Jurassic 5 has been breaking ground since its formation 1993, when the group brought together The Unity Committee's Chali 2na, Marc7 and Cut Chemist with The Rebels of Rhythm's Zaakir and Akil. Their first full-length album, Quality Control
, scored high on many millennial Best Of lists, and Power in Numbers
, the group's excellent follow-up, looks likely to revisit its predecessor's warm critical reception.
Jurassic 5 goes back to the future here, pulling transcendently fresh, multilayered sounds from a mix of old school rap, dusty soul grooves and absolutely current rhymes. There's no contradiction when they say "We're holding on to what's golden" just a few tracks after promising to "give you what you ain't used to"; after all, it's people who don't know history that are condemned to repeat it, not the ones who mine the past as raw materials for the unforeseeable future.
For example, the slithery soul at the heart of "Freedom" comes from a plaintive '70s track by obscure soul producer Julius Brockington. It weaves in and out of a stuttering beat. Incendiary rhymes about racism in all its forms burn on top, detailing everything from slavery and lynchings to unfair music business practices. When you hear the phrase "segregated on wax" on top of Brockington's heartfelt "hold on to this feeling", it's like one generation of Black artists calling across the decades to another, sharing the constraints and the unstoppable love of music.
Similarly, "If You Only Knew", one of two tracks produced by the Beatnuts' JuJu, blends an airy jazz flute and syncopated deep-voiced choruses. "Soul music is something we can all relate to," one MC says, then proves the point with '70s-style keyboards and a danceable stop-start beat.
With "Break", the beat is so old-style funky, you expect to see young men spinning on their heads for money outside the big subway stations again. Jurassic 5 acknowledges the decade-old debt with lyrics like "We're paying homage as well as returning favors, candy for your ear, hear us now or hear us later." The track is so good, though, that you may catch yourself asking why no one is doing this anymore.
The complex and layered "A Day at the Races" lifts a killer funk guitar line from David Axelrod's "Urizen", puts Big Daddy Kane and Percy P. in charge of rapid fire rhyming and revs its engines like a muscle car. It's the kind of song you might like immediately, then go back to 10 to 20 times before you can feel you've heard everything it has to offer.
Another star turn comes in "Thin Line", which puts Nelly Furtado's honeyed voice on top of a serpentine soul beat borrowed from seventies diva Minnie Ripperton. An excellent albeit overtly poppy track, it examines the complexity of relationships in microscopic detail. If you've ever had a platonic relationship sucked under by the rip tide of sexual attraction, you will have no choice but to nod along. It is, along with "Hey" and "Afterschool Special", one of the sweetest tracks on a mostly upbeat and positive album.
Power in Numbers climaxes with the monolithic beat of "What's Golden". DJ Nu Mark says in the liner notes that he made the beat for this track on 9/11, which may explain its world-shaking heft. The track is not in any way about the terrorist attacks, though it incorporates the angry energy of Public Enemy's "Prophets of Rage".
As spiritual as Talib Kweli, as musically complex as Mos Def, as joyfully syncopated as the Roots, Power in Numbers sets the standard for intelligent hip hop. Listen to it early. Listen to it often. You'll get more out of it every time.