Jurassic 5

In articles and reviews, Jurassic 5 has inevitably been described as “old school,” as if that were an undesirable aspiration. Each time the term pops up, it sounds dismissive, and yet the moniker never seems well-enough explained to mean what it should: This is a sextet that can rock the requisite two turntables and a microphone. Theirs is a return to skills-oriented MCing, and Quality Control is a record to refute all the naysayers who claim “back in the day was better.”

If their 1997 self-titled EP was a pick-up game for the four MCs and two DJs, on Quality Control they've found their stride and are executing behind the kind of verbal back passes that would do Karl Malone proud. The flows of the MCs -- Akil, Chali 2NA, Marc 7, and Zaakir -- are syncopated in tone, form, and content; consider them the hip-hop descendants of the Sugar Hill Gang and the Pharcyde. Fortunately their backing beats are both funky and bugworthy; The samples are unfamiliar, but the music never becomes academic; the beats pop and pound like a set of old soul records, but convey just as much the warmth of the source material. Producer/DJ Cut Chemist's knowledge of obscure breaks is encyclopedic (there's even a snippet on the album of a radio “breaks” contest the DJs publicly exclude him from entering), and his mixing is impeccable. Last year he and DJ Shadow toured together and spawned an ultralimited mix-CD, Brainfreeze, wherein they battled each other using only 45s.

The first single, “Improvise,” stretches a very simple guitar sample into the cadence for an ill demonstration of skills with the help of an ever-evolving drumbeat that seems to accelerate each subsequent MC's flow. This, along with cuts such as “Great Expectations,” is a template for the group's characteristic sound: longer samples, reconstructed and manipulated into compelling melodies that follow more traditional song structures.

“Monkey Bars,” however, marks the group's strongest cohesive effort. Cut Chemist (along with coproducer Nu-Mark) combines a deep, echoing drumbeat with percussive excesses, changing it up again and again and again until it sounds organic rather than pilfered, like somebody dumped a music room full of sticks, triangles, pots, and pans into the recording studio. “The Game” is like a pick-up game of four-on-everyone, where the guys use basketball metaphors to knock out their lyrical opponents (which is so much more interesting than the verbal “gunplay” of their mainstream competitors). Sherman Hemsley makes an appearance, which is an unexpected and yet strangely appropriate endorsement -- an iconic Seventies soul brother giving props to some upstarts carrying his torch, trying to get their own piece of the pie.