By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
And so the unsung-by-the-mass-media heroes of the Good Life are Freestyle Fellowship, whose rhyming style would be felt worldwide for the next 10 years, the most obvious beneficiaries being Outkast, Bone Thugs N Harmony, Crucial Conflict, Mos Def, Busta Rhymes and Fu-Schnickens. And the Fellowship made a deep impact on Jurassic 5.
It was dead-center at the heartbeat of the Good Life’s jazzoid hip-hop beatnik milieu that the embryonic Jurassic 5 came together during 1993, when the club was also giving mic time to Medusa, Coco, Fat Jack, Abstract Rude, Ganja K, Volume Ten, Urban Props, T-Love, Ahmad, Skee-lo and Kurrupt (pre–Dogg Pound), and even the Pharcyde performed there occasionally.
Among the regular Good Life crews were the Rebels of Rhythm, featuring MCs Zaakir, Akil and the late Shawnee Mack, which folded into the Unity Committee with DJ Cut Chemist and MCs Marc7 and Chali 2NA to become Jurassic 5 in a marriage between second- and third-generation Good Lifers when Cut offered the Rebels use of a track he’d produced that he thought fit their style. The subsequent collaboration was 1994’s 500-pressing yellow-labeled “Unified Rebelution” 12-inch single (b/w “Lesson 4”). Blunt/TVT licensed the track and put it out in 1995 as a one-side-only 12-inch carrying the official name switch to Jurassic 5, but showed no interest beyond using them to facilitate basic one-sheet “product-flow maintenance.”
The same single was included on an EP that Jurassic first released independently and licensed to Nu Gruv Alliance in ’96, where it sold well without any promotion. That EP with a few added tracks was also licensed by Brussels-based indie Play It Again Sam, which put it out in Britain in ’98. Sales were just shy of gold as of March 2000 thanks to tons of press from NME to Select, and ecstatic word-of-mouth reviews on the group’s live shows in England — some say among the best ever in hip-hop. The J5 (as they’re known among fans) quickly progressed from selling out small (300-capacity) to medium (600) clubs in the U.K. to bigger gigs, including the main stage at the 1998 Reading Festival with Prodigy and the Beasties. They’ve also toured Germany, Holland and Sweden.
Without a dollar spent on promotion, the EP, Jurassic 5, came out as an album in the U.K. in 1996 with a few added tracks, including the single “Improvise,” which got some airplay. The same EP would later be reissued in the U.S. by Interscope (minus some samples) when it began its slow-burn ascent to steady weekly Soundscan sales, now up to 1,000-plus a week. Not bad for a group with no serious promo dough behind it.
Six trips to Europe later, following the Fresh ’97 European tour, which featured old-school hip-hop culture complete with graffiti art, breakdancing, scratching, etc., came the Interscope deal, where the crew were personally signed by president Tom Whalley in a deal in which they wangled creative control. â
The beats and music around J5 lyrics are cooked up by Nu-Mark, a formally schooled trap-drummer-turned-DJ from NoHo, and Cut Chemist, a Hollywood b-boy-turned-DJ who met Nu-Mark for the first time circa ’92-’93 at the Rat Race, a short-lived weekly one-nighter at Rudolpho’s in Silver Lake. “Cut walked in while I was rehearsing with a wah-wah pedal hooked to my decks,” says Nu-Mark, “and he goes, ‘Hey look, it’s DJ Hendrix,’ and everybody busted up . . . we became tight friends straight away, because we love all the same music . . .”
Nu-Mark, age 29, ancestrally Persian and known to his mom as Mark Potsic, was 8 when he got his first Roland 606 drum machine, and insists that he remains “absolutely unaffected by British acid house and all its hybrid cultural and musical developments throughout European electronic dance music . . . for me it’s all about American jazz, soul, R&B and hip-hop.”
Mark drummed in the high school band and a few unknown combos, and it was the drum sounds in hip-hop, he says, that first pulled him in. Nowadays he calls the turntable the “infinite instrument,” while explaining the old rubber-band-on-the-needle trick, where he plays a string-bass solo in the middle of the show.
Born and raised in Hollywood, Cut (real name Lucas McFadden), age 27, originally encountered hip-hop circa 1984 while hanging out at Radiotron, the club/youth-center successor to K.K. & Trudi’s original Radio on Seventh Street near MacArthur Park, the true (pre-Compton) birthplace of West Coast rap.
There are four MCs in the constantly gigging J5, the above-mentioned Zaakir, Akil, Chali 2NA and Marc7. I recently talked with all six members during a midtour day off opening for Fiona Apple. The band was awaiting release of their three-years-in-the-making full-length album, Quality Control (Interscope), out this week, which contains a loop repeatedly announcing: “Los Angeles is what’s happenin’ . . . Los Angeles is what’s happenin’ . . .”
The following phone interview took the form of J5 members randomly passing a cell phone around the tour bus parked near (surprise, surprise) some vintage-vinyl record shops in Cincinnati, Ohio. A breathlessly enthusiastic Nu-Mark had just returned from a hard day with local DJ Mr Dibbs, who took him and Cut to all the cool record stores in Cincinnati, where they picked up “a bunch of breaks and old soul 45s . . . it was great . . .”