Monday, 9 March 2015

Feature - Jurassic 5

Published in The Big Issue, March 6-20 2015.

A Jurassic World
After almost a decade of groundbreaking music, Jurassic 5 disbanded. But now the hip hop stars are back.
by Samuel J. Fell

In the early 1990s, as gangsta rap gathered momentum propelling hip hop onto the world stage while at the same time dividing a culture that’d been building, positively, since the 1970s, a new crew formed in the sweaty clubs of South Central Los Angeles – Jurassic 5, four MCs and two DJs, a group disinterested in the flash and posturing offered up by their more thuggish counterparts, preferring instead a lyrical, beat-laden alternative – hip hop about the sound and furthering the culture, not just guns, ganja and girls.

“J5 is really two groups formed as one, plus me,” explains DJ Nu-Mark, also known as Mark Potsic, on the origins of the collective. “Rebels Of Rhythm was Akil and Soup, and Unity Committee was Chali 2na, Marc 7 and Cut Chemist… I got to know the group from a club called Rat Race. 

“[So] Cut had a beat that he wanted to invite Rebels Of Rhythm on as guests [which] resulted in a song called ‘Unified Rebelution’. This joint made us think that we could possibly become a pretty powerful group with all six of us moving in one direction. There was an inherent chemistry between us from the beginning, not only in the music and layout, but our personalities and outlook on hip hop and its rich history.”

From that cut, the group solidified, releasing a self-titled EP in 1997, which was then repackaged with extra tracks and released as an LP the following year. Quality Control followed in 2000, Power In Numbers in 2002. Not long afterwards, Cut Chemist left the group to pursue a solo career, and the remaining members released Feedback in 2005, before disbanding, a move which left the alternative hip hop community mourning an act which had come to exert great influence on the scene.

“There's many reasons why the group disband,” Nu-Mark explains. “One thing I remember was being in the studio and having nothing left to say on tape. Sometimes you have to step out of a group dynamic and receive life’s experiences on your own in order to share something to the world artistically; I know for me that was especially the case. 

“I was very content being the DJ/Producer that hid behind my hat in the back, far away from the spotlight, [but] once the group broke up, I was left with a big decision to work solo or take time off.”

Nu-Mark released a solo record, Broken Sunlight, and also dove into production projects, working with the likes of Large Professor, Bumpy Knuckles, J-Live, Quantic, A-Skillz, Tiron & Ayomari, as well as Australia’s own Hilltop Hoods. “They reached out to me for beats for their upcoming album,” he explains, referencing the Hoods’ 2009 record, State Of The Art

“They also reached out to Pharoahe Monch, who is easily in my top five greatest MCs of all time. The story that Matt (Lambert, aka DJ Suffa) from Hilltops told me is that they gave Pharoah 20-some beats from their camp and he picked the one beat I gave them,” he goes on with a laugh. “Maybe I should have played the lottery that day. Anyway, the Hilltop cats and I have always got along really well… I’m glad that track, ‘Classic Example’, made it on the album.”

From the dark then, and back into the light, the group reforming in 2013 to play Coachella, which was followed up by an appearance at Glastonbury last year. This year, they head to Australia to play Bluesfest, as well as a clutch of sideshows, the group seeming to be back in the swing, their rhythmic lyrical stylings once more a part of an alternative hip hop scene still thriving, albeit not so much in shadow any more.

“I think money was a big factor in bringing the group back, to be honest,” says Nu-Mark. “We were being offered three times what we use to get in artist fees, and I think the time apart from each other helped heal some internal wounds. But at the end of the day, when J5 steps on stage, all the extra background noise and static is left behind us and we enjoy rockin’ a crowd to the ceiling.”
“These days the band simply takes it one day at a time; the industry has changed so dramatically from when we started,” he adds. “We really approach each day at a time and take it step by step. There's still a lot of focus on our solo careers, but we take our performance and fan interaction seriously.”
As to whether or not the group are looking to record once more (there has been talk of a live recording), the answer is contained deep within a Jurassic 5 vs The Pharsyde mix Nu-Mark released this week – “Are you guys workin’ on a new album?” asks a kid, sampled in. “Uhhh,” is the reply, before the sampled kid says, “Great.” Not a definitive answer, but a nod toward the affirmative.

“If I hear the five heartbeats’ vibration, well, then I'm there creating some heat,” says Nu-Mark with a smile.

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