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The Weekly interview: Jurassic 5 rapper Zaakir Muhammad

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Zaakir Muhammad and Jurassic 5 will perform at the Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Pool on July 17.
Chris Bitonti

You guys just released your first new song (“The Way We Do It”) in eight years. What’s it like to put something new out after so much time off? It’s exciting. I think we’re past thinking what people want or trying to cater to the fans or anything. After eight years, we’re just like, “Hey man, we’re gonna put this out, and if you like it great. If you don’t, well, that’s fine as well.”

That song’s sample is from The White Stripes’ “My Doorbell.” How have the group’s choices evolved over the years? Would it have been typical for you 10 or 15 years ago to select a piano-based rock song? You get what you like, man. You sample what you think is nice and what you think you may sound good on or what you may think will get the people moving. That’s how we do the samples, it’s not like we’re going, “Let’s try to get a piano riff on this one.” It’s not like that. If it happened to be all cello but it’s dope then we’ll use it. When you hear it, you just kind of know. It makes you feel, so you figure if you put the right things alongside it, it’ll make other people feel that same way.

Are the samples chosen by everyone in the band or do DJs Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark usually pick? They usually bring those, or whoever else we may work with. Like, this particular song, with the Jack White thing, that was Heavy D’s thing. Heavy D found that and put that together. Then they present it and if we can vibe to it, okay, great, because sometimes you do the sample and you’re just like, “Eh, it’s alright” (laughs). But this particular one, you can hear it.

So, since Heavy D produced it, does that mean you’ve been sitting on it since 2011 (the year Heavy D died)? We’ve had it, and we have some other stuff, too, but this was a really dope beat. It was a really dope beat then, it’s a really dope beat now, it’s just a dope beat. So that was something we wanted to do … because Heavy is not here. We really wanted to put it out when he first brought it to us, but Jack White’s people didn’t want to have it that way.

You had to wait for them to give you approval? Yeah. Well ... I wouldn’t say it was approved, but we’re not selling this. We just want people to hear it. Coming after Coachella and a few other festivals and getting some positive feedback and trying to put this record out, I think it caught people by surprise. Then they hear it and then they hear that it was a White Stripes song, and I think it made people go, “Oh, wow, okay.” Because it was totally unexpected as far as us putting it out, and it was totally unexpected for it to be a Jack White song.

So does that mean you guys are working on a new album? It doesn’t mean that (laughs). That’s the beauty of it—we can do whatever we want. If we want to do a J5 thing, we have that option. If we don’t want to, we don’t have to. And the thing is, people are not buying records, and [yet] a lot of people are like, “Oh, we want an album.” So it’s just one of those things where we have to be strategic in what we want to do. You kind of want to keep your fingers fresh for as long as possible.

We’re known for our show, because that’s just what we grew up on. But as far as music, there’s so much stuff out and you can put out something and the minute people feel that it don’t have enough, I don’t know, cowbell, they don’t wanna deal with it no more (laughs). So you kind of gotta be a little more strategic about the music. So we’re just kind of playing it by ear and seeing how it goes.

>Both your performances and recorded albums have always had kind of a house-party feel to them, a throwback to a part of hip-hop’s history that just doesn’t exist anymore. Yeah, definitely. I heard that in the beginning, and I heard that we were a positive group. So it was like, “Oh, they’re a party group and a positive group?” We like to party, but we don’t always talk about partying and it’s a different type of partying that we like doing.

There’s a rhyme on the Quality Control album, “Yo, we are no superstars/Who wanna be large and forget who we are/Don’t judge us by bank accounts and big cars/No matter how bright we shine we’re far from being stars” that’s kind of the antithesis of modern hip-hop. I never wore jewelry. I don’t have a tattoo. I don’t have a jail record. I never did any of that stuff. No gang, nothing. We’ve never been walking around thinking we were better than people. I’m a spiritual guy, and I believe God has a way of humbling your ass up. If I have it I’m thankful, but I don’t have to sit and flash it in front of anyone.

How do you feel about modern hip-hop? I’m not gonna say I hate it, but I don’t relate to it. I don’t know if it’s a young man’s game, because that’s what a lot of people like to say. I know it’s a young thought-process game—it doesn’t have any substance, but young folks are like that. Young people like having fun and not really giving a sh*t, and I get that. When we were growing up we had a Public Enemy to say, “Yeah we’re gonna talk about shooting this gun, but we’re also gonna talk about helping you out.” But they don’t have that now, their arms aren’t open for it. Now, it’s just like, whoever has the best branding message, that’s the one who wins—don’t necessarily mean he’s better, it just means he’s been seen more than anybody else.

Jurassic 5 with Dilated Peoples July 17, 8 p.m., $24. Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Pool, 702-698-7000.

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