After enjoying a solid dose of Hip-Hop tracks and a brief turntable session, I have the opportunity to find out a little bit more about J5 from their two DJ's - Cut Chemist and Numark. Most South African Hip-Hop heads will have heard of the crew along with their trademark, old-school-styled, uplifting Hip-Hop tunes which are so damn catchy your neck can't bob off beat. However, this is where knowledge of the crew may become a bit murkier, so I ask Cut Chemist to briefly break down who the crew are and how they ended up together in the Hip-Hop game. "Jurassic 5 is actually six people - four MC's (Chali 2na, Akil, Zaakir, and Marc 7even ) and two DJ's-slash-producers Nu-Mark and myself. We got together in 1994 after meeting at a place called the Good Life which is a FreeStyle café in South Central, Los Angeles. We were initially two groups - Unity Committee and Rebels of Rhythm, I did a track and asked Rebels of Rhythm to be on it, and once they wrote rhymes to it I asked them to feature my group, Unity Committee on it. So it was two groups doing one song and it was called Unified Revolution. We put that out on our own independent label. And then we did a single deal, followed by our independent EP in 1997. Then we got signed to Interscope, and then that's where we are now, the year 2000."
The crew who have been together for 6 years now are about to drop their first full length album which is entitled "Quality Control". The production work is handled by Cut Chemist and Numark, with only two tracks that have been outsourced to an external producer. There seems to be a strong keep-it-in-the-family sentiment within the group - this is also reflected by the lack of guest MC's on the album. Numark affirms this by explaining the choice to go against the grain by not featuring guests, "We wanted people to understand what J5 was about, not have fourteen thousand guest appearances. You don't get a taste of who the real crew is when you do that. I think people want to know what we're about, not what, this man, this man and this other man are about."
The group also aims to increase their fanbase outside of the US - to date they have been well-received in many European countries, but are now looking even further afield. Cut Chemist lists the places they intend to cover in the near future "We're trying to hit Australia this year as well as Japan, and a bunch of places in Europe that we haven't been to yet. J5 is a group that takes their stage show very seriously." He admits that they haven't considered touring Africa, but would be willing to if approached with a reasonable deal. It's refreshing to meet a Hip-Hop crew who appreciate that Hip-Hop does exist outside of the US so I ask Cut Chemist about his views on the much touted globalisation of Hip-Hop culture that is currently occurring. "I think the globalisation of the culture has been around for a while, it's just becoming more and more popular in these different territories, and it's very positive."
I try to briefly describe the South African Hip-Hop scene and its many challenges and then ask whether they experienced anything similar coming out on the West coast with its highly publicised gangster rap scene. Surely it must have been tough trying to market positive, party tracks in a market dominated by rappers glorifying violence, drug use, misogyny etc. Cut Chemist replies, "I think the independent movement has taken a stand for the last couple of years and the corporate world is finally catching up to it. They're signing groups like Dilated Peoples and ourselves who've put out their own records and were very successful with it on an independent level so now they want a piece of the pie. I think both parties are kind of compromising and meeting each other half way to put out quality stuff that the artist is happy with, and the companies can make money off as well, so everybody's happy. It was a bit of a struggle, but I think the struggle is finally coming to an end." Following on in a similar vein I ask him how he sees J5 fitting in with West Coast acts like Dr. Dre and Snoop. "No-one can take away that fact that people like Dre influence people like us. I listen to Dre a lot, I love his music - he is probably one of my most influential people. I also believe that there's room for everything - for artists like Dre and Jay-Z as well as groups like Jurassic 5 and Dilated Peoples. Everybody has their own niche and that's what makes the next man stand out. So, it's important that everybody has their own style, we're just labeled underground or whatever instead of g-funk, this and that, in the end it's all Hip Hop."