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Indeed, following along the lines of other socially aware crews like A Tribe Called Quest, Brand Nubians, and De La Soul, Jurassic 5 specializes in the clever cultural commentary over smartly assembled break-dancing beats and witty sound bites that students of hip-hop culture love -- and that consumers of the bigger-than-life baller anthems ruling today's hip-hop airwaves avoid like the plague.
"The black youth are into the bling-bling rap -- you know, whatever makes money," Akil assesses. "Our thing is money-oriented, 'cause in black families, it's not like in a white household, where your family is gonna back you in whatever interest you decide to pursue. For us, whatever we do, that shit's gotta work. It's gotta make money."
That's why hip-hop's core black audience goes for the billionaire boys' club boasts that dominate urban radio, Akil says. Leave the thought-provoking ruminations on society's ills to the social studies nerds. Take the economically challenged ghetto teen trying to stretch a tank of gas until payday; all those name-dropping rhymes about Bentleys and Courvoisier, hot tub parties and St. Tropez getaways provide a billboard for the good life that motivates the average hustler to keep chasing the bread.
Akil admits that J5 would be a bigger hit in the 'hood if it threw down a few lines about flashy wheels and champagne preferences.
"But for me," he says, "that's belittling people, to think that they can't reach higher than that. I think it's important to actually say something on a record."
As such, the rappers in Jurassic 5 face the odd role of bringing old-school hip-hop back to an audience that was either too afraid to get near it the first time around, or too young to remember when rap was about anything besides getting your freak on. And if that means playing night after night to a mostly white audience, Akil and the guys are okay with that.
"In the '80s, you seen a lot of white people trying really hard to be black -- wearing African medallions or whatever," he laughs. "But now, white people can have a hip-hop function with no black people in there. They got their own hip-hop, and they can go to a party and see nothing but people dressed just like them."
Given its perceived marginalization on the thinking man's hip-hop scene, you can forgive J5 if its records sometimes sound like Introduction to Black People 101. ("We real people, homey, just like you," they chant in unison on "If You Only Knew." On "Freedom," Akil schools, "My forefathers hung in trees to be free.")
"It's like they don't need us anymore," Akil adds with an uneasy laugh. "Only on the record. And onstage."
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