Jurassic 5

It’s hard to call Los Angeles-based collective Jurassic 5 either emerging or an act. The six members function more like a family, and have probably been together in one incarnation or another longer than many.

But in its current configuration, J5 has been touring for most of the last year behind its second Interscope release, Power In Numbers. A self-titled EP, released by TVT in 1998, was such a hit in Europe that the big boys came calling, and Quality Control marked the group’s Interscope debut in 2000.

That tells the story from the record industry bio. But Jurassic 5’s personal history is much more interesting.

MC Chali 2na and DJ Cut Chemist share a music lineage with multiethnic L.A. favorite Ozomatli. MC Zaakir, also known as Soup, helped J5 get noticed early on by Interscope and was, subsequently fired by the label for pushing the unsigned act’s record to L.A. radio. DJ Nu-Mark and MCs Akil and Marc 7 round out the group, all hailing from the L.A. underground scene of the early 1980s and ’90s.

Chali 2na had to take his time sorting it all out to POLLSTAR in a recent telephone conversation.

Did it take root on a basketball court in a Silverlake, Calif., playground? Or was it at The Good Life cafe open mics? Was it when collectives Unity Committee and Rebels of Rhythm joined forces to record the ear-catching hit “Unity Rebelution”?

In a way, it was all of that, with the mother of Chali’s now 11-year-old son providing the moniker that has held them all together since the late ’90s.

“We’re paying homage basically to the guys that started this … and, as well, returning the favor by trying to continue the art form,” Chali explained. “A lot of the people who listen to rap now don’t have a clue who Grandmaster Flash is.”

“Old school” pervades not only its sound but Jurassic 5’s outlook on life, music and “the business,” too. The group is certainly “keeping it real” but it’s also keeping it positive – and spreading the word to anyone who will listen, whether the audience is disaffected urban youth or skateboarding skinheads.

And the group has played to both, from the mainstage at the Vans Warped Tour to Smokin’ Grooves to their own Word of Mouth outing. They’ve opened for Fiona Apple and D’Angelo. They’ve had bottles tossed at them by skinheads but, when J5 finishes a set, the six members usually sign autographs for an hour and mingle with their devoted fans.

This summer, Jurassic 5 takes the mainstage at the resurrected Lollapalooza tour, handpicked for the gig by fellow Angelenos Perry Farrell and Jane’s Addiction.

Jurassic 5

Chali is cognizant that it’s the rare rap/hip-hop contingent that tours as constantly as Jurassic 5 does, and that most spend more time in the studio than on the road. He points to “rap insurance” as at least a partial culprit.

“I’ve got a theory about that,” he said, “but I don’t know if it’s actually true or not. But my theory is that when gangsta rap hit the scene and Run DMC had a show at the Long Beach Convention Center where this riot broke out – people died, people got stabbed and things like that – and then the rap insurance … went to a million plus. It went through the roof, which cut rap shows out, period. You didn’t see any rap shows at all.”

Unlike the original rappers, today’s newcomers don’t concentrate on performing, he said.

“When gangsta rap started crackin,’ a lot of those cats became studio-minded more so than performance minded … They are cranking out hit after hit after hit, going platinum and getting massive radio play and they don’t have to sell (concert tickets). They know it’s going to be hard to set up a tour anyway, so it’s ‘I might as well cash in the best way I can.’

“And at the same time, you have groups who are mad at that because they have a great show but can’t get seen, stuff like that. They take a hit, too,” he explained.

While Chali may sound frustrated at the state of the biz, he can’t say enough about the up side of it – and that includes another member of the J5 family, manager Dan Dalton of The Firm.

Dalton first met Chali playing basketball as a teen-ager, shortly after the aspiring rapper arrived from Chicago. They were schoolmates in high school, and Chali was a groomsman at Dalton’s wedding.

He learned business acumen at his musician father’s knee and came into his own along with his friends – and has helped guide Jurassic 5 through rocky times for a touring hip-hop group. He is justifiably proud of what they’ve all achieved.

“I think hip-hop has a reputation for violence, theft, vandalism, problems – people not, respecting the venues or security or the promoters,” Dalton said. “J5 makes a lot promoters happy at the end of the night. They say, ‘Wow, we did incredible business, we had a great time, we had no fights.’ It would be a surprise if we had two fights in a venue on a whole tour, which you can’t even expect out of rock let alone hip-hop.”

But in the end, the show’s the thing, and as the curtain was preparing to rise on the Lollapalooza extravaganza July 5th, excitement in the J5 camp was running high.

“I don’t know what it has in store for us,” Dalton said, “but that market has the potential to have many new Jurassic fans that will be out in front of the guys. I’m excited to see what the reaction will be because they are showmen.”