Interview: Jurassic 5
Bringing a back-catalogue of seminal hip-hop anthems from the West Coast across to the Ponderosa Main Stage, legendary ‘90s outfit Jurassic 5 make their Tramlines debut – and indeed first visit to Sheffield – this summer. Keen to welcome the lads with a display of traditional Yorkshire hospitality, we rustled up a hamper of local goodies to acquaint them with the city before settling down for a chat with Mark Potsic AKA DJ Nu-Mark.
We’re looking forward to welcoming you for this year’s Tramlines Festival. I don’t suppose you’ve ever visited the Steel City before, right?
I didn’t even know it’s labelled the Steel City… but I love that. You gotta be hard as nails to have that moniker! Now I’m excited to hang with you cats!
Likewise. And I don’t suppose you’ve ever tried Henderson’s Relish? (If not, check your hamper – it tastes great on spag bol).
Oh, hell yeah! Now you’re speaking my language. I’m getting ready to start a YouTube channel called The Hot Plate, where I interview my favourite artists about their top places to eat! So yes, hip me to it. And I love relish! Have you tried Chicago hot dogs and their fluorescent relish?
Can’t say I have. DJ Nu-Mark, we’ll have to do a relish swap. Apparently you guys played your first festival in the UK? Can you remember how that gig went?
Hmm… I’m not 100% sure which festival that was, but I remember Reading Festival being absolutely fantastic the first time we played. We had never witnessed mud wrestling at that degree. We were also schooled very quickly on UK slang, which genuinely ended in tears of laughter. I remember one of my friends was talking about his girlfriend’s fanny pack, and I found out quickly that fanny means something very different over here…
Can you remember your first ever live show and how that went down?
My first live show was during LA’s house party scene in ‘88 (yikes!). I set my beaten up belt-driven turntables on an ironing board and my speakers got kicked in, but it was such a live house party. The cops didn’t break it up until 3am! As for Jurassic 5, we had scattered performances when we were two separate groups at the Goodlife Café in Los Angeles. I honestly can’t remember the very first gig when it was all six of us. I do, however, remember travelling to San Francisco in a homie’s van that broke down halfway through our five-hour drive. By the time we got there, the promoter was upset but put us right on stage and we rocked it well!
Since starting out over a decade ago, how do you feel you have grown as a group and what lessons do you think have been learnt?
Patience comes with getting older, especially as a musician. Since we’re so in tune with each other’s stage strengths, we’re able to fall into an energetic performance quicker now than ever before. There’s no real guessing as to who plays which role. We each have our strong points. I know I can count on Chali 2na to wake up the crowd with his presence. I know that Soup is gonna hit people with perfect breath control on a rapid-fire verse. Cut and I have our very specific roles to wake the crowd up with innovative DJ routines.
Do you feel as though your music still conveys the same messages as before, or has that changed over time?
The recordings from those periods stand up for the most part. A lot of that stuff was recorded pre-internet or right at its inception. I’d say, more than anything, that record release patterns in general have had to shift greatly since the mid-90s. For instance, it’s very tough to make a record and disappear for three years in order to keep up your mystique. Today you kind of have to stay in the public eye through performance or content. The fans today are more part of the entire experience, and they need to know you as a person through social media. Back in the day, the stage was high and the artist was the focal point. Today the artist and fans are really in the experience together!
For a West Coast group you never really focussed on the “gangster culture” in your lyrics. Was that always a conscious decision?
I remember when we all first started to record music there never seemed to be any interest for the MCs to mimic the local status quo. Even though a good portion of the MCs in J5 are from South Central, they always kept saying we want to rep our art in our own way. You have to remember that back then it was considered whack to bite a style. I think we were all just trying to find our own identity – win or lose. And yes, there were plenty of rejection ego wounds along the way.
And how do you feel the hip-hop genre has changed since? For the better?
Well, you know, there’s no good or bad just a lot of nuances to the climate. I personally really enjoy some of the new groups, and I suppose it’s my duty to stay open-minded seeing that I’m a DJ, right? I enjoy artists like Austin Antoinne, Dag Savage, Alabama Shakes, 4 Color Zach, Joey Badass, Dillon Cooper; a lot of new cats are doing big things. But I’m not crazy about the absence of albums and how short attention spans have become. All that said, we have so many wonderful tools and there are ideas for everyone. I love music and being a producer/DJ.
What, for you, is the real meaning of hip-hop?
It’s in the sound for me. I’m extremely audio. The look has become so vital, especially recently, and it has unfortunately eclipsed some aligning your vocal delivery, content and overall texture into something raw and against the grain. A series of unexpected left turns is always refreshing to hear as a DJ. I’d like to hear more collaboration between the new school and us middle school artists in the future – there’s a big gap missing there!
Are you also aware that you’re performing to a new generation of fans now and have you changed your music to appeal to them?
No, there’s nothing to change. We can only be ourselves. It’s funny because I remember a show where I had to go on after this really big dubstep DJ at the height of the genre’s popularity. This guy, 9th Planet, was absolutely rockin’ this crowd, so much so that the promoter was looking at me with ‘I’m sorry Nu-Mark’ eyes. Fast-forward to my set, I could have played some dubstep to fit in with the young crowd but I stuck to my guns and started with Earth, Wind and Fire and the crowd lost their minds. That was a big learning experience for me. It’s easy to cave into the climate around you because we’re constantly in awe and open-minded as artists. I think my point is: when you have a clear path to how you want to reveal your art, nine times out of ten the crowd can feel it and respects that. They’re very smart; sometimes they know what’s best for the artist more than the artist themselves.
What about new releases with J5? Are there any in the pipeline?
Yeah, there are talks of releasing a song called ‘Customer Service’. We’re just trying to get through all the red tape for the release. Personally, I created a special BBC 6 Mix that should air mid-July while we’re out there! And I’ve just done 85% of the music production for Ride Along 2, a film featuring Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. On top of that, I’m finishing the new album with Slimkid3 (Pharcyde) called TRDMRK.