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Oral History

Great Expectations: An Oral History of Jurassic 5’s Quality Control

Portrait of American hiphop group Jurassic 5 as they pose on a staircase, Chicago, Illinois, April 17, 2003. Pictured are, from left, Chali 2NA (born Charles Stewart), Zaakir (born Courtenay Henderson) (in light grey sweatshirt), DJ Nu-Mark (born Mark Potsic) (sitting), Akil (born Dante Givens) (center back), Cut Chemist (born Lucas Macfadden) (in dark grey, Hartford sweatshirt), and Marc 7even (born Marc Stuart). (Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images)



Marc 7: “Quality Control” started as a promo for the Wake Up Show. That was a short snippet. We were like, “We need to get back to that beat again.” I remember Cut bringing it back up. We liked it so much that we wrote the song.

Nu-Mark: For me, [my favorite song is] “Swing Set” all the way. That was a labor of love, the attention to detail on that. I remember when it came out, I felt like, “Damn, we failed. Nobody is talking about it.” Then something like four or five years later there was all this attention around it and I started hearing records that sounded like it. There was a lot of interest in DJ’s talking about it. I was being interviewed about it. It was a very late detonation.

Marc 7: “Jurass Finish First” was funny. I remember the first time we worked on that. Akil knows Ice-T. We went up to his house and tried to work on it. It didn’t quite come together, but we brought that beat out there. Ice-T wasn’t there, but he had a studio in his house when he had his house in the Hollywood Hills off Sunset. First, I was like, “Oh my God, this house is incredible.” The studio was incredible. It had a shark tank behind it. Really good dude. He definitely is a big supporter of L.A. artists. Props to Ice-T. Akil and Soup weren’t feeling that beat at all. So me and Chali took the song and went ahead with it. It’s a crowd favorite, especially performing.

Chali 2na

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Nu-Mark: I didn’t want the guys to rhyme over “Monkey Bars.” That was supposed to be an instrumental. Cut played them the beat without me knowing. [Laughs.] They were like, “Why did you hold this from us, Nu? What the hell? This shit is hard.” I was like, “What beat are you talking about?” Then they explained all the different change-ups and stuff and I was like, “Aw man. I wanted this to be an instrumental.” Things happen in the studio. But that’s the cool thing about being in a group: you get a bunch of different energies. When the synergy lines up, it’s really beautiful.

Soup: I got the last verse on “Great Expectations.” That was directed to Nu-Mark and Chali 2na. One of the members was like, “Soup dissed the group with that verse.” I was like, “That wasn’t the group. I wasn’t even thinking about you. That was directed at these two people.” And they knew it. One of the members was like, “We never addressed it.” I was like, “Well, I did.” That was that tension. The thing that I addressed was personal… I just felt Nu-Mark would prop other people’s rhymes when he heard them. I was like, “Dude, I know this rhyme is dope. Why are you giving other people no love and ain’t giving me no love?” That’s how me and him used to butt heads. Part of the rhyme dealing with him was about that. With me and Charlie, it was more of a personal thing. At the beginning, me and him would do a lot of hanging out. And then certain things that I won’t discuss transpired, and it just put a bad taste in my mouth. It may have put a bad taste in his mouth, too. I don’t know. But this is my interview. So I’m going to be biased and point the finger at other people. [Laughs.]

Cut Chemist: “Ducky Boy” didn’t make the album, but it’s on a [DJ] Babu thing called Duck Season. That was supposed to be the opening song on the record… I remember when we were in Nu-Mark’s apartment in Hollywood. We were like, “Okay guys, we are going to play you our arrangement of the album.” It was crazy. I loved it. Nu-Mark loved it. It just didn’t resonate with the guys the way it did with us. I think that maybe there was some label input about how we should do it, and then it changed. “The Influence” had a whole intro to it, like this weird doo-wop thing. It was really dusted and dope. It started with a song called “Ignition Sequence,” which I’d done this whole intro for. And then it goes into “Ducky Boy.” And then it goes into the doo-wop weirdness into “The Influence.” I don’t know what would’ve happened if the album started like that. It may have been too much. Everybody was like, “Let’s just get to the fucking songs.” [Laughs] I totally agree with them in hindsight. Nu-Mark and I were just so into the Bomb Squad and Prince Paul. We were like, “Look at this fun skit. Then after that comes another skit. And then after that skit is another skit. Then you get the song with you guys. After that, guess what? There’s another skit.” [Laughs.] The look on Akil’s face was fucking great.



The Beats


Nu-Mark: I’m more of a drum guy. I’ll sit and make drum packs for two months straight. I grew up being a drummer before I touched a turntable or a drum machine. It’s just my nature to curate the drums and get that right. Cut is very heavy bass lines and of course loops. It was a good marriage.

Cut Chemist: In ‘99, I think I was still on the MPC-62. I didn’t switch over to the [MPC] 2000 until 2000 or 2001. 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. They would resurface because the guys would be like, “Remember that beat?” Most of the material was kind of already there, and then I would add stuff, do cuts, and work around their vocals. That was all done at home.

Nu-Mark: Shafiq [Husayn] came in and did two songs on that album as well. But we were pretty much [making beats] in isolation, with the exception of “Swing Set.” We really tag-teamed that one together. That song is really special.


Great Expectations: An Oral History of Jurassic 5's <i>
<h2><strong>The Album Cover</strong></h2>
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<p><strong>Nu-Mark:</strong> There was a Jethro Tull record that I owned—[<em>Songs from the Wood</em>]—that had a closeup of a needle on a record stump. I was like, this would be incredible for us if we can get it right. I told B+ the concept.</p>
<p><strong>B+ (photographer):</strong> Dan [Dalton] said, “I have a friend who is a woodcarver. He’s short of work, and he’d love to get involved.” The dude finds out that we could get a tree in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. We have to go out and choose the tree. So we went with this U-Haul and picked out this tree. It took him like two months or something, and he came back with the fucking tree.</p>
<p><strong>Marc 7:</strong> We were in San Francisco. I don’t know where Dan took us. We went somewhere that just had a bunch of tree stumps. We were looking around everywhere for the perfect stump… When we finally saw the finished product, we were blown away.</p>
<p><strong>B+:</strong> Then it turned into a whole other fucking debacle. This tree, even though it was hollow on the inside, still weighed like fucking 400 or 500 pounds. We were like, “Where are we going to shoot it?” The alternate cover was them looking over L.A. at night. We got the photos back from the lab and Nu didn’t like it. The actual cover is a product of the second attempt, which we did on San Vicente. One of them was living or working right nearby there. It was like, “There are trees already there. What if we try doing it here?” My suggestion was doing it right at the end of the day when the sun is gone and we could have a long exposure.</p>
<p><strong>Nu-Mark:</strong> When I saw the photos come back, I was like, “Fuck, he’s too far away.” If you look at the photo, the camera is very far away from the actual needle on the grooves of the tree stump. You can’t really see that. We did our best with our graphic artist Keith Tamashiro. There were other really great options. There were really close options, but it didn’t really speak to the needle on the grooves of the wood. The San Vicente thing was just a good spot to capture the movement of L.A. around us.</p>
<p><strong>B+:</strong> Nu-Mark was like, “You can’t see the needle going into the ring of the tree.” I was like, “Yeah, because I’m fucking standing fifteen feet back to get everybody in the photo. Of course, you can’t see the needle.” He was like, “But we have to be able to see the needle going into the tree.” It’s a complicated thing to be able to do a pretty large group photograph and pull a detail that ostensibly lives in a square inch of the photograph. It was crazy. Keith Tamashiro was the designer and was very much an integral part. In the end, he was the one that helped me to understand Nu-Mark.</p>
<p><strong>Cut Chemist:</strong> When I look at that picture, it’s L.A. This is an L.A. group. I think that’s what they were trying to get across. And then you have six people you’re trying to get in frame. So, of course, the trunk is going to be really small and you can’t see the tonearm that we spent a lot of time putting together. I think it was the only choice. There’s one on the inside of the tree up close. To me, I was like, “That’s the fucking picture.”</p>
<p><strong>B+:</strong> This was an era where no one looked happy on their record covers. Smiling was for R&B records. Hip-hop was ice grill. You had to look fucking mad or upset. They say smiling for photographs is actually a fairly contemporary thing. The last 70 years is when people decided they could actually smile. Miles Davis made it very clear by clowning on Dizzy and them saying they smiled too much at the bandstand. Hip-hop definitely adopted that mantle. Cats were meant to look deadly serious. I think everyone was pulling their serious face. Jurassic wasn’t trying to be hard or nothing, but you didn’t smile on your cover.</p>
<p><strong>Cut Chemist:</strong> Look at my face on that shit. I’m just over it. <em>[Laughs.]</em> I think that was the first location. The inside joke after the fact was, “Are they listening to the album they just finished? If so, they don’t look thrilled with the material that they’re selling us.”</p>
<p><strong>Marc 7:</strong> Look at our faces and what we’re doing. Look at all of our faces and then look at the title. What are we doing? That’s why we’re so intense. It’s quality control. We’re trying to see if this shit is ready.</p>
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