Feedback, Game Theory…

This past Tuesday July 25, 2006; Jurassic 5 released their newest album called “Feedback”. It’s been quite a while since they released an album, the last one being 2002’s “Power In Numbers”. J5 has always been considered an underground “backpacker hip-hop” group. They’re not mainstream, they’re not fringe, they’re nothing trendy or overly eccentric or kitschy. It’s pure feel-good hip-hop with an old school feel and back and forth wordplay and rhyming from 4 solid rappers and a more than competent DJ.

This new album is much more of the same, albeit with a few twists. Although I’ve yet to really settle on a verdict for the album, I do like it and can’t wait to dig deeper and feel it more cohesively. The two missteps for me without a doubt are “Brown Girl” and “End Up Like This”. What’s strange about pointing out these two tracks is that neither actually sound bad, it’s just they don’t fit the album or the group. “Brown Girl” has a woman singer on chorus with J5 rapping in between; and feels as if it were curiously stolen or left off of a Top40 type hip-hop wannabe artist’s album, while “End Up Like This” has a repetitive and boring looped chorus. Unfortunately the songs lyrics and message are top notch, but would have been a much better song had they included real lyrics and performance rather than the synth loop chorus. Both songs actually have a good feel and sound, just seem misplaced.

J5 is such a fun group to listen to, with the old school battle rap format from rappers Chali 2na (my favorite), Akil, Zaakir (aka Soup), Mark 7even, and DJ Nu-Mark on turntable. On “Feedback” the group style chorus’ are still here, but the beats have grown and the production is a little more slick and contemporary yet still rooted in the old school style. The high points on this new effort are “Back 4 U” (an ode’ to 80’s rap and a tribute to longtime fans), “Gotta Understand”, “Work It Out” (a collaboration with The Dave Matthews Band), “Where We At” (featuring Mos Def), and “Red Hot”. There’s a cool instrumental track at the end of the set, which shows off J5’s diversity and creativity. All of this really pulls together a solid album from a more than solid group. It’s nice in this day of “material hip-hop”, gangsta rap, immorality, and copy-cat raps to see a band that really bonds together and forges their own path. They’re socially conscious without being preachy, and their rhymes still beat any industry created crap that’s spewed out on radio these days. I say good-on-ya J5, your fans are impressed! I rate this album ***1/2 stars

Now onto “Game Theory”, the as yet unreleased album from The Roots. Scheduled for release on August 29, 2006, this album has been gaining lots and lots of steam with the Roots fan community and the underground hip-hop community at large. Supposedly, ?uestlove (the drummer from The Roots) leaked this album purposely a few weeks ago in hopes it would create excitement and buzz about the group and album. Also supposedly, this would get a high quality “legit” version out into the world with the thought that at least what is out there is the real thing and of good quality. We all know that almost every album gets leaked these days, so what not “leak” it on purpose so that it’s controlled…. sounds like brilliant thinking on the part of ?uestlove and The Roots.

Now having said all this, I have NOT heard the CD. I’m abstaining, holding out for the “rip open the plastic wrap feeling” on release day. You all know that feeling you get when you get a new album that resonates with your soul? The one where you just never forget where you were when you first heard it, what you were wearing, what the weather was like, the feeling you got, etc. Yeah… I want that with this one. Since it’s been getting such rave reviews, I want that for me in a legal way. The word on the street is that this record could be ground-breakingly huge on many levels and maybe the best the group has done in years! That’s saying a lot too concerning previous releases, “Phrenology” and “Things Fall Apart” were rated very well by the community and industry. I don’t know about you, but it’s all I can do to not bit-torrent this leaked cd and enjoy it’s fruits now…. but alas I’ll wait and be all the better for it come late August!

As with J5, The Roots have always captivated me with their innovation and unwillingness to morph into another run -of -the mill pop rap act. They blaze their own trail, are seemingly in this business for the art of it and not for all the superficial aspects that plague the industry these days. Plus, and this is the coolest aspect of their act, they play real honest to goodness instruments!! Drums, guitars, and also the requisite DJ are what you’ll see at a live show- of which they are famous for! Yeah, can you believe it!? And just an aside- ?uestlove just may be the coolest cat in hip-hop!

So, it’s gonna be a long month ’til this album hits a Newbury Comics shelf near me… just can’t take the suspense any longer!! At least I’ll have J5’s newest to hold me over.

I’m not sure of either of these albums will crack my year end top 5 for hip-hop albums, but time will tell. As of now, my running favorite for the year in hip-hop is:

The Coup- “Pick A Bigger Weapon”

Still to come: OutKast’s “Idlewild“, the aforementioned “Game Theory”, and the just released “Yell, Fire” by Spearhead.

Time will tell… but for now I’m lovin’ J5 and amped as hell for The Roots!

Peace

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