Music » Critics' Picks

Jurassic 5 with DJ Format

Thursday, April 17; Pageant


Forget what you think you know about Jurassic 5's standing in the slippery subgenre variously known as "positive rap," "conscious rap," "alternative rap," "backpacker rap" and "real hip-hop." The preceding labels are mostly just shorthand for "rap that's favored by white college students and unlikely to get any airplay on commercial hip-hop stations." All the current tags for this music reek of sanctimony, and few things in life deaden the spirit more than the prospect of a lecture from a bunch of earnest young men who throw around nonwords such as "positivity" with distressing frequency. Face it, kids: That hippie-dippy sunshine trip is a drag when it's coming from a hackysack-playing, jam-band-digging white dude with dreads; why should that crap magically become more palatable when it's an African-American rapper who's trying to elevate your consciousness?

Fortunately, J5 resists the stereotypes of the underground as well as those of the mainstream, and, unlike many of their peers, the six-member collective keeps the knee-jerk piety to a minimum. Although J5 eschews mainstream rap's inevitable thuggist tropes, the conspicuous consumerism, the mindless misogyny beloved of ballers and commercial-radio programmers alike, the four MCs never resort to the meaningless abstractions favored by the anti-bling set, who seem to suffer from the delusion that an uplifting message can compensate for lousy flow and stale beats. J5's second full-length, last year's Power in Numbers, proves that if you free your ass, your mind will follow: The slinky old-school beats, the rapid-fire rhymes and the unadulterated funk will work your lower half; the smart but not self-consciously cerebral lyrics will seduce your poor neglected noggin. And, unlike most hip-hop acts, underground-begrimed or platinum-plated, J5 is known for its galvanizing live sets, which have earned the endorsement of none other than the Roots' ?uestlove.

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