Jurassic 5 is back.
The well-versed alternative hip-hop group called it quits in 2007, but Coachella-goers are in for a treat Friday night, because the crew is officially back. All six original members will grace the desert stage together. Considering their deep playlist of hits, it should make for an incredible reunion.
Akil, Zaakir, Marc 7, DJ Nu-Mark, Chali 2na and Cut Chemist are considered some of the best to come out of the golden era of hip-hop and have produced hits that include "What's Golden," "Quality Control" and "Thin Line," featuring Nelly Furtado. Like A Tribe Called Quest and Pharcyde, Jurassic 5 is known as a soulful and socially conscious hip-hop group that exploded onto LA's underground scene in the 1990s.
The Huffington Post spoke with Zaakir, Marc 7 and DJ Nu-Mark ahead of the festival to learn more about why they broke up, why music may be doomed and why Nu-Mark used to show up at rehearsals in a lab coat.
Everyone's dying to know -- how did the reunion come about? You guys broke up officially in 2007. How was Coachella lucky enough to get you now?
Marc 7: Where do I start? There was so much that happened to put it all together. We just needed some time away from each other. After that time away, we got to talking and said let's give it a try.
Zaakir: There have been others who have tried. But I never felt comfortable with those people. I was a little apprehensive at first and it required a lot of trust. Trust in big bold capital letters.
Nu-Mark: The theme of this whole thing has kind of felt like people want what they can't have. So we kept getting offers and we were like, 'No, we have been broken up for years,' and more and more offers would come in. But we were disbanded. And then finally we just caved in and said, 'Okay. Coachella would be a nice way to begin phase two of J5.'
Have you played Coachella before?
Nu-Mark: Yes, and there's actually footage of us on that Coachella documentary they made. It was so windy that the records were blowing off the turntables. They didn’t show that part, but I kind of wish they did. They showed just me and Cut Chemist freestyling a DJ solo because everything else had just gone to shit and records were blown 15 feet behind us. I think I picked up a pair of xylophone mallets and played a drum machine with it, like a portable turntable [laughs].
Tell me about when you all first met in 1993. How did you all come together?
Marc 7: Charlie Tuna and I met in high school and then we were introduced to Cut Chemist. Cut Chemist introduced us to Nu-Mark. We started going to the Good Life, which was a café in South Central that had freestyle competitions. We ended up making a 12-inch called 'Unified Revolution,' and that pretty much started Jurassic 5. That one song.
Zaakir: There wasn’t an intention of becoming a group. We wanted to do a song together so we could perform at the Good Life. But when we did 'Unified Revolution,' it came out pretty good. A buddy of mine who was at Blunt Records back in the day liked it and said he would like to see if we could make it a single, a novelty hit. Back then I wasn't really swift on what he meant by novelty, but I found out what it meant and I was kind of upset. Because we were doing it for real. He had tunnel vision.
How do you feel the music scene has changed over the last decade? Have changes in technology ultimately been a good thing?
Marc 7: There's a good and a bad to it. The good side is, technology-wise, the labels have no power. You really don’t need them.
And now with social media and Twitter, there is a lot more fan interaction. Back in our day, we were big on staying after shows and we wouldn’t leave until we shook every person's hand. And there was a time when a lot of artists were like, whatever, and they'd get up and go home when they were done. Interaction with fans wasn’t a thing. They felt you should be happy that they came out, when it was the opposite for us. We were glad that the fans came.
I see a big difference now with the sound of what's going on in music. There's a lot of B.S. out there. Any and everybody is making a record. And it's crap. Beat-wise, there are a lot of guys still making great beats. But lyrically, no one even cares. It's like find me a good hook and go [laughs].
Do you think quality has dropped in general?
Zaakir: Of course. I never thought it would get to this. You don’t go from Public Enemy and A Tribe Called Quest to what we have now. You don’t go from a positive thing where people are talking about uplifting each other to what they're doing now. We went backwards.
The Coachella reunion will include all six of you guys, even Cut Chemist. That's pretty exciting. What have rehearsals been like?
Marc 7: We are all back. If everyone wasn't going to come back, we wouldn’t do it. The first day of practice, a lot of people, myself included, didn’t know all the lyrics, had forgotten a lot. And now we are practicing like 10 hours a day. At the end of that first day of practice, you start remembering and it starts clicking. The harmonies start coming back. By the end of the week, you really start getting tight again.
Zaakir: It's cool to get back and see how much we’ve forgotten [laughs]. It's fun to kick that stuff back up cause it's been seven years since we've all been on stage together.
Do you have a favorite song to perform live?
Marc 7: 'Day At The Races.' 'Jurass Finish First,' 'Break' and 'Red Hot.'
Zaakir: I like 'Day At The Races.' The movement is fast and the crowd participation is great. I dig the little routines we do.
Nu-Mark: I have two. I can never have a favorite of anything. I like 'What's Golden' and 'Day At The Races.' I like 'Concrete Schoolyard' as well, because there's a big whoa factor. There's a lot of emotion attached to that song for people.
Nu-Mark, you started off DJ-ing as a teenager in LA. How did you get into it?
Nu-Mark: I grew up in North Hollywood and I started out DJ-ing house parties in about 1987 with a group of guys named Bum Rush Productions. We did lot of house parties in the Valley. And I really cut my teeth doing that. People would be really drunk off of jungle juice and would know what they wanted to hear right away. I also did a lot of battling during that time. Local battles. I was doing that for quite some time and then I slowly got into the club scene in LA and that's where I met Cut Chemist and the rest of the group.
Were your parents supportive of your DJ endeavors?
Nu-Mark: My mom wanted me to have a backup plan. She always said that the art wasn't going to pay the bills, so I was actually studying to be an X-ray tech. Right when I met Cut and J5, I was in X-ray school and I would show up to the studio with a lab coat. I dropped out of X-ray school because I just couldn't see myself doing it for the rest of my life. As soon as I dropped out, J5 started touring like crazy. I brought my mom a gold record and she was like, 'Oh yeah, maybe you should do this music stuff!' [laughs]
What lead to you guys breaking up in 2007?
Zaakir: It was ego, it was turmoil. It was the same thing that makes so many other groups break up. You're with people for so long -- sometimes time will just make you break up. I don’t think the management that we had was right. When you have a group of six people, people pick who they think the 'thing' is and maybe they end up with their own agenda.
Nu-Mark: If you could rewind to 1993 when we first started creating music, there were so many things pulling us together. It was meant to be that we were together and we needed each other at that time. Nobody was really getting a deal with a major label by themselves. And as many reasons there were that pulled us together in '93, they were the same reasons that pulled us apart in 2007. People grew in different ways. People wanted different things out of life and out of their careers. We saw each other more than we saw our families.
Nu-Mark, you are one of the best DJs out there, and have been featured in a ton of publications, films and even in a critically-acclaimed documentary. What do you think the biggest misconception is about being a DJ?
Nu-Mark: It's different now. A DJ can just buy a laptop. I think the misconception is that there's a lot of laziness in being a DJ. When I started DJ-ing house parties, we would carry our own amps and our own speakers and about seven crates of records. We would make maybe $300 a house party and then all the money would go into buying new records. But now, with the advancements of technology and the birth of Serato, it's just much easier to DJ. But that said, I think people still know a good DJ from a whack DJ, even on Serato.
Do you think people with talent will still rise to the top or do you think technology is just going to level the playing field?
Nu-Mark: It's kind of a downer viewpoint, but my personal feeling about what's going on in music right now is it's not really about being good anymore. It's about having a wow factor. Crazy dyed hair or taking your shirt off onstage or you're dancing on the turntables, you're pumping your fist or smoking a blunt. That’s what's winning today. I don't think it has anything to do with technology.
I'll say this, the technology plays a part in that it will make it easy for you to do all that stuff minus actually doing anything technical on the turntables [laughs]. I can be good all day long; it's not going to make a difference. You have to have that wow factor and being good doesn’t matter. I can't wrap my head around it.
Not to be too long-winded, but the other side of it is biting. Stealing someone's ideas or sounding like the next person is not only accepted now, it’s almost like you need to do it in some way in your career -- whereas back in the day, if you bit someone's style or tried to sound like them, you’d get dissed. You'd get dissed to your face and you'd get dissed on a record [laughs].
Why do you think that is?
Nu-Mark: My guess is record labels are having a harder time marketing new acts. Or people are just being lazy. I'm not really quite sure. I just remember growing up and Public Enemy sounded nothing like De La Soul, who sounded nothing like Soul To Soul. Everybody had a distinct sound and that’s why they called it the Golden Era -- because there was growth. Everybody was expanding in different directions that hadn't been tapped into yet.
Whereas now, it's like, 'Oh, but does it sound like Nicki Minaj?' or "Does it have an 808 in it?' The 808 has been around for like 20 years now. And it's in every song we hear. I love the 808 -- don’t get me wrong -- but it's like when you turn on Power 106 FM, it's all you hear. But there are millions of drums out there!
It's counter-intuitive. You'd think that people would want to hear music that sounds fresh and new –- but instead it's like we are only comfortable hearing what we already know.
Nu-Mark: I think the fans feel excluded. If it's something that they don’t know, they're not comfortable with it. I'm not sure what's up, but I think it will turn around again. Remember when people used to say, 'When is gangsta music going to go away?' And it's slowly crept out the back door. Now urban music is all about strippers and drugs. That's what it is. Strip club music. But you don’t hear the gangster music anymore. There are groups that still do it, but it's quiet.
You guys are thought of as an LA group, even if you're not all originally from Los Angeles. What do you think sets the LA music scene apart from say New York, or other cities in the world?
Marc 7: The environment here is special because there's such diversity in Los Angeles. So many different sounds. New York is grittier, it's harder. Same thing with the South. I think people are willing to experiment a lot more in LA.
Zaakir: I don’t do my thing like that. I never separated that stuff. I didn’t say he's a New York rapper or he's an LA rapper. I don’t come from that school. I came from the school of if it was good you got with it. You don’t sit around listening to James Brown or Otis Redding and say, 'Oh those are country dudes.' When Dre and them came out with 'The Chronic,' it was hot. Point-blank. When Nas came out with 'Illmatic,' it was hot. When Big came out with 'Ready To Die,' it was hot.
Nu-Mark: LA has always been really competitive. It's a very tough market to perform in. It's a market where the audience kind of looks at you like, 'Yeah, been there done that. We've seen everything.' So as a DJ, it's a great place to learn. I've seen guys come here and play all Dre and West Coast stuff thinking they're going to blow up the spot and it just goes over like a lead balloon.
LA wants something a little bit more cleaver, but at the same time they like to dance and party. In terms of J5, it really helped us shape our stage show and it kept us sharp and wanting to create new things on stage for our hometown. Once we got the nod of approval from LA, we were able to go anywhere.
Check out HuffPost LA's complete coverage of Coachella 2013 here.
Click through photos and listen to Jurassic 5's hits below: