“So, you want me to do THIS type of rap?” We speak to Akil from Jurassic 5

Jurassic 5 are set to perform at Nozstock The Hidden Valley in the west midlands this weekend. We had a chat with Akil, one sixth of the legendary Los Angeles group, about their 20 years in the game, including music, social media, ancient arenas and grandsons.

Akil thank you for joing us today.

My pleasure man.

What’s your relationship like with the UK? 

The UK was the first place we went to in Europe, that was in 1997. We were in Folkestone, two hours away from London. That gave us some experience; after that we came back again and did a whole tour from the top of England to the bottom of England, those events were called Fresh 1997. That opened us to the UK and then to Europe. And since then it has been nothing but love from Europe, it’s been one of our strongest places for us as support in the world.

Is there any UK artists you listen to?

A few. From the past, you know, people like Skinny Man, Roots Manuva as today people like Lady Leshurr, she is very talented. I like a lot of female artists from UK.

We do have a lot of strong female emcees here in the UK.

I think you have the strongest in the world, for me. And I noticed that at least five or six years ago.

What’s in your iPod? What do you listen to?

I like a lot of oldies, you know seventies and early eighties music. A lot of funk and soul, stuff I grew up on. And then I like a lot of old school hip-hop. But there is also some new stuff I like too. There is Kendrick Lamar who is probably my favourite artist today. It ranges, I like a little something of everybody, I don’t like to get stuck in one era or one genre. But if I have to pick, I like my oldies: the Marvin Gayes, the Stevie Wonders, the Donnie Hattaways, Earth Wind & Fire, you know.

How do you deal with the streaming services like Spotify, YouTube etc?

Times have changed. I can’t really be a rebel against it because that is not going to do anything, you know, this is what it is right now. Being an artist that came before this existed, we had to figure out how to bring the music to the people, while now I feel like music has become less tangible than before.

You could get a CD, a tape or a record and people treated it with value. I think people don’t value music as much as they used to because is not tangible anymore. How can I scratch your Mp3, how can I loose your Mp3 or borrow it? But at the same time it has become more accessible. So, it kind of took the specialty away from it, but on the other hand independent artists can just put out their music like that and that’s the beauty. The flip side of that is that there are a million of independent artists so your stuff can get lost in the cyberspace.

I loved what you did a couple of years ago for Record Store Day when you released the wooden boxset of vinyl celebrating the 15 years of Quality Control. How did you guys come up with that?

I can’t take credit for that. It was Cut Chemist’s idea who at the time was working with a company that wanted to put the boxset out. Being a DJ he understands what vinyl means; big up to him for making that stuff go through.

I had to queue to buy it, people went mental to get a copy.

Oh man, I don’t even have a copy of it!

You guys have been together for over twenty years now. Do you still get along?

[Laughing] You know, it’s like a family. Do you have brothers and sisters?

I do.

Do you get along all the time?

Not all the time.

There you are! It’s family! But in the same way, if someone is messing with your mother or your father, you and your brothers and sisters team up to protect them. If someone is breaking into your house, you are gonna protect your house. Even thought you are leaving in different rooms of the house, you might not even talk to each other and stuff, but the common goal is to protect the house. We maybe don’t get along in life sometimes, but on stage we are eye-to-eye and that is what counts.

What do you do when you are not doing music?

I have a family, I am a family guy. I got three grand children and five children.

They have a cool grandfather.

[Laughing] Yeah, my daddy is a rapper.

So do you do grandfather stuff like drawing with the nephews or taking them to school?

Yes definitely.

And do you have any hobbies? What do you do?

I like to study. I like history and reading about it. I’m into that, reading about religion. I do workshops about it, teaching the youth about community activism and community work.

I feel like these things are needed more and more nowadays.

Absolutely, you are right. This is the type of stuff that saved my life from the streets when I was a kid. I grew up in South Central Los Angeles so, you know, it was a little tuff and it still is. Those kind of resources helped me out so I am trying to give back what I can.

Looking back, is there anything you would’ve done differently in your career?

I would have worked a little bit harder and probably been a little more diligent and work with other artists. It was already difficult as Jurassic 5 as we are four emcees so doing collaborations was harder. You know, a song only has three verses and you have four emcees so it might be complicated to include other artists. I wish we would have linked up more. We were connected with different groups, but there aren’t many J5 collaborations out there. I was reading an interview of ?uestlove and he was telling how important was for his band to link with other artists. We probably missed that.

The first thing that came into my mind was the song you made with Big Daddy Kane and Percee P, how did that happened?

So, Cut Chemist made this beat tape back in the days. Actually, a lot of Jurassic 5 music came from that tape. When we came up with our second album Power In Numbers we came back to this beat from that cassette that all reminded us of that time when people rapped fast. The people that came into our minds were people like Percee P, Big Daddy Kane, Kool G Rap, that were doing that particular style. We though it would have been cool to get Kane doing it.

Once, Cut Chemist ran into Percee P at Fat Beats in New York and it was funny because he was amazed that we knew who he was! What connects Jurassic 5 all together is that we grew up on the same type of hip-hop, so we can get into a room and talk about a lot of common stories we all have even if we didn’t grew up all together. And when it came to that beat, we all agreed to put Kane on it. So Percee P helped us, he knew someone who knew someone who knew Kane and we reached out to him. And it was funny because when he came into the studio he was like: “So, you want me to do THIS type of rap?” And we were like: “Yes!” He was shocked. But he did it and he killed it! And the rest is history. That was probably one of my favourite songs that we did.

Do you have a favourite J5 album or track?

I like Power In Numbers. I like a lot of songs on Feedback as well. I guess my favourite songs would be Freedom, Lausd, Gotta Understand, In The House, Remember His Name, Thin Line. I mean, I have a few. I could actually make my now J5 best of  album [laughing].

All of your album covers are beautiful. Do you work on your artwork, do you have input?

Well Chali 2Na was the creator of the J5 logo. Sometimes we’ve worked with other people outside our circle, but the main part of J5 artwork is the logo that Chali made.

Are you working on something at the moment?

Yes definitely. As a solo artist I am constantly working on something. Right now, I am working with my sons. I have been always writing stuff for myself, you know I was a solo writer before Jurassic 5; that’s my therapy.

Should we expect any new releases soon?

Definitely. As we were saying before, is all about how to get your stuff out. You don’t want to releases something and then people don’t even know that is out. Our priority has always been Jurassic 5.

Weekend tickets for Nozstock the Hidden Valley are on sale here.

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