Jurassic 5 @ The Guvernment (Toronto, Octover 27, 2002) - Interview

Have you ever met someone you thought would be cool peoples, only to be turned off by their off-camera demeanor?  I have.  Which is why meeting the guys from Jurassic 5 truly surprised me.  Literally.  You see, I arrived at The Guvernment only to find out the show was completely sold out -- even the scalpers were trying to buy tickets!  And our media pass was non-existent, so what to do?  Ordinarily, I would have already packed it in at this point and been well on my way home listening to the CD in the ride.  But not when it’s J5!

THANK YOU J5!

Have you ever met someone you thought would be cool peoples, only to be turned off by their off-camera demeanor?  I have.  Which is why meeting the guys from Jurassic 5 truly surprised me.  Literally.  You see, I arrived at The Guvernment only to find out the show was completely sold out -- even the scalpers were trying to buy tickets!  And our media pass was non-existent, so what to do?  Ordinarily, I would have already packed it in at this point and been well on my way home listening to the CD in the ride.  But not when it’s J5!   I had to make something happen.  And as luck would have it, I saw Akil getting off the bus and heading to the venue.  We exchanged ‘Salaams’ and I asked him if we could hook up an interview before they left town.  He was like ‘Yeah, are you coming to the show?’  I told him my dilemma and my man went in and came back out with a ticket for me!  Jyeah!  Needless to say, the show was crazy.  Big Brass opened up and set the pace for the evening, despite the fact their records kept skipping.  Junkyard Juju and Psyco L.E.S. had next and definitely threw down.  But it was clear who the people had come to see.  Rarely have I ever seen a T-dot crowd that amped at a show, hands in the air waving like just didn’t care -- for J5’s entire set!  If you missed the show, I’m sorry, but you really missed a show!  Afterwards, Psycho L.E.S. and Nu-Mark were hawking CDs at the concession stand while the J5 MCs were meeting, greeting and signing autographs long after they wrapped up “A Day at the Races”.

Urbandetour.com caught up with Akil the next day on the J5 tour bus while he was working on some new beats and having a little something something to smoke. 

Rhyme Revolution:  So three weeks deep into the tour, how are you feeling?

Akil:  I feel good man, we’re seeing some progression.  We’re seeing people come out, sold-out shows, so we’re really excited to see how many more sold-out shows we can get.  We’ve done about 10 or 11 shows and I think 9 of them been sold-out.

RR:  You guys hung out for quite a while after the show, signing autographs and meeting fans, whereas other artists may have walked by and hung out backstage.  How important is the fan interaction to you?

A:  It’s very important because people want to feel like they can touch you and I’m a people person and so are most of the guys in the group.  We don’t want you to treat us like some superstars, we want you to know that we’re just people like you.

RR:  “If you only knew”, right?

A:  (laughs) Yeah, exactly!  And ain’t nothing backstage to me.  I mean, [interacting with fans] comes with the job and you have these duties you have to fulfill.  Some people lose it.  I feel --

RR:  You made a lot of people happy.

A:  Right, right.  I like to keep the vibe, you know, when people come to our shows they have this certain energy.  I want them to leave the show with that same amount of energy like, ‘Man, I just saw an exciting show!’  Whereas most Hip Hop shows you go to you feel drained because they done cussed you out all night!

RR:  Now that’s an interesting combination, J5 and the The Beatnuts.  How did that come about?

A:  We’ve known The Beatnuts since the beginning of Jurassic 5, before there even was a Jurassic 5!  It’s a family thing.  Plus, they did a couple of beats on the album, you know, Juju my man.  It’s a trip though, when we first met them, we were opening up for The Beatnuts, now they’re opening up for us.

RR:  So it’s come full circle?

A:  That’s right, it’s beautiful just to see that.  So they’ve been there since Day 1 and it’s all good.

RR:  So with a J5 performance, you know you’re getting a complete show with Nu-Mark, Cut Chemist and four emcees.  Why do you guys pride yourselves on your live show?

A:  Like I said, you want (the crowd) to feel entertained, not drained, at the end of the night.  We come from an era where you were used to seeing good Hip Hop shows.  I’m 32 now, so I’ve seen the FreshFest and real Hip Hop shows when people were really trying to perform -- the beginning, middle and end, and it all made sense.  Now, sometimes you see shows and it just don’t make sense, and you’re just waiting for them to do the song that you know.  We want to give your money’s worth ‘cause I know when I’m looking at a show I wanna see something tight.  I just don’t wanna hear the record, you know, because I could’ve closed my eyes and listened to your CD if you’re just gonna do the same thing on stage.

RR:  You mentioned the FreshFest and incorporating the older era into your music.  On the album you’ve got Big Daddy Kane, Percee P, Kool Keith, and a Public Enemy sample.  How important is something like that?

A:  I wouldn’t say it’s important but it’s a part of our lives, that’s the Hip Hop that we grew up on.  So when we try and make music, we try to emulate those people that influenced us.  And the gratification I get is like when someone like Chuck D likes J5, or KRS-ONE or --

RR:  Have you talked to those guys?

A:  Yeah man, those dRRes are so cool, you know, I’m like, ‘Man, these dRRes like my group.  Rakim.  It’s amazing the love from all these old school cats.  But we’re not really old school, we just pattern ourselves after our forefathers, trying to take the ball further than they did but still having the same etiquette.

RR:  I say ‘important’ in the sense that they paved for you and a lot of other guys.

A:  Yup, yup.  So we’re paying homage as well as returning favours / Candy for your ears, hear us now or hear us later (laughs).  You know, we want to push up our past.  Let it be known.  I come from an experience of being an African born in America.  We know how much history and your past plays a part in the making of a people and your confidence in who you are.  If you don’t know, you’re gonna get lost.  And so with Hip Hop, if you don’t know where it’s been then you don’t know where it’s going.

RR:  It’s interesting you say that because in the album -- although it’s not overly political -- there are references to Mumia Abu-Jamal and Stokely Carmichael.

A:  That’s our upbringing through Hip Hop, going back to the KRS-ONEs, the X Clans, Poor Righteous Teachers and Public Enemy.  Our upbringing was to be conscious, to know your surroundings, to be aware of self, to be aware of God and having a Higher conscious over yourself.  So with those references -- this album is just one aspect of Jurassic 5.  Most people kinda cornered us as just old school.  That represented one aspect our upbringing in Hip Hop.  Now, Power in Numbers represents this other aspect of Hip Hop, the PE stage, you know, consciousness and speaking to where the people were at, still making good music without being on some preachy stuff because we’ve been through that era in Hip Hop too.  I’m a Muslim, I’m a strong African in America, I believe in my culture but I’m not stepping on nobody else’s toes nor am I trying to push it down your throat.

RR:  Talk to me about the song “Freedom”.

A:  “Freedom” is just our take on what freedom is, especially as an African born in America.  If you want to talk about terrorism, what about the terrorist acts that were put upon Africans in America or the terrorist acts that were put upon the indigenous peoples of America.  If you look at history, like Malcolm X said, ‘History is best qualified to reward all research.’  If we look at history and the atrocities that America has caused, it’s way more than the so-called threats that you still have pinpointed and said who did these things.  We have direct records of you doing these things and you haven’t even made an effort to apologize.  You want to go chase a man around in some hills, yet you won’t send yourself to jail.

RR:  Are you proRR to be American?

A:  I’m not even American!  I hate referring to myself as an American because America was established in 1776.  In 1776 they owned slaves.  The Constitution that they wrote didn’t apply to none of the slaves.  I’m a descendent of slaves, I’m not American,  just as simple as that.  The Constitution doesn’t apply to me, you know, they made amendments to make it for women and black people.  What the fuck is an amendment?  When you first wrote the shit, you didn’t have me in mind.  Then you had the Civil Rights movement, people wanting to assimilate into the culture but Malcolm X was fighting internationally, trying to take America to court on an international level because once you take them to court in their own jurisdiction, all they do is change the fucking laws.  It’s their court.  I love Martin Luther King but Civil [Law] is not the way to go because he divided Africans in America into those that were radical and those who still wanted to assimilate, still wanted to go by these amendments.  So to answer your question, no I’m not an American!  I’m a displaced African in America.

RR:  Well said.  Now let’s talk about yesterday’s show.  Toronto’s own BrassMunk opened for you guys.  As former opening acts yourselves, how difficult of a position is it since the people aren’t there to see you?  And you must have a slim margin for error, no?

A:  Exactly.  You gotta get in and get out.  Most people get in and don’t know how to get out!  They’re all into it and that’s cool but the crowd just wants something short and sweet -- enough so you leave an impression and make hell for the main act!  You want to blow it up to where the crowd’s like, ‘Man, the main act better be better than the opener!’  I like that position even better than headlining.  Headlining is cool once you know those people are coming for you but if you have a big bill, you don’t want to go last because people are tired!  They’re like, ‘Just do the song that I like and get it over!  He did it, let’s go!  There’s traffic’

RR:  I want to talk about the emergence of J5.  “What’s Golden” is on regular rotation at MuchMusic, MTV and BET.  I’ve even seen J5 billboards.  You guys are in people’s conversations now.

A:  Shoot man, it’s time!  I’m not saying it’s just time for us, it’s time for this type of music to have its shine.  We haven’t had our fair take on it.  We’re children of that golden era of Hip Hop, we are what it produced.  The Mos Defs, the Talib Kwelis, The Roots, the Erykah Badus, the Commons.  It’s time for us to really smash!

RR:  Are those the artists you listen to?

A:  Yup, I listen to them but I also listen to Snoop, I listen to Jay-Z.  I listen to a lot of people.  I’m really a fan of a lot of this new R&B, you know, Musiq Soulchild, Bilal, Jaguar.  It reminds me of the music I grew up on.  I loved Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire, the Ohio Players, Kool & The Gang, Teddy Pendergrass, Anita Baker, Teena Marie.  That’s the stuff that really influenced me.  Hip Hop came in my teenage years.

RR:  So why do you think now’s the time?  Are people just tired?

A:  We’re grown people and we wanna hear grown, mature music -- not that kiddie bullshit!  And I ain’t dissing no particular person, it’s just that I hate belittling the people.

RR:  Talking down to them?

A:  Yeah or saying they can only vibe off of thug shit and that’s as far as your mentality will go.  I refuse to believe that people just want to be that ignorant.  I know there’s ignorant people out there, I’m not blind, it’s just that among those ignorant people you can’t tell me they don’t want to know better.   It’s just that you’re set in your ways because of what people set out for you.  There’s no bar, nothing to reach for.  The music’s not inspiring.  I already know how to sell dope, what’s inspiring about that?  Sex?  Okay, so what?  Well, I don’t know how to spend money though! (laughs)  But really, how many ways can you say it?  It’s not inspiring and that’s how I describe good music, if it’s inspiring.

RR:  So how did the track with Nelly Furtado come about?

A:  She mentioned to someone on our label that she was a fan of ours, so some of us went down to her video shoot and met her.  She was real cool.  At the time, Cut Chemist had this track and we wanted to do this track about a girl and a guy, but we didn’t want it to be about the regular cliché issues of girls and guys.  We wanted something the people could relate to.  It’s like a platonic relationship where you’re friends with somebody and you know you could like this person but you don’t want to cross that thin line to mess it up.  And we know that everybody has been in that situation.  So when Cut played the track, we knew we needed a girl’s voice in there.  And then [Cut] had this guitar part and it was like, ‘Yup, that sounds like something Nelly would be sounding nice on.  That sounds like her right there.’  So we called her up, gave her a CD and she said, ‘Yeah, I love it!’  She came through and was so professional.  Man, I love her, she’s so cool, so cool!  Much respect for her, she just came through and did her thing.

RR:  So I’m sure you must be very happy to see your friend doing so well?

A:  Yeah, I was happy when she won the Grammy.  I was like, ‘Yo, I know her!  I know somebody that won a Grammy and she loves our group!’

Thank you J5 for making Hip Hop fun again!  

Written By: Aadel Haleem