If you only knew
The trials and tribulations we been through
But if you only knew
We're real people, homey, just like you
We're humble, but don't mistake us for some corny-ass crew
What we do, is try to give you what you ain't used to
(Soul music, somethin' we can all relate to)
I figure I can stop talking about Pearl Jam for a bit...just long enough to mention another group that has an album coming out soon...after almost four years, Jurassic 5's next album, Feedback, is finally dropped on June 27. Thank god. No hip hop group has shown more progress, maturity, and potential than these guys in just two albums, but since their last album came out in the fall of 2002, I was getting pretty antsy.
Here's a little bit about Jurassic 5's history...actually, no, here's a little bit about the history of me knowing about J5. In the fall of 2000, my roommate and I visited a friend of ours in the dorms, and he was almost literally bouncing off the walls...he had just found out that some group called Jurassic 5 was coming to town in a couple weeks, and he could not stop raving about them. So I did what I normally did when this guy told me about a band/group...I went out and student charged...I mean, bought...the cd. Holy moly. Some friends came over one night, and I threw the cd on...the conversation pretty much halted for the next 45 minutes or so...creative lyrics, creative beats, and creative song subjects (L.A.'s celebrity culture, basketball, positivity), culminating in a 5-minute song, "Swing Set", with nothing but the DJ's mixing together a bunch of old swing records. The whole album (Quality Control) was phenomenal. And this says nothing about the impression their live show left on us a couple of weeks later. It was our turn to bounce off the walls. I've seen them 5-6 times since then, and they've never disappointed...if anybody needs to put out a live DVD, it's these guys.
And together, we show you how to improvise
Reminicent of the Wild Style '75
Cause it's the brothers on the mic occupying the drums
We're taking four MC's and make 'em sound like one
For those who have only one general impression of hip hop (it's obnoxious, it's violent, it's angry, it's stupid, it's pointless, you can't understand the words, it's not real music, etc...an impression that, sometimes, is pretty much dead on...especially now that hip hop has reached it's "hair metal" stage, like when the quality of mainstream rock music took a massive nose dive in the late-'80s), let me explain what good hip hop sounds like.
- Good hip hop, in the form of Jurassic 5, The Roots, Outkast, Mos Def & Talib Kweli, Kanye West (he's unbearably cocky, but he's very very good at what he does) Ozomatli, Atmosphere, Jay-Z, and even some of Eminem's work, is politically relevant. It talks about human events and real-life more than any other genre of music. It's the best (though definitely not the only) forum for protest music at the moment.
- Good hip hop paints a picture of the future...it doesn't just dwell on diamonds and women (like most of the 'hair metal' rap on the radio right now), or 'gangsta' lifestyle...it might acknowledge the presence of those factors, but as I said above, it gives you a glimpse of real-life to go along with the fantasy.
- Good hip hop is schooled in the history of music. Being that most hip-hop songs samples songs from the past, there is an opportunity to show your own tastes and knowledge more than in any other form of music. For example, The Roots liberally sampled early-'70s funk on The Tipping Point. Mos Def had a song on The New Danger that was a take-off of a blues riff, not to mention the fact that half the songs on the album were performed with his hard rock band. Talib Kweli sampled hard rock music on The Beautiful Struggle (with limited success, but hey, he tried it). Hell, Andre 3000 did a song with Norah Jones on his half of Outkast's Speakerboxx/The Love Below.
- Going along with the last bullet, good hip hop is the most innovative-sounding music on the market today. Outkast remixed Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" (and that's to say nothing of their science-fiction themed album, Andre 3000's unique outfits, their extremely creative beats, lyrics, and concepts, and the innovation that was the in-house stripper pole that Big Boi revealed on MTV's Cribs). On the last Handsome Boy Modeling School album, not only were famous DJ's and MC's asked to collaborate, but so were Linkin Park, Hall of Hall & Oates, and Jamie Cullum...not to mention Father Guido Sarducci and The Ladies Man from SNL. Kanye West took the "Diamonds Are Forever" theme from the Bond movie and turned it into an anti-diamond mining song.
- Last but not least, of course, good hip hop, well, sounds great. Like my protest song qualifier ("Does it rock?"), to be good hip hop, it has to make you groove...and that comes from somebody who can't really do anything besides move his head and tap his feet (though probably not at the same time).
How does Jurassic 5 check out on the Good Hip Hop checklist? Politically relevant? Check (See "Freedom" and "I Am Somebody" from Power in Numbers). Real-life themes and forward-looking lyrics? Check (see, basically, their entire catalog). Well-schooled? Check (Nelly Furtado was a guest on Power in Numbers, not to mention hip hop pioneers Big Daddy Kane and Kool Keith). Innovative? Check (see the aforementioned "Swing Set" and their absolutely PHENOMENAL new video...seriously, this kind of thing makes me giddy as a music nerd). Sound great? Check check check.
Yo, Seldom travelled by the multitude
The devil's gavel has a cup of food
My culture's screwed
'Cause this word is misconstrued
Small countries exempt from food
'Cause leaders have different views
What mean the world to me is bein' free
Live and let live and just let it be
Love peace and harmony, one universal family
One God, one aim and one destiny
The last thing I should mention about Jurassic 5 is that, in the span of just two albums, they did something that only the best music groups can do: they progressed significantly. If Quality Control was about introducing themselves to the world with great beats, great energy, great lyrics, positivity, and a focus on old-school rap techniques, then Power In Numbers was about taking all of those tools at their disposal and saying something important with it. It's a darker album, but it's extremely relevant. You still had your "We're happy, and we love old-school hip hop" songs like "What's Golden" and "High Fidelity". Those types of songs make the album go. But you also had "Freedom" (from which the lyric sample above was drawn). You also had their anti-fake, anti-gangsta song, "One of Them". You also had the Nelly Furtado collaboration, "Thin Line", about the drama associated with hooking up with a friend. You had "I Am Somebody", which is a song about self-esteem and happiness (that somehow avoids being cheesy). You had "If You Only Knew", which shows that they grew up around the same negativity and gangsta culture that most rappers did, only they've done what they could to move on. Refreshing, no? Again, their music takes in all the influences that have come before, but it never stops looking forward.
It appears that, from what I've been able to dig up about it, Feedback will feature a similar progression. The first single is going to feature Dave Matthews Band (with thom they've toured on a couple different occasions...one of which was the Vote for Change tour in 2004)...a decidedly non-generic turn for a hip hop group to take. Beyond that, the visual presentation of Jurassic 5 took a very unique step with this video. It took four years for them to put this album together, but it appears that that wait will be very much worth it. If every hip hop group progressed and stayed positive like J5, the world of hip hop in general would have a much different (and more optimistic) perception and a much brighter future.