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Photograph by Mark McKenna

If 6 Was 5: Jurassic Five models the latest in rap facial hair.

Mass Appeal

On 'Power in Numbers,' Jurassic Five shows you can test uncharted waters without diluting the art form

By Todd Inoue

WITH the quartet's fluid vocal routines and twin DJs doubling the beat-ific pleasures, L.A. rap group Jurassic Five builds upon rap's forefathers--Double Trouble, the Treacherous Three, Funky Four + One More, the Fantastic and Furious Fives--and customizes the music with contemporary twists.

The four emcees--Chali 2na, Mark 7even, Akil, Zaakir--move in and out like a Globetrotters weave before merging into one single, moving voice. The canvas--laid down by DJs Numark and Cut Chemist--blends obscure samples, noggin-knocking beats, needle-sharp scratches and the all-too-important hand claps.

Jurassic Five formed in 1993 when two acts--Rebels of Rhythm and Unity Committee--came together. J5 introduced the world to its pass-the-mic scientifics on its self-releasted EP. From the giddy "In the Flesh" to Cut Chemist's epic turntable suite "Lesson 6" (an homage to Double Dee and Steinski's "Lesson 3"), Jurassic Five's EP was a hot item, selling tens of thousands of units. The group worked the independent circuit and toured like dogs before signing with Interscope and, in 2000, dropping its debut full-length Quality Control.

Over the past two years, Jurassic Five has made the transition from underground favorite to major-label act a seamless one. J5 was one of the first underground hip-hop outfits to openly court mainstream audiences. In 2000, it performed at the mostly punk and metal Warped Tour and even opened for Fiona Apple. Both tours were foreign to hip-hop, and if longtime fans were going to call J5 a "sellout," they kept it to themselves. It was because Quality Control kept all of J5's best traits intact and blew them up to widescreen.

The group's growth is evident on the 2002 follow-up, Power in Numbers, that sees release on Oct. 15. The cover of the album is a sea of hands with a picture of the L.A. skyline in the background--an appropriate visual.

The fallout from the past year colors think pieces like "Remember His Name," "Freedom" and the crowd-pleaser "I Am Somebody," on which the group engages the mind without sacrificing the ass to do so. On "Freedom," Akil lays down a passage about the lasting prophecy of peace: "What means the world to me is being free / Live and let live and just let it be / Love, peace and harmony one universal family."

Co-producers NuMark and Cut Chemist guide J5 into different directions with assistance from JuJu of the Beatnuts, Sledge and Omas. Clean, crisp breaks figure heavily in the mix, as if New Orleans funk pioneer Eddie Bo personally oversaw every snare. "If You Only Knew," "What's Golden," "Break" and "React" show J5 in top form--Zaakir and Akil connect with lyrical jabs, Marc 7even agitates and Chali 2na rains down with his basso profundo.

"If You Only Knew" finds the fellas rhyming in tandem and solo, spreading knowledge over a fluttering piper loop and brushed shuffle beat. "Acetate Prophets" lets the DJs loose into a crate of African and South American chants and rhythms, Asian string instruments and dusty drums and emerges with an around-the-world trip via turntable.

The leadoff single, "What's Golden," is J5's funky opening statement. "We're not balling or shot calling / We're taking it back to the days of 'yes y'alling,'" goes the chorus. "We're holding on to what's golden / On the stage, I rage, and I'm rolling."

If the album has a downside, it's the collaborations, which seem to float in ether, unsure of where to go. Canadian songbird Nelly Furtado and hip-hop icon Big Daddy Kane do more to detract than make impact. There's another detour on "One of Them," J5's first stab at a chest-pounding battle track that comes off clumsy and awkward. But the growing pains can't keep J5 down; Power in Numbers is a solid spin, and the group commands two nights at the Fillmore on the eve of its record release.

Jurassic Five performs Sunday-Monday (Oct. 13-14) at 8pm at the Fillmore, 1805 Geary Blvd., San Francisco. Tickets are $25. (415.346.6000)

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From the October 10-16, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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