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Number's Game

 

Jurassic 5: Power in Numbers

Interscope, 2002

Rating: 4.0

 

 

Posted: October 11, 2002

By Laurence Station

Jurassic 5's second full-length, Power in Numbers, further reinforces the group's affinity for and connection with old school '80s hip-hop, first evidenced on J5's 1997 self-titled EP and 2000's excellent Quality Control. Power in Numbers is a defiant stand against the shallow materialism and gangsta posturing poisoning far too many of today's rap records. J5 (comprised of MCs Chali 2na, Zaakir (Soup), Akil and Marc 7, and producers/DJs, Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark) could care less about flashy jewelry, hot rides and lighting blunts with $20 bills. What matters most is making fun, positive music, supporting the community and not letting success go to one's head. Power in Numbers ably manages to address all of these concerns and does so in an impressively smooth, unhurried and insightful manner.

Like other gifted, socially conscious hip-hop acts (The Roots, De La Soul, Mos Def, et al.), J5 conveys its message without draining flavor and enjoyment from the music. Case in point: the buttery smooth flow of "Freedom," wherein Akil raps "What means the world to me is being free/ Live and let live and just let it be/ Love, peace and harmony one universal family." The point is made, but never overstated or browbeaten into the listener's skull. J5 would much rather kill with kindness, or prescribe to Gandhian passive-resistance methods than vent in the face of its audience. For some, this low-key approach might seem a cop-out, a way of addressing issues or problems without actually taking a stance on them. But Power in Numbers proves that just because J5 has teeth, it doesn't have to bark every time it bites.

Which isn't to say that some targets don't get barked at and bitten. "If You Only Knew" -- produced by the Beatnuts' JuJu -- takes aim at glory-seeking rappers who haven't paid their dues or have forgotten the trailblazers that came before them -- one of the group's pet peeves. "Knew," which places music ahead of fame, could serve as the theme song for the bonus DVD that accompanies certain "While Supplies Last" copies of the CD. As the docu-footage on the DVD attests, J5 is a collection of regular neighborhood guys who worked hard and made good. Like an anti-MTV Cribs, the video segment follows the crew around the city, as the members venture from their modest homes or rentals to prepare for an upcoming tour -- no entourages, no groupies, just five men concentrating on their work.

"One Of Them," the album's most bracing track, cannily challenges the listener to "Help a brother understand/ How self-admiration takes the soul of a man," taking to task industry pretenders who use image to mask their lack of lyrical or production skills.

Power in Numbers puts its money where its mouth is throughout: emphasizing the old school sound and, on the excellent "A Day At The Races," bringing in guest MCs Percee P and Big Daddy Kane to reinforce the importance of mic skills. Flawless cuts like "After School Special," "High Fidelity" and "Break" steer the focus away from hip-hop's current obsession with guns and the avenging of disrespectful glances, toward solid beats, block parties, vocal rather than violent showdowns.

Unsurprisingly, Power in Numbers' backwards-looking focus doesn't leave much room for progression of the form. That's not necessarily a drawback, given the album's high quality, but the closing "Acetate Prophets," a collaboration between Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark, offers a brief glimpse of the group's still-sharp experimental instincts. That hint of deeper pleasures can be slightly grating for fans who thirst for more than expertly-conceived message or party tracks. But if Power in Numbers forsakes innovation in favor of a history lesson, it's still a stirring record, one that honors J5's roots while jointly sharing its rich heritage in a creative and invigorating manner. Look for the number of J5 fans to grow with this release.

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 3.0-3.9: Worthwhile effort
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