Chali 2na talks Jurassic 5 reunion, solo shows

By Chris Schulz

Chali 2na tells Chris Schulz why reunited hip-hoppers Jurassic 5 rebelled against gangster rap and chose good vibes instead.
Chali 2na says his band, Jurassic 5, knew it was the right time to get back together.
Chali 2na says his band, Jurassic 5, knew it was the right time to get back together.

In-fighting, egotistical posturing, one MC grabbing more of the limelight than the others - or was someone stealing more than their fair share of croissants from the band's backstage riders?

Mystery still surrounds the reasons behind Jurassic 5's acrimonious split in 2007 - even though the six-piece Los Angeles collective has since made up and will be performing here as part of their reunion world tour next week.

Even Chali 2na, one of the band's four MCs, still seems confused by their break-up.

"It was slightly overplayed (by the media)," thunders 2na - real name Charles Stewart - down the phone to TimeOut with that unmistakably booming baritone of his.

"We had a lot of internal problems. We were the type of group that nothing could stop us, but us. We were together every day for years. There were all kinds of things that came together that made us say, 'Hey we need to take a break.

"We didn't realise it would be that long, or that we'd even bring it back together afterwards. We didn't know - but I'm glad we did."

A confounding war of words was waged in the press after J5's split, something at odds with the band's positivity and feel-good brand of hip-hop. Before last year's reunion shows at Coachella, many thought a comeback might be impossible.

Some of the band's members hadn't seen each other for seven years before those comeback shows, admits 2na. He calls the reunion a "big decision" - but says time had healed wounds.

"It was something that could best described by what (Public Enemy front man) Chuck D told me: 'Never try to rush it. Don't force it. Time and the band itself - not necessarily individual members in it - will dictate when you guys need to get back together'.

"That's exactly what happened. Everybody wanted to do this, regardless of what they said or did in the past. It just came together perfectly."

Jurassic 5 have been touring together ever since Coachella, and although there's no sign of new music, they have shows booked until July.

That their Powerstation show in Auckland tonight sold out well in advance (tickets are going for twice their face value on TradeMe) shows just how fondly the collective is remembered by hip-hop fans.

Backed by the beautifully summery throwback beats of DJs Nu-Mark and Cut Chemist, the band's four MCs - 2na, Akil, Zaakir and Marc 7 - traded seamless verses of uplifting positivity over four albums that harked back to a golden age of hip-hop.

Their style is best described by the chorus of their 1998 breakthrough, Concrete Schoolyard: "Let's take you back to the concrete streets / Original beats with real live MCs."

Jurassic 5's style deliberately rebelled against "super gangster rap", says 2na. "We basically tried to show the world our influences through our music: the Cold Crush Brothers, (Grandmaster Flash and the) Furious Five, Run DMC, LL Cool J," he says. "That alone made it special at a time when no one else dared to go back to a nostalgic, fun type of feeling in hip-hop."

Each of J5's rappers grew up in the world of gangster rap "but chose not to talk about it" or use it as the basis for songs, says 2na. "Why bring up the past and things that have delivered sadness to us when we have the opportunity to share joy and fun with people? Every one of us has had someone involved in drugs, or died from gangs. Instead of bringing that part up we just wanted to focus on what we loved."

When J5 broke up, 2na had the most success as a solo MC, guesting on songs with the Black Eyed Peas, Linkin Park and Mos Def, and releasing several great mixtapes and 2009's solid studio album, Fish Outta Water.

He's still touring and recording, and is expected back here in April on the back of the release of his second EP in his Against the Current series. He's also crowdsourcing a coffee table book that collects some of his artwork. As for new Jurassic 5 material, 2na says they're enjoying "reconnecting" with fans and performing in places they didn't manage to get to first time around. But there are no plans to write new material - yet.

"We have been blessed enough to be one of those groups that hasn't put out anything in seven or eight years but we're still touring the world in a major capacity, reconnecting with fans who've been loyal to us. We're working harder than we've ever done before.

"Our plan is to just to continuously stay on the road, build the brand and surprise our fans. I feel like we can dictate how we want to do this and that's a fun position to be in."

Who: Chali 2na
Where: Touring with Jurassic 5: March 26, The Powerstation, Auckland; March 27, Bedford Marquee, Christchurch.
Also: Solo shows with the House of Vibe: April 23, The Studio, Auckland; April 24, Bar Bodega, Wellington.
Essential listening: With Jurassic 5 - Quality Control (2000), Power in Numbers (2002), Feedback (2006); solo - Fish Outta Water (2009).

- TimeOut

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