hen the New York renaissance transformed into the bling era, Jurassic 5 were viewed as a breath of fresh air. Like their Rawkus Records allies and West Coast underground compatriots, they represented honesty, intelligence, and sincerity—an antidote to the materialism of commercial rap. But then everything went upside down: underground rap closed itself off, while bling broadened its horizons and became more popular than ever. Oh, sweet irony.
J5 are just one of the handful of hip-hop groups who went through this cycle. However, the group never received the critical accolades or even the cult status (read: sales) that likeminded artists such as The Roots or Common did. Instead, Jurassic 5 appeared as more of a long-standing gimmick, a “barber-hop” collective that had enough onstage energy and impressive skillz to wow the crowd before the headliner came out. Save for their first self-titled EP, the group's material has never evolved past its basic formula.
So, for all the talk of Feedback’s stunt agenda, it still comes as a shock. When the drippy keyboards and generic beats begin, you almost think it’s a joke. The MC’s start laying down some of their most insipid and uninspiring work yet, and you realize that there’s no punchline in sight. The worst of the bunch is “Brown Girl,” J5's obvious “My Humps,” featuring a horrific beat by Scott Storch and a painfully annoying chorus by Brick & Lace. Songs like these show that not only does their new radio-friendly approach not suit them, it wouldn't even sound good on the radio. But give them credit: Scott Storch is, at least, culturally relevant. For the group’s first single, J5 taps the Dave Matthews Band to come in and “Work It Out.”
The thing that’s most upsetting about Feedback is that J5 sound as if they believe that commercialism necessitates laziness. That’s why you have punchlines like “I know some women who dodge balls like Ben Stiller” and retreads like “The beats and rhymes to match.” They even ruin “Radio,” an 808 burner by Salaam Remi, by ceaselessly chanting a half-assed chorus of “J5 is rocking on the radio.”
Though they are experienced verbal acrobats, the J5’s secret weapon was always Cut Chemist, whose scratch ability, musical ear, and slight experimentation always made them at least a liiiiittle bit arty, at least from a production standpoint. The earthy, crate-digging sound of J5’s beats was clearly his contribution, and even on 2002’s Power in Numbers it was still there in some measure. Chemist has now left to pursue a solo career, and his influence on the group’s sound is missed.
The central irony of Feedback is that in their glaring eagerness for fame and fortune, J5 have possibly sunk even lower than where they were before. By making a bad album that also tries so assiduously to distance themselves from the backpacker movement that they unintentionally pioneered, they may have cut off their most fervent and loyal supporters and the chance of gaining a mainstream audience. Even though situations may change, quality doesn’t—a lesson that this group used to preach, but have clearly stopped practicing.
Reviewed by: Tal Rosenberg
Reviewed on: 2006-08-09