Moment of Truth: The Origins of Jurassic 5 with Chali 2na

Jurassic 5 is a uniquely timeless hip-hop collective. Four MC’s and two DJ’s who came together to form a unified sound that brought hip-hop out of the '90s and into the '00s in style. The L.A. crew has always put on a memorable live show that featured turntable mastery/trickery from DJ's Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark along with the harmonious “Takin' four MC's and make it sound like one!” approach from MC's Akil, Chali 2Na, Mark 7 and Zaakir.

After an incredible run that featured two gold records, the group broke up in 2007 and a long period of silence for J5 ensued. In the meantime, Chali 2Na, Cut Chemist, and Nu-Mark embarked on notable solo projects before the group triumphantly reunited in 2013 at Coachella. The group has been touring all over the world ever since and on Saturday July 11, the complete Jurassic 5 lineup will be descending upon the Fox Theater for a night of classic hip-hop that transcends the underground sound. 

[jump] We caught up with perhaps the group's most recognizable figure, Chali 2Na, “the verbal Herman Muenster” himself, in all of his bass-voiced glory, as he was driving through L.A. We spoke with Chali (who's as jolly and full of life as ever) about Jurassic 5's origins, the 15th anniversary of the group's debut LP Quality Control, and the nebulous break-up before returning to the stage —  where the group will find itself on Saturday here in the Bay. 

Shouts out on the 15th Anniversary of Quality Control this past June. What kind of feelings did that album inspire in you back then when you were making it?

What inspired in me those times was that we had this opportunity to get our music out to more people than just what we could actually do for our selves. None of this seemed possible for me. I’m from the South Side of Chicago. I'm from the projects dog. Some seriously impoverished conditions. And being able to move out to California on a fluke and meet all these brothers and the opportunities we were faced with … It just didn’t seem possible. I'm still to this day shocked, honored, and very much grateful for the opportunities that we’ve been given; that we’ve been able to make some music that's stood the test of time. I'm happy probably 'til the day of my death and still overwhelmed.

You said you grew up in Chicago. How did you all connect when you came out to L.A.?

I came to L.A. when I was 16 and went to high school with Mark 7even. We liked each other's vibe more than anything I guess, since we were both from a different city when we moved to Cali. He was from Patterson, NJ and me from Chicago, so hip-hop was prevalent and had an extremely strong energy on the East Coast. L.A. had its own little vibe. When we met, the first Biz Markie album had just come out and that was the glue between our friendship. He had that tape and I was like “Woah! Dude, let me borrow that!” I heard him free-styling at a house party and I was like “That's dope!” I could rap, but I wasn’t as serious about rapping as I was about graffiti and paint. But I knew that I could rap so it was cool to meet somebody from the East Coast that shared the same likes as I did.  

Me and Mark 7 would mess around with music and eventually we were introduced to this dude Markski (later became Nu-Mark) who knew this other brother who called himself Maestro at the time and he would become Cut Chemist. Me and Mark 7 and Cut made a group called Unity Committee. We did stuff for years…8, 9, 10 years almost until we met the Rebels of Rhythm (Zaakir, Akil, Nu-Mark) at The Good Life Cafe, an open mic cafe in South Central … you couldn’t swear there and you had to be creative. We were from different parts of town, but we liked each other's styles and we made a track together called “Unified Rebelution,” cause of both our names, and pressed 1,000 records. We shipped it out, got it to as many DJ’s as we could, sold some, gave some to friends, and it created a buzz of who we were before it landed on a 12-inch record for TBD Records in New York. But we didn’t really have a name, cause we just felt like it was different groups. But my son’s Mom made it up, saying that we sounded like the Fantastic 5, but it was more like the Jurassic 5 [laughs.]

So it was random that it was Jurassic 5 then, even though there were 6 of you. It was kinda trivial…

Yeah, we addressed that first off … we were like “And there’s six of us!” and everyone in the group was like “So What?!” We even considered Jurassix, but nah…

How do you feel now with Quality Control being re-released and what has it meant for the last 15 years?

I feel accomplished, like I said. When I was young listening to my parents Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind and Fire, and all that, I got a certain feeling in my chest that this music was here to stay. I'm sure it made my Mom and all them feel like that too, cause it's what they were listening to then instead of rap. So for me to be a part of an album like Quality Control and Power in Numbers. For these albums to be around … 10 and 15 years later, for us to have a following that runs more than 20 years deep. It's so much stuff that you couldn’t write in a script. It just happened and it goes back to me just being grateful.

You guys dis some special stuff for the re-release. There's a 45 with “Quality Control” on one side and “Jurass Finish First” on the other.

Yeah, and we did the instrumentals and a box set re-release to commemorate that it went gold after all these years.

“Jurass Finish First” was always my favorite cause of that Shelly Manne “Flip” horn sample. Was it always just Cut and Nu-Mark with the production and track creation, or did you and the other MC’s influence it?


Well, we’re all one sixth of it all. We all have our own specialty that we sink in to, but each song was created with the intents of everybody in the group and that's always been the dopest stuff. From Cut and Nu ducking away and creating a batch of beats that they thought we would like, presenting them and us. We'd shoot down couple, but on others being like “That one's dope!” to me that's all part of the process. But yeah, we always wanted Cut and Nu to be the primary producers of it all, cause its just beautiful to have in-house production. I think eventually, we broke out of that by the time we got to Feedback and even on Power in Numbers we had some tracks from Juju from The Beatnuts and Sa-Ra.

OK, so you guys broke up in ’07 and Soup (Zaakir) was quoted as saying, “We haven’t been seeing eye-to-eye.” Then you got back together in 2013 and have been pretty much touring ever since. What changed?

Everybody had a different perception at that time and I think that is what made us say “Well, we did it…” I just feel like nothing has really changed beside our age and our experience. We’ve learned a lot together as well as separately. All the years of being together before 2007, I learned so much personally. From participating in J5 to doing solo stuff and doing Ozomatli and all these different things. Learning about the business — all of these different things. I gained so much knowledge and when we broke up, I was able to bring some of that knowledge that I learned on that journey with me and in that period of time. So, I think experience being the best teacher, we've all learned different things and that will always bring you to the realization of being grateful for what you got. We missed out on some years, like Soup says, “not seeing eye to eye” or disagreements in certain instances, but bottom line is to step back and look at it for what it is and know that we have something good and amazing. And we’ve got the ability to make sure that all of us eat and our families are taken care of, by doing something that we love. No 9-5 or a job you don’t like in order to feed your family, but something you have a passion for since you were small, that's a blessing…so we said “Let’s do it!”

So how's the vibe now? Does it feel like a family again? I mean, you guys are touring a lot…

Not to get it twisted, it never stopped feeling like a family. Sometimes you don’t like your brother. Right? Sometimes you and your brother will fight and you’ll be like “Man, fuck that dude!” But he’s still your brother, and there’s no way that you can separate the bloodline. And that's kinda how it was for us. Whether we were broken up or not. It was a family and it still is a family, It feels like that. From your elders, the older ones of us becoming the younger ones of us in certain things. Or some knowledge you might’ve obtained outside of what we're doing. It's a family. You would want for your brother what you’d want for yourself. That's how we feel it and that's our personal mantra as a clique.

One love to that. Anything in the Bay in particular that you’re looking forward to about coming out here and what can we expect from the live set?

Yeah man, Oakland and the Bay itself has always supported us and been one of our biggest fan bases. You guys have always given us love. I’m always looking forward to coming here — it’s been a while. With J5 or solo. I can't wait to see a lot of my old school homies. Cats like Lateef and Lyrics Born. But we always try to give you a high-powered show. Its not just a rap concert. We try to integrate…it's theatrical, it's fun and it makes you want to drop your inhibitions and participate. It's engaging and that's the part I love about us. We make people feel like it's OK to have fun. 

Jurassic 5 with RDGLDGRN 8 p.m. at Fox Theater Oakland, Saturday, July 11. $45. Get tickets here. 

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