Jurassic 5's DJ Numark still sore after mistaken identity
Six Heads are Better Than One
For the last several years, LA's Jurassic 5, comprised of two DJs and four MCs, has been leading the '80s-vibe revivalist camp, with beats and rhyme patterns that are unabashedly reminiscent. Though trying to recapture the aesthetic of that era has won them many fans, some say the crew lacks originality and is simply rehashing what's already been done. But don't mistake Jurassic 5's newest album, Power in Numbers, for a remake record. Their latest effort comes with enough creativity, energy, subject matter and old-schoolism to raise the bar to a level rarely touched by their contemporaries. Jurassic 5's sound has expanded with Power in Numbers and the crew has unleashed one of the best hip-hop albums of 2002. Prefix Magazine recently caught DJ Numark on the phone to talk about the new album, the state of the game, and the age-old debate about who gets the girls -- the MCs or the DJs.
Prefix Magazine: Is 20 minutes cool?
Jurassic 5 : Yeah. I'm just gonna be diggin' through some albums while we talk.
PM: How do you feel about some people's allegation you're only rehashing '80s hip-hop or old school hip-hop? What's your reply to that?
Jurassic 5 : Pick-up Power in Numbers. I think it's really that simple for me. I think that album doesn't just say "old-school" on it. Take a song like "Acetate Prophets." You can't just say that's just old-school. We're taking you around the world. I can name probably half the songs on the album that have nothing to do with old-school or deliver old-school. The other thing I would say is come see us live, because we really do pride ourselves as being a 360-degree group. If you do see us live, you'll see us do some very innovative things that have never been done before. Ever. PM: How did you guys come up with the title Power in Numbers? Who came up with that? Jurassic 5 : It came from one of my really good friends from way back. This cat named Amani, who's actually doing production for Public Enemy right now. He was kind of talking about his experience working with G. Whiz and working with Chuck D and he was like, "I think it's hard working by yourself sometimes." And I kind of agreed. I think it goes both ways. Then he started talking about J5 and he said, "You guys have a lot of cats in your group. You guys are able to bounce a lot of ideas of each other, I imagine. That's great. Power in Numbers." I was like, whoa. He kind of said it under his breath, too, like he really didn't want me to hear it. He was kind of shaking his head, like damn that's dope. I was like, Amani, that's it! That's the name of the album. I thought hopefully they (the rest of the group) like it and, sure enough, it stuck. PM: What's different about this J5 album? Jurassic 5 : There's way more dynamics than any of our other albums. I think we've always been a very roller coaster group as far as tempos go. I think this album really exemplifies that to the nth degree. You go from a 95 bpm to a song like "Day at the Races," a song that's 112 bpm. There's like a lot of hills and valleys. Just a wild album. Not to mention songs like "Acetate Prophets" or "Thin Line," which touches on relationships for the first time. And sonically, too. It's a bigger sound. We also spent a little more time mixing the album. PM: Definitely. You can hear a huge difference from anything you guys have put out before. How do you guys come up with the lyrics or themes to your songs? Jurassic 5 : It happens differently every time. I think that's why we're all entertained by it. Akil might come up with a chorus or it might be something spawned by a beat. Sometimes the guys will just start writing lyrics or just start a flow going and bump into the chorus. Like "High Fidelity." That was a really good example of that. Because it was Mark7 and Soup, and Soup had this chorus in his line, but it wasn't a chorus at the time. I was like, That's a chorus. He said, "What do you mean?" I was like, Keep saying that part. That's the chorus. He was like, "Oh damn. You're right!" PM: A lot of the songs on Power in Numbers do not sound like previous Jurassic 5 songs. Was there a conscious effort on this album to deviate or expand the sound from what had been successful in the past? Jurassic 5 : We never go into an album saying we want to sound more rock or whatever it is. I think on this one we wanted more dynamics and we wanted to fill in the holes where we left off on the last albums. Since we hadn't done a song about a relationship, let's do a song about a relationship. It's just how we work as a group. Otherwise you get bored doing the same thing. PM: Along the same lines, two songs that really stand out are "One of Them" (produced by JuJu of the Beatnuts) and "Thin Line" (with a guest appearance by Nelly Furtado). Were there any worries that the songs would alienate some older fans? Jurassic 5 : We never really make music toward an audience or previous audience. We just make music and kind of go along with it. There's a reason we grew up liking groups like Public Enemy or A Tribe Called Quest. They just made a statement and everyone else followed a path that they already made. You can't really follow the path that the fans make because the fans don't really make a path, they just really follow. So you gotta put your best foot forward and stay to it and be confident in it. I think everyone was really confident on everything on the album. It's just a situation where you can't look back. It just causes hesitancy. PM: How did J5 end up collaborating with Big Daddy Kane, Nelly Furtado and Percee P on the album? Jurassic 5 : With Kane it was a situation where we heard that he was diggin' our music. Cut had this beat that was supposed to come out on the EP, actually. A really fast beat. I told him, Yo, you should pull it out for this album. The beat is perfect for the album. It's got that feel. We played it for the guys and of course they loved it. It was all good. That bass line just reminded us of some of that Kane shit. We were bouncing the idea of maybe Kool G. Rap or some other MCs, but it really kind of honed in on Big Daddy Kane. Plus we knew his manager. All the arrows were pointing in the right direction, so we just went with what felt good. With Percee P, we actually met him outside of one of our shows in New York. He was selling tapes and said, "I'm Percee P. I'm ... " We were like, "Percee P? What the fuck?" We were buggin,' like "Oh my god we're talking to a legend." DJs know who he is, or some DJs know who he is. He didn't really get a fair shake in the business as far as exposure goes. I'm thinkin' it's our chance to be like go knock it out. And he's like the most humble guy you'll ever meet in your whole entire life. Pretty ill. He's a real MC. You hear him on the album and he's rippin' it. If someone hears him on the album and they're not hearing it, they're just deaf. PM: What about Nelly Furtado? Jurassic 5 : It was a situation where we heard she was diggin' our music and wanted to meet us. She invited us to her video and we just went down there to say hello. At the time we had this song, and all the lyrics were recorded and we needed a woman's perspective on the song because at the time it was just a male's perspective. We gave her the beat and she was like, "I'll get on this." She just did her thing. Plus she had a really unique voice. Her voice is really reminiscent to me of a 13-year old kid and a woman. And she's also like a b-girl. She goes to Rocksteady. She just sort of fell into our whole crew. PM: Ten years ago there were a lot of groups preaching positivity. Why do you think there are so few groups now sending positive messages? Why aren't there more songs like "Freedom"? Jurassic 5 : I don't know because I don't listen to music as a listener does anymore. I listen to music as a producer does. I have the hardest time stepping out of my realm. I'm honestly the last person anyone wants to ask an opinion on that. I just think people really adore being degraded, as odd as that might sound. In the music industry they say 70 percent of people that buy music are women. How many times is the word bitch used? I don't personally understand the phenomenon. Degrading women and all that stuff. Obviously the women like it, 'cause they're buying it. I don't know. I can't figure it out. I can barely figure myself out. PM: What makes an album stick around? What makes it a classic, in your opinion? Jurassic 5 : For me, I like albums, like the Main Source Breaking Atom's, where there's a theme and they stick to it. It has one sound. It's kind of opposite to what I'm doing right now. But I like popping it in and letting it roll because I know I can count on it for one sound. There's a certain smoothness about it that's easy to listen to. PM: Do you think there's anybody right now on that level? What do you think about the current state of hip-hop? Jurassic 5 : I love hip-hop. I think there's room for everybody. I think there's room for Puffy, I think there's room for J5, I think there's room for Dilated, I think there's room for everybody. I think a lot of times people have interviews with us and they'll ask us, "What do you think of this mainstream group?" Well, they're obviously doing great, they're selling millions. Something's clicking. I'd like to see more groups that came out in the '80s and early '90s, but that's just a personal preference. As far as songs with a lot of thought put into them with themes and with something to say, as opposed to just "Back that thang up" and shit like that. I'd like to see more loops and more samples come back around. But samples got so mind-boggling. But that's just my personal fantasy. Get back a little more to the roots. PM: Speaking about getting back to the good old days, how you do guys feel about CD copying and mp3 burning? That's something that groups didn't have to contend with in the '80s. Jurassic 5 : I don't agree with it. It's like deliberately stealing. You know underground groups and groups in general are already hurting. The artist doesn't get paid shit compared to what these labels make. It's just another bad situation. Personally, I don't mind it if it's two weeks before the album drops and people are mp3-ing things. That's more of a promotional thing in mind. But when your album is bootlegged or burned a month ahead of time or two months ahead of time, you're just fucked. I don't know. It's a really sticky situation because artists really put their blood, sweat and tears into their work and their whole soul is in that tape. In a matter of months, they've been trying to paint this one picture, and just to have it taken away just sucks. PM: What are you listening to nowadays? Jurassic 5 : I just bought the new Large Professor album. I just heard the new Beatnuts album. We're touring with them right now. It's really dope. I really like Jazzy Jeff's album. It's a lot smoother than I thought it'd be. It's good listening music in the car. Rob Swift just gave me his new album. I like it. And I got the new Wildchild single. Good shit. PM: I gotta ask you, coming from a band with a gang of MCs and a few DJs. Who gets more ladies -- the DJ or the MC? Jurassic 5 : Definitely the MCs. The other day we played for a 500-capacity room in a small city. I get back to the bus and I sit behind the driver's seat and this girl, after seeing me for an hour and twenty minutes on stage, asks me if I'm on the bus driver. MCs get all the attention. PM: Maybe you should move up all the DJ equipment to the front of the stage and make the MCs rhyme behind you guys? Jurassic 5 : That's the thing about it. Have you seen us on the new tour? PM: I was out of town when you came through NY. Jurassic 5 : Well, that was my and Cut's logic. Let's put our shit up front. I got these Fisher Price toy things in the front and had blocks on the mixer. We're on the front of the stage to the left, and I get, Are you the bus driver? It's ridiculous. PM: Is there a bona fide the ladies' man in Jurassic 5? Jurassic 5 : I think the women are attracted to Charli 2na for sure. The voice. Barry White. You know. PM: What's the weirdest stuff that's happened to you guys this year? Jurassic 5 : I saw this one dude shave the J5 logo in his chest hair. That was really weird. There's another girl in Detroit with a J5 logo tattooed on her arm. I thought that was pretty cool. PM: You've got some really hardcore fans. Jurassic 5 : There's definitely something really weird that happened on this tour. Why can't I think of it? Oh god I don't know. We're always around weird things. PM: Where do you get the most love from fans? What city or country do the fans get into it most? Jurassic 5 : If I had to judge it right now, I'd have to say neck and neck. I have to go to Europe and see. The first album was Europe hands down. They're just way more into music and they study music and they talk about records like we talk about books in the states. It's not one big marketing scheme with posters everywhere and radio ads and all that bullshit. It's a real learning and real studying of music and talking to your friends about it. Definitely Europe for the first album. For this album we have go to Europe in a few months to see.