When we rang Chali 2na – the physical and vocal totem of Jurassic 5 - we caught him in his car on his way home, so we kept him company on his drive with a chat about the band’s reunion, playing Lovebox during Ramadan and molly.
Noisey: Hey Chali, how's it going?
Chali 2na: I'm in traffic right now. I'm just driving into LA. I'm about 30 minutes outside of Los Angeles
I don't want to distract you
It's cool man, it's cool. This is just the distraction that I need.
Are you bored of being asked about getting back together?
Am I bored about it? No, I don't think I'd ever get bored of strangers asking me questions about my art. [laughs loudly] I'm grateful for that. Bored? No. If you look back on a lot of the interviews I've done then you'll see there was an optimistic 2na Fish back then, I was like 'yo man it was kinda like a marriage - things were bad man and we were a bit screwed up, but we didn't say we'd divorced we just said that maybe time will heal the wounds.’ I was always looking at it from that perspective because we grew up together in a lot of ways. And when I say grew up, we were in our early 20s — some of us were fathers already, some of us were married, but we all saw the world change, all kinds of things happened and we saw it together, we saw it on the road — we were all together more so than we were with our families. I cherish these dudes like a family - they're not just some cats that I work with on a microphone. At times you're just tired and at times it's like when you're kids and you and you and your brother might argue. I feel like I'd rather not share the dirty laundry in respect of what we did and what was happening with us to a world that looked at us as one of the most popular rap groups out there. We all have problems but that, in itself, shows our humanity, but I never looked at it like we were broken up, I just thought we were going out on top, like Jordan, you know what I'm saying? We were wearing the 23 and if we decided to come back, hopefully we wouldn't be wearing the 45, we'd still be in the 23.
Didn’t Chuck D say that the group would get itself back together naturally? It’s its own entity and it'll tap you on the shoulder?
Yep, that's exactly what happened man. I'm a Public Enemy fan to the max and Chuck D raised me - that dude is like my father, with all the things that he's said. To hear him drilling me about that particular subject, it was just crazy; I was like 'Wow!' Especially when it comes from an icon of hip-hop and also they'd kinda been through what we'd been through to an extent. The actual entity known as Public Enemy was what came and tapped him on the shoulder and that's what happened to us, you just feel when it was ready for us to come back and that's what happened.
How has the break helped you as a band? Is being back together like putting on a pair of comfy shoes?
Yeah, well I can't speak as for the rest of the fellas as I can for me, our break made me stronger as a person, as an artist, as a performer and as an individual. It made me have to stand up for myself - it strengthened my vocal chords when I had to do a two-hour show by myself. It's a trip because I'm coming back to J5 is, like you say, putting on an old, comfy pair of shoes that I love. But then there are certain things that I'd forgot about, like after the show I'm not exhausted and my shirt ain't that sweaty and I'm like "Yo! Oh yeah - it's because I'm only doing my part and I'm not having to hold down the whole show." I'm just grateful for it all to be perfectly honest.
Talking of vocal chords, your voice is instantly recognisable - were you ever encouraged to accentuate your deep voice at all? Like B-Real from Cypress Hill was by Muggs and Sen-dog to put on a high voice to make it stand out?
Well I wasn't necessarily told to accentuate it more so than I was complimented on it, which I thought was cool as I didn't really recognise it as much. I knew as far as musical instruments I would always gravitate towards anything to do with a bass. Anything! Whether it was the bass in itself or the baritone sax or the trombone - anything that had a bottom to it, I loved. The upright bass was one of my favourite things, I just love to hear that. I loved dancehall music and all kinds of reggae music and all the dudes had a super deep voice and I would just gravitate to it, not really recognising that that's what I would become, so to speak. It's cool, but nobody ever told me to focus on my voice more than people would say "yo, you got lyrics, but you've got that voice too", and I was grateful for that. It's something that's helped me stick out whereas I didn't have to try hard to with something.
You'll be 10 days or so into Ramadan when you play Lovebox. Does it affect you at all when you're playing festivals during this time? It's a time of introspection and then you have to go out and be super extroverts.
You know, it definitely can be a challenge for sure, depending on how you look at it. What's great about Islam and the way this tradition is taught is that God is merciful during Ramadan in that the traveller, that person who is travelling, has the provision to make up those days that they're travelling if he so chooses. So it eases the burden of having to do something that wears down the body while you're moving. So that's a mercy in itself and I'm grateful for that. At times I was looking at the schedule and was like 'man some of these are in the daytime, so maybe for those days I won't fast, I'll make them up.’
Is there anyone else on the Lovebox line up you'd be up for collaborating with?
Now here's the thing, I don't know the whole run down of the weekend but I do know that D'Angelo is playing and I'm trying to see him. I haven't seen D'Angelo since he opened up the Universal Ampitheatre in Los Angeles and that was one of the most fun times I've ever had I think. When I heard he was on the bill I started tripping out. Everything else was a blur. I don't know exactly who's on the bill - except Lil Kim. Lil Kim's playing isn't she?
Yep and Azealia Banks, Flying Lotus, Lulu James, SBTRKT, Wiley…
I'll tell you what - what I will do is stick around for the whole day so I can check out some of these acts instead of jetting out. I definitely want to see D'Angelo but from what I can remember, he's going to be on the day after we leave, which fucking sucks.
Ha. What do you aspire to now you're back filling venues - is there a J5 target? Are you after more gold discs or just enjoying what you're doing?
It's more the latter - we've been able set a precedent that only we can live up to. After all these years I've seen rap go down the drain, man. I'm not trying to disrespect nobody but rap has done a thing that I'm not attracted to in that it's lost its substance in a lot of ways - it's more party friendly than it's ever been and kids are still attracted to it, but as an art – nowadays you can walk away from a song and have access to all these things where you can go and look up and learn from these songs, but these songs are just about the party culture right now and that's what the songs reflect - hip-hop has always been a mirror reflection of what's going on in urban areas and that's why it is what it is, but I come from an area that that had a little bit more substance. Because of that, that's why I'm not necessarily attracted - it kills me now and I hate to say that and I'm not trying to be down on those kids that have come from poverty and have made their money and changed their lifestyle by doing this.
What do you think of molly seemingly being so popular in America music crowds right now?
Man, I'm not cool with that shit. I'm being perfectly honest with you man, I come from a family full of like criminals, drug dealers and such and these are things that I strayed away from and I thank God that art hit me and kept me away from anything criminal. I recognise it because I was surrounded by it. I'm saying all that to say I think Jurassic 5 strayed away from the things that we grew up around because we lost people to it, whether they were killed or affected. We didn't as a whole prescribe to even try to promote that aspect of living - instead we wanted to promote the other side. We had the weed culture in our day and cats always would drink alcohol. We’d try to live hard and try to work hard, play hard but the resurgence of cocaine, of heroin and how ecstasy has exploded into this whole molly scene, it disturbs me. When I hear people talk about the lean drink, where they mix up Sprite with codeine - that reminds me of stuff my mom was into when I was little so now I'm tripping on how that shit's come back. How did it come back? How did our generation pick up on that shit and now it's cool? DJ Screw died, from what I understand, from that and Pimp C died from something related to that shit and people still don’t understand. I’m not a promoter of that kind of stuff.
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