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Cut Chemist: The Audience’s Listening


Cut Chemist: The Audience’s Listening

Label:Warner Bros.
Format:Album
Media:CD
Genre:Hip Hop/Rap

Cut Chemist plays Artscape’s DJ Culture stage July 23.

By Mikael Wood | Posted 7/12/2006

The third full-length by Jurassic 5 finds the Los Angeles hip-hop combo at something of a crossroads. It’s the group’s first disc without DJ Cut Chemist, who left two years ago to concentrate on his solo debut. And it’s also the first since the J5’s old SoCal underground peers in the Black Eyed Peas went megapop with 2003’s Elephunk. Destiny—or the record industry—rarely delivers opportunities for change as clear as this one. So what does Feedback sound like? Why, like the last two Jurassic 5 albums, of course.

The Jurassics aren’t about radical change—or radical anything, for that matter. The group’s brand of hip-hop is defined by familiar pleasures: the crisp snap of that old-school boom-bap, the dexterous interplay between four enthusiastic voices, the gentle uplift provided by rhymes outlining methods for living in harmony with the earth and women and whole-foods retailers. “I’m into keeping it real,” one of the MCs who’s not deep-voiced Chali 2na announces in “Where We At,” and that’s about all you need to know when it comes to the group’s collective philosophy. They long for a return to rap’s simpler, more humanistic roots, yet do it with warm-milk language that rarely reflects the fire or grit you can only presume drives them in their mission.

There are hints that DJ Nu-Mark, the group’s remaining sound guy, has eased up on his distrust of the pop-rap sonics with which the Black Eyed Peas now rock halftime shows. Feedback is a bit brighter than Quality Control or Power in Numbers, which helps the good vibes get over, especially on a cut like “Red Hot,” where a deliciously fuzzy guitar lick provides a melodic structure sturdy enough to support a tired Sammy Sosa reference. And big-name guest producers Scott Storch and Salaam Remi crop up, which may or may not be a concession to the “My Humps” market. But this is hardly Jurassic 5’s Monkey Business.

Nor is The Audience’s Listening, the solo album Cut Chemist left J5 to make. Which is kind of a no-brainer: This is an instrumental turntable record—save two joints featuring guest MCs—so its mainstream appeal is limited by definition. But exiting his longtime outfit has loosened Chemist up some. Audience, rich with spoken-word snippets and snatches of would-be cartoon music, exudes an appealing goofiness that J5 sounds reluctant to embrace for fear of undermining its message. Funk is this DJ’s only message.

“What’s the Attitude” rides a low-altitude acoustic-guitar riff that recalls the late Long Beach, Calif., dub-rock outfit Sublime. “Metrorail Thru Space” chops up future-world Epcot Center twinkles with stun-gun snare-drum rolls. “The Garden” plants big-beat percussion around a gorgeous Astrud Gilberto sample that probably cost Chemist the entirety of his J5 royalties to clear. Like most of his old band’s stuff, Audience is ultimately pretty disposable—an enjoyable diversion until the bling machine gets back to its work of consuming our souls. But unlike the Jurassics, Cut Chemist sounds resigned to that fate, which mercifully frees him from having to convince us otherwise.

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