Jurass Finish First: Quality Control Turns 20
In between The Marshall Mathers LP and Stankonia dropped one of the true rap masterpieces of Y2K in the first Jurassic 5
In June 2000, a few days shy of a month since the release of Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP and months before the Halloween drop of Outkast’s Stankonia, Jurassic 5 released their second album, Quality Control.
With those two classics giving so much to consider about where hip-hop could go, both with sound and lyrical content, a sophomore effort from a group with a decidedly old-school style wasn’t going to be in the lead for discussion.
But Jurassic 5 didn’t seem to be in competition with anyone but two groups: themselves and anyone who so much as dared to step in their arena. Formed the same year Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) completely upended the rules of what hip-hop could be, from production choices to crew size, Jurassic 5 weren’t the next evolution of the genre. They talked up their lyrical game and thrived off energy given to and from the crowd, fueled by the positivity-rich environment of Los Angeles’ Good Life Cafe, where they were a fixture at weekly open-mic nights. Quite simply, Jurassic 5 leaned old-school, their name inadvertently acting as a self-aware defense to anyone who might call their sound fossilized.
VIDEO: Jurassic 5 at the Good Life Cafe 1993
While Quality Control’s greatest legacy might be sharing a name with a label that releases a decidedly different sort of hip-hop, it holds up remarkably well. In some ways, this feels like Jurassic 5’s true debut album. Their self-titled one, released in 1998, a few months before A Tribe Called Quest called it quits for the first time, was really just a beefed-up version of their first EP. Whatever you want to call it, it wasn’t a sophomore slump.
Part of what gave Jurassic 5 so much energy was how freely they traded verses between their four MCs, turning tracks into scrimmages that were part of a greater conflict. They weren’t about wasting words, either. Early album cut “The Influence” has each rapper dropping at least two quatrains, each reaffirming that they can run circles around anybody in the game. Though they each do their part to inspire debate about who had the best contribution, they’re all in this together. The group vocals on the hook, a common occurrence for J5, turns confrontations into celebrations, especially with the scatting. As they put it on “Improvise,” their focus is “taking four MCs and make them sound like one.”
Hearing the different voices of Jurassic 5’s MCs volleying back and forth on Quality Control is like sipping on a signature cocktail that’s great not only for its flavors, but for how they play off each other. The more robust tone of Chali 2na helps to make a track like “Great Expectations” a winner, with his amazing run of syllables. But the support from Marc 7even’s smoky tone can’t be denied, either. Likewise, the suave Zaakir still sounds cool as hell while having the time of his line playing with hard-C sounds on the impossible-to-dislike Monkey Bars,” and Akil’s more-neutral cadence doesn’t block his lyrical skills, like on the title track. (“Yo, I make the pen capsize, the verbal with the planted eyes.”)
The contributions of their producers can’t go ignored, and those on the mic give their props to those on the turntables. Though primarily handled by members DJ Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist, Quality Control also includes a couple of tracks produced by Sa-Ra’s Shafiq Husayn. This is a group that thrived off chemistry, and the MCs wouldn’t be able to vibe so well with each other if they didn’t have such strong beats to serve as a prompt. Nu-Mark and Chemist come together on a few tracks, such as on the horn-filled “Great Expectations,” but individual credits on tracks let them show what they’re each made of. On “Lausd,” one of the more somber-focused tracks here, Cut Chemist uses a vibing beat against a cautionary tale to those looking for fame in the City of Angels. “Woe of Entertainment (WOE Is Me)” has DJ Nu-Mark sampling Danish jazz pianist Thomas Clausen for a main motif that adds sci-fi flair to go with the spirited exchanging of words.
Jurassic 5 are so on-point so often on Quality Control that when they do stumble, it’s hard to miss. Mic skills and production talents don’t vanquish, but the message can become muddled, if not outright offensive. “Contribution” is brought down by Marc 7even’s verse, which seems to endorse the idea that any man who receives financial support from a woman is being emasculated. A clunky hip-hop-as-basketball metaphor taints “The Game,’ as does some homophobia from Chali 2na. Obviously, such issues were not exclusive to Jurassic 5, but it’s disappointing they felt even momentary instances of them were necessary.
Thankfully, the vast majority of Quality Control has exactly that, and that’s even including the swing instrumental ending track. Right before then, on “Improvise” they declare themselves as “some designated, poetical brothers with mics.” As hip-hop acts were doing all they could to upend expectations while still having a mainstream appeal, Jurassic 5 showed there always needed to be a place for guys who all about knowing how to rap and showing how much they loved it.
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