By DANIEL LEVIN BECKER
Saturday, Aug. 10, 2013
Outside Lands Music Festival
I think of Jurassic 5, in the relatively rare event that I think of Jurassic 5, as a gateway drug. They were a huge part of my musico-sentimental education, my first real and sustained interaction with hip-hop -- as I suspect was the case for much of the crowd at Lands End -- but somewhere along the way they receded into the background, still sounding impeccable and friendly and inessential. Then they broke up in 2007. Even before that, though, there was the vague sense that they had somehow served their purpose, had given me the vocabulary and affinities to deal with parts of rap culture that were more serious or colorful than, well, Jurassic 5.
Not saying I don't still feel that way, but Jesus, what a pleasure it was to see them yesterday. Just to be near their brand of meticulously effortless-sounding, relentlessly positive hip-hop for an hour was to be as content as I've ever been at a music festival, and that's not just nostalgia. There's something exemplary in their non-specific stage presence, their six-way interactions and tradeoffs and extended overlaps; there's something weirdly charming about four people bragging in song, in unison, that they sound like one person. Plus their output from around the turn of the century is wall-to-wall hits, and they played most of them. (I don't count that Nelly Furtado song from Power In Numbers, and neither did they.)
For the uninitiated, or for those of us who also don't spend a lot of time these days thinking about Jurassic 5, most of what you need to know can be summed up in the title of the 1998 song "Concrete Schoolyard." The streets up J5 way are a little gritty, but they're not mean or dangerous so much as an opportunity for education. And not in the Education of Sonny Carson sense, either: uplifting, community-minded education, with nothing heavier than the occasional schooling of a lesser MC. J5 were never particularly didactic or preachy; it's more like they just had to position themselves somewhere in the hip-hop world and the schoolyard seemed like the best place to talk about what they wanted to talk about and ignore everything else.
And that came through yesterday as much as anything. Their set was a little sanitized, maybe -- "niggas" swapped out for "brothers" here and there, the slightly more amusing replacement of "kick a hole through the wall in China" with "put my shoe through the wall in China" -- but every decision seemed made to eliminate as many barriers as possible to just enjoying the display. There was a raising of hands in the air at one point in memory of Oscar Grant, a reminder that we should value our freedom, but it turned out to be a long lead-in to the post-peak single "Freedom." (On the lighter end of the stage-banter spectrum, Soup seemed really abashed when he stumbled over the phrase "Bay Area welcome": "I got a lot of spit in my mouth, man, my teeth big.")
Soup again, to the audience, by way of introducing which hit I don't recall: "Some of you are new, some of you are old, like us." The word new struck me as an odd choice: not young, not unfamiliar, not get-your-ringtone-rap-off-my-damn-lawn. But it made perfect sense. The crowd around me was dotted with small children with those single-engine-pilot headsets small children wear at loud concerts, and I was thrilled for each one of them: Jurassic 5 make wonderfully inclusive and learnable music, and I can't imagine a better place to be new than in their schoolyard. There's a simplicity there, one you don't really get anywhere else, that reaffirms how rewarding it can be to watch four dudes who are sort of anonymously fly just rap about being fly. That was, for a little while, all rap was for me; I'm glad it's not anymore, but it was good to be back.
Would be remiss not to mention: The extended DJ interlude in which Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark mixed a little bit, showed off their turntable guitars (and the dumb logos on their respective turntable daises), and eventually scratch-battled on the outlandishly-large-record centerpiece of the stage set.
Favorite line in the set: Chali 2na referring to himself as "the verbal Herman Munster." What? Not even Lil B would have thought of that.