jurassic 5 quality control 20th anniversary

At 20 Years Old, Jurassic 5’s Quality Control Is Still a Hip-Hop Purism Crusade

Everything you need to know about Jurassic 5 can be found in their name. The Los Angeles-bred collective consists of four MCs (Akil, Chali 2NA, Soup, and Marc 7) and two DJs (Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist) and were more emblematic of an almost pre-historic time in hip-hop than they were representative of the present. Quality Control, in many ways, was one of the first albums released on a major label focused solely on hip-hop purism in an era of hip-hop remembered for materialism over substance.

During the week Quality Control was released, the five highest-charting rap songs on the Billboard Hot 100 were Eminem’s “The Real Slim Shady,” Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin,’” Nelly’s “Country Grammar,” DMX’s “Party Up (Up In Here),” and Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode.” Outside of Eminem’s cartoonish hijinks, everything else revolved around Jay-Z “spending cheese,” Nelly “smokin’ on dubs in clubs,” DMX wondering if he “smack him with my dick and the mic,” and Dr. Dre in his “Coupe DeVille rollin’ on dubs.”

Jurassic 5 were hip-hop purists against all that.

While Jay-Z was flaunting his excess, 2na was vehemently proclaiming, “Fuck your Lexus. If you ain’t giving God your praise, then it’s useless” on “The Influence.” While Nelly was skyrocketing up the Billboard charts asking “Donald Trump let me in now,” 2na was back again, staunchly letting it be known “the trash on the charts have you gasping for art” on Jurassic Finish First”. The first hook you hear on Quality Control comes on the album’s second song, “The Influence” and features the group priding themselves on being able to “rock shows with no rehearsal” in a world where “these kids think that commercial [music] is rocking fly suits and jewelry.”

There are more songs on Quality Control of just free-flowing jazz (2) than there are focused on any of the materialism that propelled rap artists in 2000 to unprecedented heights of stardom (0).

Jurassic 5 never sounded like they wanted to be stars, so they stayed men and remained true to the roots that grew them into Jurassic 5. “There are so many groups that influenced us, from The Temptations to Freestyle Fellowship to De La Soul to Run DMC and Cold Crush Brothers. I mean, we’re like a fusion of all those groups,” Cut Chemist said in a 2000 interview.

Before listeners hear a single second of the Jurassic 5 members on Quality Control, we are introduced to them as “five different versions of feeling good” on the album’s intro “How We Get Along.” From the onset, listeners were prepared to hear a unified voice rather than a collection of solo artists. For the vast majority of the 53-plus minutes of Quality Control, Jurassic 5 members don’t identify themselves by individual names, even to brag, as most rappers do.

Quality Control embodies the best qualities of what I call “open-mic rap.” Music fans don’t come to for its message and structure, but for the free-flowing nature of human creativity. You don’t care how unnecessarily complicated a lyric like “cleverly swelling my treasury” is when all 2na was trying to say was he’s getting more money. The simplicity of “we got the kind of rhymes that get you ready for the weekend” (“Quality Control”) didn’t deter the enjoyment, it actually eased you into it.

“Money Bars” samples the Big Audio Dynamite song “Bad” as Public Enemy’s “Terminator X to the Edge of Panic” from the revolutionary hip-hop group’s 1988 seminal album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. James Brown & The Famous Flames’ “Licking Stick” connects Jurassic 5’s “How We Got Along” with Roxanne Shante’s 1993 song “Big Mama” by sample. The punctuating “lights, camera, action” that ends “World of Entertainment (W.O.E.)” also ends Big Daddy Kane’s “On the Bugged Tip” song from 1988. The track “Contact” literally gets its name from a one-second slice of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Scenario” from 1994. Quality Control is a tapestry of hip-hop influences that promulgates, and pays homage to, the ideals of yesteryear through a shared sonic family.

“All of my J5 beats, for the most part, exist from one sample tape I did in 1994. ‘Concrete Schoolyard,’ ‘Jayou,’ ‘LAUSD,’ ‘Day at the Races,’ and ‘Quality Control’ were on one night of me just sampling some of my records,” Cut Chemist said in a recent interview with Spin.

Quality Control’s impact can’t be quantified by achievements. After 20 years, the album hasn’t received a single certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) even as streaming has helped artists like Missy Elliott receive their first platinum plaque for 12-year-old songs. Of the 10 most played songs from Jurassic 5 on Tidal, only one is from Quality Control and it’s the album’s eponymous first single.

The lasting legacy of Quality Control is one of cult fandom that has indelibly etched the group’s sophomore opus in the annals of L.A. rap history. Jurassic 5 was able to “take four MC’s and make them sound like one” (“Improvise”) and for 53 minutes, hip-hop feels as free as the 1990s and still stands out today.

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