I know tons of people are writing or have written their reactions to the loss of Guru, and while some may give you a breakdown of his career, or debate the validity of his good bye letter, I thought I’d share some of Guru’s music that has impacted me over the years. I urge you to do the same in the comments section.
All For The Cash: Along with N.W.A. and Dr. Dre, Gang Starr was one of the first groups that got me into hip-hop, and it all started with “All For The Cash”. I think it was around 99 or 2000 and me and the homies were deep into skating. One day one of them was listening to his walkman and rapping lines to himself. I asked him what he was listening to, and he responded back something about some shit that would be ill in a skate video. We were in the 6th grade, and at that age the closest thing to hip-hop that we regularly listened to was Rage Against The Machine. So when he handed me the headphones, that’s what I thought I was gonna hear. Yet as soon as I heard the drum roll in the beginning of the track, I knew it was probably about to be some rap. That guess was then confirmed when the pianos dropped. Initially I wanted to take the head phones off, but I also didn’t want to be a dick to my friend and stop listening in less than 10 seconds. So I decided I’d give it chance and take em off at the end of the first verse. Then the subtle bass line dropped and at the time I was, and still am, a sucker for rock bands that heavily feature the bass, so in this case it’s prominence grabbed my attention. When Guru started rapping, it was so different from what I always considered hip-hop to be. It wasn’t a song for females, it wasn’t some ignant ass shit about saying ughhhh and nana nana (even though I did eventually grow to like that song too), and it wasn’t something that you had to dance to. Instead Guru sounded hella smooth while he told a grimy story about backstabbing criminals. Yet the thing that grabbed me about his lyrics, was that instead of having a winner at the end of the story, everyone got fucked. That’s the type of shit that makes you take a second and think about what you just listened to. I gave my man his headphones back and began wondering about if I started listening to rap, would I be a sellout to rock.
Above The Clouds featuring Inspectah Deck: To stay on the skating theme, this song was actually in Steve Olson’s section in the Shorty’s skate video Fulfill The Dream. That video and that specific part were so ill, that I used to watch it on VHS nearly every week. Eventually I watched it so much, I wanted to know about the music. So I downloaded the track off Morpheus, and immediately put it on my minidisc. And yes, I just said I actually owned a minidisc. But that hip-hop minidisc that I made was the only hip-hop I listened to other than a tape ofStraight Out of Compton, and a burned disc of Chronic 2001. To this day, Above The Clouds has stayed as one of my most played and favorite Gang Starr songs. I even included it as part of one of my final projects at UCLA. At the time I first heard it, I barely could follow what Guru was rapping about, but I was feeling it because his voice and delivery fit perfectly with the mood of the instrumental. Today when I listen to it, it makes me think about his rare ability to spit rhymes alongside edgier and more violent MC’s (dude had longstanding relationships with Bumpy Knuckles and M.O.P.), without switching up his content and without sounding out of place.
Take A Look At Yourself ft. Roy Ayers: Since my freshman year of high school I have been a huge fan of Jazz. At this point in my life it’s the genre of music outside of rap that I listen to most frequently. I’ve always seen a strong connection between the two genres beyond just sampling for hip-hop instrumentals. Being an MC is a lot like being a Jazz musician. While not always improvised, every verse is like a solo. While some solos are meant to capture a mood, like in “Round Midnight”, others are meant to just prove that as a musician you have chops, like when John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins went at each other on “Tenor Madness”. Just like some verses are meant to convey a message like “Moment of Truth” and others are meant to prove that your ill on mic like “The Militia”. Guru felt a strong connection between the two genres as well, and that is why he made four albums that featured rap over jazz musicianship. While Jazzmatazz may be a wee bit corny of a name, it’s a great idea. Additionally Guru deserves tremendous amounts of credit for being one of the first people to really bring together these two distinctly American art forms.
“Take A Look At Yourself” is a great example of what the Jazzmatazz series had to offer. Even early on is his career, Guru played the role of the teacher, looking at a picture that’s substantially larger than the one most others see. His rhymes are both insightful and boastful, which sounds a lot like an oxymoron on paper, but comes out as natural as can be on wax. Guru also lets Roy Ayers solo on the vibraphone during his verses, which to me says a lot about the way he approached making music. It’s not about any one person becoming a star, but instead putting as many quality elements together as is necessary to make a dope final product.
“What I’m Here For”: Rarely do you find hip-hop that you can genuinely call beautiful, and this is one of those times. Words can’t begin to describe how ill this track is. So I’ll say nothing more about it other than to strongly urge you to listen and reflect on the legend we’ve lost.
I’m not saying that these are the absolute greatest works of Guru’s career, just that they are tracks that I think of when I reflect on my life through hip-hop. Guru has had an undeniable affect on my tastes as a listener. I can honestly say I’m not sure if I would have gotten as deep into hip-hop as I have, had it not been for the music of Gang Starr. Therefore I have a hard time believing that Guru would stay away from his family and have such harsh words towards DJ Premier even in death. I hope that Premier doesn’t pay attention to those words and does do a proper tribute, because their combination has been one of the most musically moving in rap history. Yet more important than any unfinished beefs, or the questionable actions of Solar, is that Guru is dead at much too early of an age. At least we can be thankful that he has left us decades of work that have withstood the test of time, and are of such artistic integrity that we can be excited to share them with our future generations.