It’s fitting that Jurassic 5’s latest single, “Work It Out,”Â off their new album Feedback is a collaboration with Dave Matthews. In many ways, Jurassic 5 is the hip-hop version of Matthews. While I happen to find J5’s music infinitely more listenable than Matthews’ mind-numbingly dull brand of mellow-rock, Jurassic 5 has shaped its career along the same lines, as both make relatively safe, non-threatening, non-innovative music, popular among stoned wannabe hippie college kids. They both make the sort of music you could play at home in front of your parents and not have to cringe with every offensive lyric. But above all, Jurassic 5 most resembles Matthews in their dedication to producing a fan-friendly live show. And in that regard, the five (now actually a quintet with the departure of producer/DJ Cut Chemist) put on an entertaining performance at the House of Blues in Los Angeles on Tuesday, July 25.
Indeed everything about Jurassic 5 is throwback, so it should come as no surprise that their live show partially paid homage to the greats of the past. Accordingly, the crew’s emphasis never veered from the essential basics of hip-hop: strong boastful rhyming, impressive DJ scratching from DJ-Nu Mark, now getting his opportunity to shine solo, and just a general reliance on the art of live performance, something increasingly foreign to younger rappers. As one might expect, Jurassic 5’s set was heavy on the group’s older catalogue as they fittingly came out to “In the Flesh,”Â off their first album, 1997’s eponymous EP. As always, their performance was tight, the four rappers in the group carefully timing their intros on each song seamlessly, as though they were passing a baton, an analogy that lended itself well to one of the performed songs, “A Day at the Races.”Â
The strongest part about the Los Angeles-based collective has always been their technical facility, and on-stage this strength is only magnified. Every man in Jurassic 5 can rap—quite well. In particular, Chali 2NA stood out from the rest of the group as always. It’s no black eye on the rest of the group how much 2NA betters his peers, as 2NA is perhaps the most underrated rapper in hip-hop. On-stage, his well-crafted rhyme schemes, his powerful baritone voice and his towering persona, make him easily the group’s star. After all these years, the fact that he has yet to release his much-pushed back solo album is a true shame.
In many ways, Jurassic 5’s show was a homecoming of sorts for the rap journeyman having plied their trade over the last four years to crowds as diverse as The Warped Tour, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. And J5’s Los Angeles fan-base was wildly enthusiastic throughout the performance. Indeed, other hip-hop groups would be well served to take a page from J5’s antics, as the group never stopped for a moment, never devolved into some long-winded tangent about the nature of hip-hop and always kept the energy levels in the room high.
Yet on some levels, I felt as though there was something missing from the performance. I’ve seen Jurassic 5 seven times previous, dating back to the pre-Quality Control days. There was always something a little thrilling about seeing a Jurassic 5 show even back when they were still new to the scene. Yet in 2006, 12 years after the group formed there is something a little surreal about a group dedicated to being throwbacks, still plying the same shtick after a dozen years. If I had never seen the group before, I’d inevitably decided that it was one of the best concerts I’d ever seen. Yet on some level, the group’s style hasn’t progressed since its inception and now that they’re on album four, the concept has grown a bit stale and dull for this former Jurassic 5 die-hard. It’s not necessarily from a lack of effort. The group is trying to change, as the new album features the aforementioned Matthews collaboration, not to mention beats from Miami-based hitmaker Scott Storch and former Nas collaborator Salaam Remi, yet these attempts fell flat on-stage, a bit too forced, a bit too calculated to win mainstream Black Eyed Peas-esque appeal. But hey, even though the group’s style may indeed seem Jurassic, a little musty, a little creaking, a little boring, they can still bring it on-stage better than 99 percent of rap crews making music today. And for one night that was all that mattered.
Jurassic 5’s new album, Feedback, is in stores now.
–Jeff Weiss in Los Angeles