hile the sickle on Rawkus Records’ logo popped the jiggy balloon in ‘90s New York, Jurassic 5 led the charge out West. The six man crew combined harmonious choruses, sample-stacked beats, and tangible concepts to release the critically acclaimed Quality Control, followed by a respected Power in Numbers. However, in the three years since, Hip-Hop changed, and the group was forced to adapt.
For their third album, Feedback, Jurassic 5’s production team split with Cut Chemist, who decided to focus on a solo career. A member lighter, the group evolved by utilizing outside beatmakers, as well as giving the complete reigns to DJ Nu-Mark. Still with Interscope, the South Central collective is using the Dave Matthews assisted first single, “Work it Out” to reach an untapped audience. Whether the outfit can match the commercial appeal of longtime peers Black Eyed Peas will soon be determined. Charli 2na and Nu-Mark believe that J5’s reputation for raw Hip-Hop won’t be tarnished in the process.
AllHipHop.com: Quality Control really seemed to draw from Hip-Hop’s earliest days with the MC harmonies, the simple subject matter, and the fun. Then, Power in Numbers used guests like Big Daddy Kane, Percee P, and Juju to show its allegiance to the early ‘90s. With Feedback, does it follow this course?
Charli 2na: Man! It’s your perspective. I think it’s something entirely different from where I’m sitting. At the same time, on this Feedback album, we’ve got a song called “In the House,” which actually pulls from the underground, early old school Hip-Hop from Los Angeles. Things like that, we touched on, as well as trying to reach way outside of the box. You’ve got to blend the two within one pot.
DJ Nu-Mark: Believe it or not, it’s an East Coast record I sampled. DJs know what it is. I think it’s one of those things that fit the group; they really honed in on that sound. The music led the path. When we talk about a project too much before we start it, it comes out stiff. This album, the only real talk that we had coming into the record was that we wanted to work with some outside producers and guest stars. I don’t think it was blatant to sound old school or traditional. I think we more or less attacked each song with a specific topic and feel.
AllHipHop.com: Why did you choose to share the production after so long keeping it in-house?
DJ Nu-Mark: We worked on a song called “Brown Girl” with Scott Storch. It’s a bold move on J5’s part. We actually met Scott through The Roots years ago in France, when he was playing keys for [them]. Salaam Remy came in because we were just talking about who’s dope. Salaam worked with Nas, he’s worked with Fugees, he seemed really up our alley. The guys really hit it off with Salaam as far as getting along, and seeing things on a musical and artistic level. We actually recorded nine songs with [him] of the 35 we did. We just picked our best 15. Exile also came in; [having] worked with Mobb Deep and Slum Village and stuff. He’s just straight up dope.
AllHipHop.com: “In the House” brought a smile to my face. On that record, and throughout your career, you’ve really mastered the baritone delivery, while flowing very fast. All that said, how many takes does it usually require to get your verses right?
Charli 2na: Dog, studio and stage is two different things. On stage, you gotta be in the mind-state of a one-take type of thing. But in the studio, you can sit there and poke and pick at it til’ you feel it’s right. Or, sometimes it’s a one-take thing where you’re like, “Welp, that’s it” with a burst of energy. It’s been all kind of ways.
AllHipHop.com: We’ve all heard stories, like “The Symphony” with G Rap running off the reel, and the imperfections in there that we all come to adore. With a Jurassic 5, to keep that rawness and improvisational quality alive, what’s the recent studio sessions like?
Charli 2na: We’ll come in the studio, and joke for about an hour – laugh, giggle, and s**t. We just catch up with each other ‘cause we haven’t seen each other – ‘cause two of us live on the East Coast and four of us live on the West. We chill out for a second, then get down to the task at hand.
AllHipHop.com: With the last album, MasterCard was running commercials promoting a contest to let a die-hard fan chill with Jurassic 5 in the studio. How was that when it happened?
Charli 2na: Yo, on the real, I’m gonna sit here and put MasterCard on blast. It was some bogus bulls**t, for real! They worked out a deal between themselves and [Interscope]. It was like, “Okay, we’re gonna have these kids competing to be your interns.” Also, they was gonna sponsor us on tour. They never came through with that sponsorship s**t, so that’s some bulls**t, but then the intern thing – we met the last 30 dudes [in the contest], and never heard s**t again. Those dudes never came and kicked it with us, or nothin’. So, MasterCard is “Masta Card”! [laughs]
AllHipHop.com: “The Thin Line” always blew me away as a well-written song with depth to it. Walk me through me the creation of the lyrical end of that song and its significance to you…
Charli 2na: First and foremost, “Thin Line,” because we did it with Nelly Furtado – before anybody heard it, we [posted the tracklisting] on our website. Our fans were s**tting on us: “You guys suck! Why would you make songs with Nelly? Blah blah blah.” So then, when people heard it, we heard all about how that song applied to peoples’ lives. That, to me, was amazing. “Thin Line,” for me… there is a sista I grew up with in Chicago. Her mom and my aunt were childhood friends blah blah blah. We’re around the same age. We knew each other like that – friends, almost family. Her and her mom moved to California. Years later, me and my aunt moved to California. [laughs] Our friendship turned to something a lil’ weird, and we been walkin’ that thin line ever since. When we were talkin’ ‘bout doin’ a song on love without it bein’ somethin’ corny for the radio, or something that’s already been done before… we said, “Let’s speak about an aspect of love that everybody went through it.” That’s what we did.
AllHipHop.com: That’s an interesting point about fans being critical about Nelly Furtado. Personally, I was a little off-put to see you guys working with Dave Matthews on “Work it Out.” Do you feel you might catch flack for that?
Charli 2na: Fortunately, because of “Thin Line,” I’ve developed a callused skin. People judge it before they listen to it. But after they hear it a few times… me personally, that’s one of my favorite songs on the album. It encompasses a lot of different things, and it reaches out to a set of individuals. Our modus for doing it was purely musical. When Nu-Mark created the music, we was like, “Who do you see on this?” I think it was Mark or Akil was like, “You know who’d be dope on this? Dave Matthews.”
AllHipHop.com: How do you think an absence from Cut Chemist will affect the group’s sound?
Charli 2na: With Cut gone, we missin’ our comrade, but we’re gaining room to do more stuff. If you come to see our show, you’ll know what I’m talkin’ ‘bout. I’m not gonna give it away. As far as the sound, Cut’s sound is gonna be missed. I think we just compensated with what would have been there. While we were workin’ on the album, Cut was workin’ on his solo album at the same time. I don’t know if he was overwhelmed or what. It was just a bunch of different things. It basically came down to [him saying] “I gotta focus.” Go for it man. [laughs]
AllHipHop.com: What about you Mark? You guys were a production duo like Erick and Parrish or Eric Sadler and Hank Shocklee…
DJ Nu-Mark: It’s hard to say what would happen if he was in the group and contributed to this album because he didn’t contribute any beats. So it’s hard for me to say the record would’ve gone this direction or that direction. Cut’s changing, he’s changing quite a bit – and the group’s changing quite a bit. I will say that going into this record, it was mutual between all six members – when Cut was in the group – that we wanted to work with outside producers. With that said, this record would’ve still sounded the same [in that regard]. It’s definitely a different dynamic in the group without Luke there.
AllHipHop.com: Interscope is the powerhouse label in many ways. They make dreams come true for their artists it seems. But from the time you spent growing up in California, I’m sure Dr. Dre is a major influence. What have been the interactions between Dr. Dre and Jurassic 5 over there?
Charli 2na: Aw man, me and Dre were smokin’ some weed yesterday! That’s a big-ass joke. [laughs] Truthfully man, I’ve seen Dre up at Interscope all of about two times since ’98. I can’t necessarily say we’ve had any interactions. I don’t even know if the kid knows who the hell we are. I can’t front. [laughs] Definitely, he’s influenced 75 percent, if not more of the music that’s come out of this place. He’s influenced a lot of my thinking when it comes to Los Angeles, and he’s influenced a lot of s**t that’s happened up at Interscope.
AllHipHop.com: In 2000, the label was very supportive of you all. But Capitol had Dilated Peoples, Common had gone Gold with Like Water For Chocolate, and Rawkus was peaking in sales. Do you still feel the label’s behind you as G-Unit, Shady, and Aftermath have expanded, and become more of a priority?
DJ Nu-Mark: I can’t answer it for this record because we haven’t gone through the cycle yet. I will say that in order for you to have a good relationship with a label, you’ve got to be around them. You’ve gotta meet with them and talk to them and discuss problems. So far, so good with this record, because this is the most we’ve ever involved them and this is the most they’ve ever wanted to be involved with a Jurassic 5 project. We opened up to Interscope and said, “What do you guys think about this song?” for the first time. Before, it’d be like, “Here’s the record. Put it out. We’ll see you guys on tour.” This time, it was different. We had an open line of communication with Jimmy [Iovine]. He said, “Before you put it in the plastic, let me hear it. Let me tell you what I think.”
AllHipHop.com: With the first single being the Dave Matthews-assisted “Work it Out,” will you be going to a harder, more fundamental second single to win back the skeptics?
DJ Nu-Mark: “In the House” is the B-side to that record, to answer your question. [“Work it Out”] is a commercial record. It is what it is. Every song has its place. There’s a whole other audience out there that we haven’t reached out to yet. There’s other singles on the way that are urban, and others that are underground. Our thing is – we never wanna make another underground record again, ‘cause I don’t even know what “underground” is right now. I can’t tell you who’s the king of the underground now. In ’95-’99, I could tell you Mos Def was the man, or Company Flow had it on lock. These days, I can’t tell you. So for us to make that kind of record right now, people wouldn’t understand it.