Jurassic 5, Toad’s Place, New Haven, CT, 4/30
Jurassic 5 draws a diverse crowd — from fans of their hip-hop sound to those who just appreciate their creative song writing without framing it in the context of any genre. The group was popular within the "jamband" community long before their performance at the Bonnaroo Music Festival last summer. The live J5 experience offers a true conversational tone between the audience and the performers on stage creating an ever-flowing circuit of raw power. The setlists do not vary as much as the typical jamband's, but the nature of hip-hop music leans on improvisation, which any music fan can appreciate. Although there are no instruments in Jurassic 5, which may scare away some music fans who would be quick to lump J5 with the other popular rap music groups, the two DJ's and four MC's are able to be role players as well as drop back into the mix, each with his own very distinct sound.
Toad's Place, New Haven, was filled to capacity April 30, as for the third straight time Jurassic 5 paid the small club a visit. There was little room to navigate as bodies moved through the room and others stayed put attempting to stand their ground as more and more people joined those already with their eyes fixed upon the empty stage, anticipating the show to come.
Each member of Jurassic 5 took the stage individually, but they made clear that they operate at their highest level when they all work together as described in, "How We Get Along." The communication between all six members is clear, as they trade off verses with great speed and accuracy. The backbone and leader of the group is Chali 2NA. If the four MC's were each instruments in a band, 2NA would be the drums and bass, not simply because of his deep and booming voice, but more because of his unifying nature within the sound of the group and the way he commands attention on stage. In the eyes of what seemed to be a majority of the audience, he could do no wrong: when he stepped to the front of the stage for any number of solo verses he was greeted with the largest applause of the evening. Just as the best guitarists do not play too many notes, 2NA always steps out of the spotlight with the crowd's full attention, and their anticipation for the next time they would receive the same type of performance.
The group makes clear that although they are hip-hop artists they do not fall into any type of stereotype that would come with that title. Through their stripped down sound, they distance themselves from the redundant sound that seems to plague the current hip-hop scene, whether it be a gangster persona or goals based on wealth. Jurassic 5 makes it clear that they are about the music alone through songs such as "The Influence," off their 2000 release, Quality Control, or "What’s Golden," from the 2002 album, Strength in Numbers.
Although the group distances itself from stigmas regarding hip-hop, they do not reject hip-hop itself. In fact, they embrace the style wholeheartedly through their ability to improvise and freestyle. Within the song, "Improvise," each of the four MC's took his turn in the spotlight, freestyling various amounts of verses. This provided the highlight of the night, as each member was able to showcase his talent as well as give the crowd great entertainment.
The DJ plays a large role in the hip-hop sound. Within Jurassic 5 there is Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark. As hip-hop has moved into the mainstream, the turntable has become more and more accepted as a musical instrument, but these two take it further than most. With Nu-Mark on both turntables and sampler and Cut Chemist on turntables, the duo provides the musical root that the four MC's grow from, but it is when the two are left alone that their talents shine. The two's creativity shined through during various parts of the evening, as the two challenged each other as well as came together for one of the more impressive moments: Cut Chemist stood at the front of the stage with a portable turntable as Nu-Mark stood next to him with a drum machine around his neck. And although some may look down upon it since no traditional instruments are being used, the originality of it all makes up for anything lost in other aspects.
Fans of all types of music should be able to find at least one offering of Jurassic 5 that they find to be appealing. Whether it be through the high level of communication and unity as far as their stage presence is concerned or the vocal skills through freestyling or more traditional harmonizing, Jurassic 5 transcends all musical genres.