Squint hard enough and you can make out The Parklife Weekender (official site) on the horizon. One of the UK’s first major festivals of the summer, spreading across June 8th and 9th, the event’s got some serious draws on its line-up. From Johnny Marr to Plan B, The Horrors to Hudson Mohawke, The Bug to Joey Bada$$, the Manchester-held event has an impressively broad bill.
A standout attraction amongst the purveyors of utmost quality on show is the name Jurassic 5. What, you thought they were over? You were right, as they split in 2007. But the seminal west coast rap crew has reunited, and their Parklife set will represent the LA group’s first European show since putting differences aside to pick up where they left off.
Clash’s Grant Brydon caught up with J5 to hear how those six years were filled, and how they’re going about translating their nostalgic sound to present-day hip-hop-heads…
- - -
The US west coast has long been synonymous with some of hip-hop’s most exciting groups. Today, acts like OverDoz, the Odd Future crew and Black Hippy’s breakout successes, amongst them Kendrick Lamar, are inspiring future talents as well as generating ample column inches of their own.
But when gangsta rap was at its peak, stereotypical tropes becoming uncomfortably commonplace in west-coast lyricism, one act dared to stand out with a refreshingly different attitude. Jurassic 5 – Chali 2na, Cut Chemist, Akil, Mark 7even, Zaakir and DJ Nu-Mark (yes, there’s six of them) – developed one of the scene’s most varied and enjoyable live shows following their 1993 founding, earning a fine reputation from both on-stage and in-the-studio activity.
The sextet’s commercial breakthrough with their eponymous debut album of 1998 was richly deserved. Featuring instantly appealing and wickedly addictive cuts like ‘Jayou’ and ‘Concrete Schoolyard’ (video below), it carried the J5 brand – sunshine rhymes, sweetly soulful licks – across continents. But that was then, and the hip-hop world moves fast indeed, bound to technological progression as much as it is inventive wordplay.
- - -
- - -
“It'll be interesting to see how we can be compared to acts around now,” says Cut Chemist. “In the show, we’re updating certain things that can translate to a contemporary audience, while also connecting to our existing audience, from the past.”
The six formed when two previously rival groups, Rebels Of Rhythm and Unity Committee, merged in 1993. Four records later – the aforementioned ‘Jurassic 5’, 2000’s ‘Quality Control’, ‘Power In Numbers of 2002 and ‘Feedback, which emerged in 2006 – their split was marked with sadness from the hip-hop community.
This year’s Coachella Festival marked their moment of return. And it serves as the launch-pad for further live activity – Manchester’s Parklife will be complemented by performances in London, Birmingham and Glasgow. Newcomers and old-hands alike will therefore have attendance options. And J5 will welcome the attention from British fans.
“That’s where we had our start, over in the UK,” says Zaakir, aka Soup. Needless to say that when the invitation to play Parklife came their way, the group snapped it up.
“There’s no telling what J5 would have done if we’d have started in the States,” the rapper continues. “You guys were the testing ground for everything, and embraced us when nobody else did. We only had a 12” out when we were invited to play a festival there in 1997, so you guys got a love that can’t be matched.”
Six years apart might lead to some wondering just how smoothly J5’s reformation might flow. But Cut Chemist is optimistic about the reunion.
“Everybody kind of split up and did their own things, exploring territories of their own,” says the turntable titan. “But that’s something I always thought needed to happen, because everybody has their individual talents. It was interesting to see everyone finding their own niches.”
Several solo projects have been spawned from the J5 unit – Cut released ‘The Audience’s Listening’ was released in 2006, and Chali 2na’s official studio solo set ‘Fish Outta Water’ was well received in 2009. And that’s just skimming the surface. They’ve all been busy.
But phone calls and emails found their way from member to member, and an overall picture of their collective mindset began to emerge. Then Rick Gonzalez, Nu-Mark’s manager, revealed that the offers had been coming in during the group’s time apart.
We’d been loosely talking about a reunion, and entertaining ideas of how it could be done,” says Cut Chemist. “And one of the things that I remembered telling Akil and Mark was that it would be good to centre a reunion around a big festival. So when Coachella was an option, it just organically happened.”
With touring now underway, J5 are, without a doubt, back again. But it remains to be seen whether these live dates will lead to new recordings.
“Hopefully,” is Cut’s response, when asked about a J5 studio reunion. “We’re just going to see how the shows go and what the vibe is like. So far it’s been awesome, and everybody is really excited about it. So we’ll see where everyone’s heads are at. I’d like to!”
- - -
To purchase tickets to The Parklife Weekender 2013, click here.
Words: Grant Brydon