The wait for what would come next from California sextet (yes) Jurassic 5 is over with the release of “Power In Numbers.” Considering the sluggishness of some of their peers, two years wasn’t an especially long time, and yet the labored feel of “Power” suggests that maybe another year of waiting would have made a more solid album.
Jurassic 5 align themselves with neither the stagnating world of commercial rap nor the ever-expanding hip-hop underground. They are in a comfortable place — theirs is not quite a household name, but thanks to their career-long home at Interscope Records and appearances on a few choice package tours, heads, as it were, don’t have to look very far to find them. Musically, they’re on the hip-hop side of the divide, if for no other reason than the intelligence and community spirit of their songs.
What has come to be the trademark J5 sound — four MCs (Akil, Chali 2na, Marc 7even, and Zaakir) rhyming over sample-heavy production from two DJs (Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark) — showed enormous promise on 1997’s debut “EP” and worked wonders in 2000 on “Quality Control.” The bright loops and intricate wordplay on those two albums built up that trademark to the point where the group’s sound was actually distinctive and its laid-back, celebratory feel even more so.
All things considered, “Power In Numbers” is still proof that Jurassic 5 are very good at what they do, yet it only recalls the best moments of “Quality Control” and “EP” without reaching their bold, dynamic peaks. While the verses are just as rapid, literate and fun as they always have been, they seldom last long enough to set in, and the production over which they flow is loop-based to the brink of monotony. The MCs’ vocal interplay is colorful and provides a good point of focus, but each song begins with one sample and generally sticks with it until the end. Without the inspiration and innovation one would expect from anyone, let alone the wildly capable Cut Chemist, the unchanging backgrounds add little.
When the choruses are shared by all four MCs, as they generally have been in the past, they are now much simpler and shallower. The unison that enhanced older songs like “Quality Control” and “Lausd” sounds bland in comparison with “If You Only Knew” and “One of Them.” The unabashed joy of craftsmanship so prevalent in the trademark J5 sound seems hurried when present at all, and consequently “Power” is on but nothing truly shines.
For all its comparative shortcomings, though, “Power” has its highlights. “Remember His Name” showcases a darker approach to lyrics and production as yet unseen, and works as one of the record’s more compelling narratives. “A Day At The Races” (featuring old-school kingpins Percee P and Big Daddy Kane) does justice to the creativity and longevity of the MCs’ lyrics and delivery, while the confoundingly catchy affirmation “I Am Somebody” pays homage to J5’s funk influences. Cut Chemist finally gets his moment in the limelight in the closing “Acetate Prophets” (the restraint of which maintains the continuity of the album better than his sample-happy DJ breaks did), and even the unnecessary Nelly Furtado cameo on “Thin Line” remains thankfully understated.
Those looking for an extension of vintage J5 will not find much of it in “Power.” It has its ups among its downs, but even the high points succeed only on a less unified plane than older favorites like “Concrete Schoolyard” and “The Influence.” Given the quality of Jurassic 5’s earlier work, it’s hard to appreciate their new album, but it’s just as hard to fault them for trying.