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
“Some Europeans seem more eager to embrace music from America. A couple of brothers over there once said to me, ‘We realize there will probably never be a major rap star out of England, and we accept that as a given,’ so they look to us in the U.S.”
[Akil, formerly Dante Givens, was a pop-locker as far back as 1977 at the age of 7, when his mom first asked him to pop and to do the Robot to entertain guests. At age 14, circa ’84-’85, he began busing over to MacArthur Park to hang at Radiotron, where he saw Jazzy D, Toddy Tee and the Rapateers with Charlie Joe and Jammin’ Jay Bird. Over to Akil:]
“J5 are party-rockers and a political band. The type of hip-hop we do is not concentrated in one area or era, although a lot of articles have inaccurately characterized us as old-school revivalists, which is not the sum total of what we’re all about. Also, this whole boxing-up of everything — to us, it’s not about coasts. Other groups rap about their neighborhood, their pride, and they want to be respected just because of where they come from. To us, that’s too limiting — pride and respect are universal concerns, not just in your own little hood.
[Cue Cut Chemist:]
“I also hung out at the Mix Club [at the Stardust Ballroom]. Although I wasn’t ready for punk bands, I loved Fishbone, who’d play there on these amazing mixed bills with local old-school punkers and Run-DMC. I also listened to Dre’s mix show on KDAY like some people go to church. ‘Freak-a-zoid’ by Midnight Star and ‘Rockit’ by Herbie Hancock were the joints that first got me fired up to do something. I got my first Technics when I was 11. I think I’d heard ‘Rapture’ by Blondie before that but didn’t really recognize it as a rap track. Freestyle Fellowship was also a profound influence on me — they opened up my ears and mind to the unlimited possibilities of music.”
[Born in New Jersey, Marc7 moved to Cali at 15 and was originally inspired to rap by Rakim, Public Enemy and KRS-One. He has a girlfriend and a baby boy. On J5’s night off, everybody’s going to see DJ Craze at some club, except the domestically oriented Marc7, who doesâ the unimaginable in the stereotyped world of rap by staying behind, he says, to “kick back, chill and straighten up the bus a bit . . .”]
“The Good Life honed some great MCs. The competition was so big, the crowd was either with you or you were out within 10 seconds, that’s about how much time you had to come up with it. Having to come out with a punch that quick was hard-assed training. I remember the early people, like Nigga Fish and the Chillin’ Villain Empire Sound System. Aceyalone was around, too. That scene changed the way MCs rhymed forever.”
Why so long to make the J5 album?
“We’re artists first before anything else, and we have to be happy with it, so we take our time to get it right. More delays were caused by greedy publishers mugging us over sample clearances — some of them were demanding 50 percent of publishing for a two-second bite. Everybody deserves to get paid, just don’t be so damned greedy about it . . .”
The underground hip-hop world curiously awaits. It’s currently a movement on the doorstep of co-option, peopled by the usual quota of eager-beaver, fresh-faced entrepreneurs secretly dying for their records to blow up while appearing to toe the party line laid down by the other extreme camp: those wanting everything to stay faceless and fiscally irredeemable so’s “reality” can be kept at any cost.
This year will make or break the underground in the U.S. from the POV of The Biz. Bean-counting drones, especially at Interscope, will be watching monthly ledgers and Soundscan figs on J5 and Black Eyed Peas like hawks, while over at Capitol they’ll be doing the same with Dilated Peoples.
Will the “underground” displace the dominant mainstream rap market by 2K1, or will it settle down to remain what it basically has already become: yet another niche-marketing subgenre under the all-encompassing umbrella of “electronica” as defined in the European perception of hip-hop espoused in a thousand American youth-culture rags?
Will these acts be able to sell any more records on a major than they could on a lower-overhead lean-and-mean indie? Will it all crash and burn like the indie alterna-band fiasco of the ’80s, when groups like X, the Replacements and Hüsker Dü never sold a single unit more on a major than they did on the indie label they started out with?
Can the good guys win? Jurassic 5: six cool, clean-living, regular fellas (three of them devout Muslims who pray five times daily) with a political agenda, some of them with families to support. Can these peaceniks and their ilk hold off the hard-reality gangster posses of recently flush ghetto never-hads (some of them also with families to look after) going hog-wild with the Hennessy-fueled high life of unlimited cheddar, custom gold-rimmed wheels and booty?