by Alex Shtaerman
Spawned out of an impromptu union between two crews frequenting The Good Life Health Food Café, a famed Los Angeles open mic venue in the early 90’s, Jurassic 5 has over the last ten years emerged as one of L.A.’s most critically acclaimed Hip-Hop acts to date. Initially coming together on the classic underground track “Unified Revolution”, the Rebels Of Rhythm and the Unity Committee subsequently joined forces to drop their self titled debut album, Jurassic 5, in 1997. After pushing over 300,000 units independently, the group landed a deal with Interpose, releasing a pair of critically acclaimed LPs, Quality Control and Power in Numbers. In 2006, J5 brings to the table their latest offering, Feedback. As eager fans scramble to snatch up the new LP, we sit down with Chali 2na to talk some Hip-Hop and cover a bit of J5 history.
RIOTSOUND.COM: J5 is currently on tour. How has the tour been going?
CHALI 2NA: It’s been fun. We got a new show, a new album, a lot more material. We hadn’t been on the road in this capacity in about three and a half years, so it’s been good. People have been coming out to the venues and we’ve been selling the spots out as if we haven’t been gone for this long. And people have been enjoying the show and I can’t really ask for no more than that.
RIOTSOUND.COM: On the new album you got a song called “Work It Out” where you collaborate with Dave Matthews Band. Some people may think it’s a move to cross over, but listening to the song, I would say it’s definitely a Hip-Hop song first and foremost. How were you able to find such a good balance on that record without going too far in any one direction?
CHALI 2NA: We were kicking it with Dave Matthews on tour and seeing that a lot of his fans were also our fans was one of the motivations behind [doing] the song. Also, [Dave Matthews] being a fan of ours was another motivation behind doing the song. Nu-Mark did the beat and when he did it, Marc 7 was like – you know what, this sounds like a song that Dave Matthews would sound dope on. So we asked him and he was like – yea, let’s do it. He was cool with it, he liked the song. He was geeked about it and the way that the song actually happened, it happened so fast and so clean, when we walked away from it, it felt like, uh oh, this is going to be one of those songs.
RIOTSOUND.COM: On Feedback you also incorporate some beats that have an ‘80’s flavor to ‘em – like on “Radio” and “In The House”. A lot of artists would probably be scared to do that because they would be afraid of sounding outdated. Jurassic 5, on the other hand, seems to embrace that challenge. How do you approach your music where those type of things are possible and you’re not just stuck chasing the latest production fad?
CHALI 2NA: For us, we just basically try to do what we think sounds good and not get too caught up in what’s happening today [and at the same time] not alienating the listener of today. So we were really just trying to do what we thought sounded good man, and it ain’t really no formula to that other than putting our all into a song and trying to make sure that it’s something that cracks between us five. It’s a cool little filtering process [within the group] when it comes to figuring out if a certain song is dope enough to come out.
RIOTSOUND.COM: How does that filtering process work; what kind of dynamic is involved?
CHALI 2NA: We just basically respect everybody’s opinion because not everybody is going to like what we’re doing within the circle; all of us ain’t [always] going to be in agreement. What we do is, we put aside our egos and we respect everybody’s space and opinion on a song. And then we just sift through it like – what do you think about this or what do you think about that? We just go through it. I think that is the most genuine and the most effective way to come to a conclusion and a decision as far as what we’re going to do with a song.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Would you say that Jurassic 5 is underappreciated on the East Coast? Do you think New York should be giving J5 more support given the type of music you make?
CHALI 2NA: You know what’s a trip man; I could sit here and say that but then when we come to New York and we go to a place like Irving Plaza, it’s sold out. So, I can’t say that. I’m just happy that the birthplace of Hip-Hop embraces us in any kind of fashion; it’s dope. I could sit here and be like – oh, I want all of the thuns to be all on our shit, I want the sons, the cats, the birds or whoever to like our shit up in New York. I could want that but you could never really guarantee who’s going to like your shit, and that’s just really that. You just kinda gotta cope with that and gravitate to whoever’s gonna like your shit. With the East Coast, every time we’ve come we’ve never gotten disrespected, we’ve never gotten into any beefs with no New York dudes. We’ve always gotten respect from cats in New York simply for the fact, I think, they feel like we keepin’ it truer than most of the cats that’s out.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Cut Chemist recently departed from Jurassic 5; why did he choose to leave the group and what effect has his departure had on the sound of J5?
CHALI 2NA: Cut Chemist left because he was recording his solo album at the exact same time that we were recording the Feedback album. Instead of him hindering us and giving us half-ass beats or not being able to put in enough time and instead of us hindering him by him having to try to put in a lot of time with us and making his album slack; we was like – make your decision, whatcha you gonna do? And he decided to leave. As far as the loss, that’s one of the founding members of the group and that’s one of my [best] old school friends of all time, so it’s all good. We wish Cut Chemist well. His departing out of the band has, in my opinion, opened up a lane for us to try new ideas and new things, more than anything else.
RIOTSOUND.COM: Jurassic 5 originally emerged from The Good Life Health Food Café, which was an open mic venue in Los Angeles for unsigned acts in the early to mid ‘90’s. Other prominent L.A. groups such as the Pharcyde also emerged from The Good Life Health Food Café. Can you talk about that particular open mic venue and what was so special about it?
CHALI 2NA: The Good Life Café was a health food store in Los Angeles that was doing the open mic shit from about 1990 to like 1996. It existed because at the time no one could get a record deal unless they were doing what the popular music was, and that was the gangsta rap. So all the cats that wasn’t necessarily doing gangsta rap was congregating down there. That place spawned people like The Pharcyde, Tha Alkaholiks, Kurupt from Tha Dogg Pound, Freestyle Fellowship and [many others]. It was like a college, a training ground. You couldn’t curse and the people who were there were so critical that the minute that you bored them in any way you would hear – please pass the mic! [laughs]
Cats who you would least expect was getting booed. Fat Joe came up there and he got the “please pass the mic” [treatment] real quick. It wasn’t ‘cause of no New York hate, it was more so because he came out there thinking that he could kick that song “Flow Joe” acapella and nobody would [realize] what he was doing. He did that shit and they booed his ass – please pass the mic! [laughs] But I’ve also seen Biz Markie come up there beatboxing and clowning out and rip that shit. So it was a place where you were able to hone your artistic ability and your performance skills to the fullest and I wish that there was places like that still around.
RIOTSOUND.COM: During the time you used to frequent the The Good Life Health Food Café, did you realize you were part of something special or did you only realize after the fact, once J5 blew up?
CHALI 2NA: I knew. I knew because living on the West Coast at the time, with Native Tongues and of these things, you saw movements in Hip-Hop, groups of groups that sparked change in Hip-Hop, that toured together and things of that nature. The Good Life made us feel like we were part of a movement like that and in actuality, in hindsight, we were. While we would frequent the Good Life there were times when we would write songs strictly so that we could perform them that next Thursday. And that’s really what our first song “Unified Revolution” was, a song that we wanted to record to shock the cats at the Good Life that would have never thought that the Rebels Of Rhythm and the Unity Committee would have done the song [laughs]. And it sparked a career for us.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You are also a respected Los Angeles graffiti artist, what was your life in graffiti like?
CHALI 2NA: My life in graffiti started in Chicago in 1981. There was a guy named Dave and basically me and him used to piece, and that was that [laughs]. He brought that shit from New York. When I moved to L.A, I hooked up with a cat named Jack Frost and a cat named Relax and a cat named Demer and we went for it; we just started piecing and bombing amongst cats that had already [established] a whole little sub-culture of graffiti in L.A. I was just trying to fight for some respect man and was able to innovate a couple of little styles here and there that maybe a couple of people in the scene would tell you that I did. But I’m not the cat that’s trying to gain some kind of fame being like – yea, I created that style. More so I’m just happy to be able to be mentioned as one of them cats that was piecing around that time man, for real. That part of Hip-Hop saved my life from gangs and drugs and shit like that.
RIOTSOUND.COM: How did you make the transition from graffiti into music?
CHALI 2NA: Music was always a part of my life because of my mom and my father, they was really eclectic individuals in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. My father was part of the Black Panther movement and part of the Nation of Islam and all that shit. My moms was in the streets man, a freedom fighter. The Black Soul experience in America, the soundtrack to all the struggle type shit that was going on is basically what I grew up off of. That touched me in a lot of ways until I tried to implement [what I felt] in an artist’s way.
I really got into rap because these two dudes on my block dissed the shit outta me in front of some girls when I was a kid [laughs]. I was twelve or something like that. They made me feel like shit in front of these girls that I used to like. So I went home and wrote a rhyme that basically dissed them dudes and I waited for the chance to kick that shit. I got the chance and I kicked it in front of them same girls and they was like – oooooh, shorty can rhyme! And I was like – oh, that’s dope, I CAN do that. Then I put that shit on the back burner. When I came out to California I was just full fledged graff, but when I used to paint I always used to listen to some music. So [eventually] I was like – you know what, I’m gonna try to make some songs to see if I can listen to myself while I paint. That’s what really started it.
RIOTSOUND.COM: You got the new album, Feedback, in stores; what else should fans be looking out for as far as Jurassic 5 goes?
CHALI 2NA: I got a solo album coming out when the dust settles after this Feedback album, it’s called Fish Outta Water; Damian Marley, Scott Storch, Anthony Hamilton, Raphael Sadiq gonna be on there.
RIOTSOUND.COM: How’s your solo LP going to be different from what you do with J5?
CHALI 2NA: It’s going to be a slightly different approach, it’s an identification process. A lot of the music is going to be reflections of who I am outside of what the group is doing and I can’t really describe it no better than that. [As a group] we attack a track in a certain way, where as me, I’ve been trying to do it in all kinds different ways that kinda have some distinctions. Also Mark 7 is writing screenplays; he’s got a movie that’s going to come out through Ice Cube’s CubeVision pretty soon. Zaakir is doing a lot of acting and he’s got a lot guest appearances and solo stuff as far as music is concerned. Akil has a kids project that he’s trying to do called LAUSD, where he’s trying to help these inner city kids be exposed to different opportunities so they can make music where they otherwise couldn’t. Nu-Mark is doing all kinds of production. There’s all kinds of shit we doing outside of the group as well as solidifying our foundation, which is Jurassic 5.
For more news and info on Jurassic 5 stay tuned to www.Jurassic5.com