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Lots of Laughter with J5

Two DJs, Four MCs Discuss Music, Japan, and More

By Brian Loux

Associate Features Editor

It is probably the biggest insult ever that one of the most innovative hip-hop groups in the world was interviewed by one of the most tragically white men in America. But it happened, and I’m sorry.

The Tech: Why does a group with 6 members call itself J5?

Zaakir: The name was a joke. It started off as a joke ... we didn’t know if we were going to be a group, number one, so a name was not the first thing on our mind. Then someone from outside the group mentioned the name as a joke and we liked it.

TT: You guys started in South Central LA. What’s your opinion of them changing the name to South Los Angeles?

Marc 7: It’s always gonna be South Central. As long as black people are there, it’ll be south central. [Laughter] They’ve been trying to change the demographics of South Central for the longest time, like the place that I came from is now called Chesterfield.

Zaakir: really?

Marc 7: Yeah ... USC is in the hood. They would never tell you, but it’s in the hood. University of South Central. [Laughter] I mean, they would block certain blocks off to accomodate the kids, but if you cross that street, then you’re in the hood ... like don’t go past Vermont. [Laughter]

TT: You guys started in 1993. How have you seen hip-hop change over the decade?

Zaakir: We all been seeing hip hop change from the beginning ... I remember when there was only three groups that was pumpin’. That was Run DMC, Fat Boyz, and Houdini. Then Cool J came along. And other groups could come in, but those were the only three groups that was pumpin’ at the time.

TT: You all have toured in Japan before ...

Zaakir: What? You wanna know who got SARS? [Laughter]

TT: ... but they have their own culture of hip-hop.

Nu Mark: They got everything that the west does. Like we went past this western bar once, and they had these cowboy hats and everything.

Zaakir: They do it like the States do it. And they more appreciative of it, too.

TT: So has your album sold well over there?

Zaakir: Yeah, pretty much.

Marc 7: We ain’t Hasselhoff. David Hasselhoff is the man overseas.

TT: You used the Koto, or the small Japanese harp, in one of your songs. Was there a reason for that?

Nu Mark: We were trying to go to different places on earth without saying like, “Here we are in Japan” and “Here we are in Persia.” And we wanted to touch on Japan. We had just come back from a tour in Japan. I had chopped this CD up into like 32 different sounds and we used that.

TT: How did you guys get involved with the Mastercard commercial?

Zaakir: They called our agent, our name came up, so we did it. It’s simply trying to expand what J5 is trying to do. Expand the name of J5.

Nu Mark: It’s also a good time to do that because the business is really taking a nose dive and getting a chance to intern is even harder now.

TT: You often do concerts that appeal to different genres and audiences. Do you all prefer to work with just a hip-hop crowd or are you more comfortable with the broader audience?

Zaakir: For me, I always wanna do the hip-hop crowd first cuz that’s the type of music we do ... I always understand trying to go out and reach as many people as possible ... but I really want to touch my people first and then branch out.

Akil: That’s why we’re trying to do a lot of these college tours before we do Lollapalooza this year ... it’s us being on lock the whole summer, for two months.

TT: Is that the main reason that you often do college tours?

Zaakir: We definitely do well on the college circuit and when you look at the college radio charts, we always up at the top. And y’all pay well, too.

TT: A lot of the people are critical of the “bling bling” materialism of most hip hop. You all take a different style towards your lyrics.

Zaakir: See, I really think people make too much out of the bling bling and if you’re not doin’ it. I mean, if the beat’s true, if it’s good, then who really cares?

Akil: People try to make too much out of the term underground and like, “well if you’re underground, then you’re like this, and you can’t do that.” And you know, that’s just stupid.

Zaakir: Like, I hear people say, “I never liked anything by Puffy.” And I’m saying what? I mean he worked with Biggie, Mary J. Blige, and you liked none of the stuff he did? I just can’t believe that.

TT: There’s still a big controversy about downloading music off the internet. As artists, what’s your take on it and what should a responsible college student do?

Marc 7: To me, I download music, and I think others should as well. As far as artists go, we come out ahead ... I mean, the guy who downloads our song and likes it will probably go buy our album, or go to the concert, or buy a shirt while they’re there. So it’s beneficial to the artists, but not the producers.