyle but hate to Fellowship.
And then each of the rappers attacks the stereotypes about LA, rapping about avoiding the glitz and glamour and the fakeness of Hollywood. And that flows into ‘World of Entertainment (WOE is Me),’ where they lay out their approach to rocking the crowd and the larger bullshit of the entertainment industry, passing the rhyme off to each other as they move through the track, line-by-line, as opposed to verse-by-verse.
And that flows into ‘Monkey Bars,’ where Soup, Akil, Marc7, and Chali2na lay down their rhymes, another classic braggadocio of hip hop, over essentially a kick, snare boom-bap beat. And then we get the best track on the album, ‘Jurass Finish First,’ which begins with this seriously bad ass beat, a piano chord, and the kick-snare boom-bap. And Chali2na steps up to the mic with one of his best rhymes:
Yo, because of cash in the purse, guns blast in the hearse
A vast universe when the last is the first
The past been a curse, I need some asprin to nurse
It’s your casket in earth, or my ass when it hurts
A passionate burst of some last-minute work
First the human bodies are living last in this Earth
Puffing grass when it works, a bastard at birth
But at last planet Earth, 5 Jurass finish first
(Stashed in this verse) Burning like gas on a torch
(Graspin’ a thought) Some don’t see past their front porch
(Masked in a smirk) No doubt my class been alert
Verbal splash for your thirst, 5 Jurass finish first
That’s Marc7 with the bit in the parantheses, who drops the next rhyme, and this song is rare in the J5 oeuvre in that it is a duet between Chali2na and Marc7.
I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to this track, it’s on mixes from the era, I blasted the hell out of it on my Discman, and in my stereo back home in my 4 1/2 (in Montréal, flats are categorized by number of rooms, the 1/2 is always the bathroom, and a 4 1/2 is 2-bedroom) flat at the corner of av. du Parc and rue Saint-Viateur, in an old cold water flat that had seen the kitchen and bathroom installed sometime in the 70s. I kinda felt bad for my neighbours, but the guy below me was always stoned out of his skull, Daisy who lived next door on one side watched TV at an obscene level, and Dan, on the other side, was also stoned out of his skull, plus he was in a band, so he was rarely home.
As time past, I listened to this album less and less, I have to admit, though I loved J5’s next album, Power in Numbers in 2002. By the time their last album, Feedback, appeared in 2006, I had moved on. They broke up in 2007, as inevitably the divergent interests of the members tore them apart, even after Cut Chemist moved on after Power in Numbers. Soup and Chali2na, as well as Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark have had extensive solo careers, and Chali2na, in particular, was a popular guest rapper in the 00s, for his ridiculous flow and deep baritone. They did re-form in 2014 or so, and have performed live since then, though they have not released any new music as a group.