Power In Numbers
Almost all sophomore rap efforts disappoint – how you doing, Wu-Tang? This, of course, assumes that an artist’s debut album was a quality effort – not so fast, Nelly. Otherwise, people simply don’t care about a follow-up LP since the first offering was bad anyway – thanks for playing, Lil’ Wayne.
This unfortunate phenomenon particularly afflicts rap groups, the list of those who fell into the abyss after an auspicious debut too long to recount. However, when groups avoid this pitfall and satisfy their fans’ expectations they become something special. Jurassic 5 can now step into that rarified class thanks to the strength of Power in Numbers.
Returning with a more diversified sound, Akil, Chali 2Na, Cut Chemist, Marc 7, Nu-Mark and Zaakir challenge their listeners to grow with them. While J5’s debut LP, Quality Control, is revered for its inventive beats and charismatic interplay between the emcees, its critics found it to be monotonous after a while with too much harmonizing and too many street-corner exchanges. Such instances are not completely absent on Power, but there are fewer, and in lieu, a greater assortment of arrangements.
Fundamentally, J5 is a group whose roots run deep into the past and draw on elementary hip-hop for inspiration and focus. Correspondingly, too few “playground tactics” would necessarily change J5’s ethos, and the struggle to stay true to themselves while accepting their fame and acclaim is addressed on the album’s lead single, “What’s Golden”. Recognizing their role as hip-hop’s old-school protector, J5 says “We stay true to the game and never bring it to shame … We still the same with a little fame…” Power is not wholly a rejection of critics, however. The sonic diversity previously mentioned is apparent when listening to the different tempos of “Thin Line” and “A Day at the Races,” or the equally dissimilar tones of “Freedom” and “Hey.”
Power can also be commended for the quality of its lyrics. Less playful but more opinionated, J5’s emcees spit social conscience, industry assessments, and admonishments throughout the album, enrapturing and challenging listeners. This lyrical intricacy takes on a self-fulfilling aspect as it weeds out casual listeners, precluding their reception of verbal barbs aimed at people like them. Truly, real hip-hop fans will love this since it isn’t likely that one will hear Power at the mall anytime soon.
No review of J5 would be complete without mentioning the talent of producers Nu-Mark and, particularly, Cut Chemist. Power becomes a playground for these men, composing, scratching, and sampling with respect-inspiring facility and style.
The next time hip-hop fans are discussing the disappointing returns of groups like Camp Lo, Jurassic 5 will not be mentioned.