At Unity Fest 5 in Boston this year, the theme was tribute, the man was Guru. As the video indicates the all-star event hosted by Edo G was quite the success, wax legend DJ Premier was surely the main draw on paper, but as you can see, Boston appreciates their own grown talent. Big Shug and Singapore Kane shred the scene so diligently I wonder how it is that these guys have never dropped a full length LP together, smells like politics. On some real shit though, mind LionStarr artist Singapore Kane in 2011, the plan is to assart, so mind the scorched earth. Expect an SK single to be dropped on ZIF in the next week or so.
Exactly one year ago today, Guru, the influential rapper known for his intellectual themes, his monotone delivery and his combination of jazz sounds with hip-hop beats, died after battling cancer. He was 43. Guru, whose real name was Keith Elam, was born near Boston and later moved to New York. Not too many rappers can start a Guru tribute with the line “I remember when I met you…” but Singapore Kane came up under the GangStarr wing, and although it’s a difficult challenge to honor our lost loved ones, it’s an important part of hip hop culture to remember the past. For most Boston rappers today is just another day in the crab bucket, but for those ol school G’s that remember that Guru was Boston first, NY second, today will be a day to stop, ponder, and hell, maybe play a Singapore Kane track.
This track is hot off the press, I believe it was laid down early today, so big ups to Singapore himself on making sure I got this track to the ZIF’ites. I’m sure plenty of people will take this track to be a diss of sorts, or perhaps a tribute track for Guru, or perhaps both, but according to SK, that would be a mistake. Speaking with the spitter today, he expressed many vivid thoughts regarding the Guru passing and “drama” associated with it. But this track is clearly about something bigger, frankly, it’s not about the past, it’s about the now, and the present is Singapore Kane, the whole goddamn planet, sit back and accept it!
I think everyone expected it to happen, but despite “Guru’s” good bye letter, DJ Premier couldn’t help himself from doing something in remembrance of his long time partner. I can tell you that I couldn’t be happier. The two have made so much amazing and influential music together, it’s only right that Premier gets to honor Guru. The mix is actually an MP3 of last friday’s episode of Premier’s Live at Headquarters radio show on Sirius radio, and it is really ill. While far from a “best of” mix, or a comprehensive retrospective of his career, the show features some great classic Guru material, a few unreleased sound bites, as well conversations with Premier himself, Guru’s nephew, the creator of Gang Star, Big Shug, and a 30 second call from ZIF’s favorite Bostonian, Singapore Kane. Well worth the listen, especially to gain some insight on the overall situation from somebody other than that bitch who refers to himself as Solar. I think it’s safe to say that when the vast majority of Guru’s fans think back over his catalogue and what it’s meant to them, very few, if any tracks involving Solar will come to mind. If you think I’m wrong, name me one memorable one. Fuck it, name me one quality one. Anyways, that’s why it’s great to hear Premier’s opinion, and the tracks that he wanted to play. Interestingly enough, only one coincides with a song I included on my Thank You Guru post.
On a related note, this is the second stream I’ve heard of DJ Premier’s Live at Headquarters radio show, and I must say it’s gotten me to wish I had Sirius radio so that I could catch it more frequently. I respect and look up to Premier so much in regards to music, from the beats he makes, to the samples he chooses to make those beats, to the vocal samples he scratches in his choruses, to the songs that he includes in his mixes, that it’s an incredible opportunity to hear him speak frankly and play music that enjoys on a regular basis. Luckily for everyone who feels the same way as I do, and doesn’t want to waste money on a bunch of other bullshit channels that they could give two fucks about, you can download each show at: http://www.mixcloud.com/worksofmart/. Pretty legit if you ask me. Thank you Guru for a careers worth of priceless gems, and thank you Premier for continuing to be an undeniable shining star in this fickle and short-sighted genre/culture/community that we call Hip-Hop.
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.
I stumbled across this footage of my dude Singapore Kane ripping it with Big Shug in Slovenia. The footage is a little spotty, but what do you expect, it’s practically black market only out there. Enjoy, commercial and spam free only on ZIF.
Questlove confirmed rumors today via Twitter. Guru of Gangstarr acclaim is in a coma, our prayers are with the legendary emcee. Scope some video of Guru touring Slovakia or Slovenia or something Eastern a few moths ago (below), he does not look healthy. I’m assuming some cats knew this was coming. Stay tuned for details.
I get great joy out of seeing the Red Sox out of the playoffs and the Patriots playing their least dominant football in years. Still, with the New York Hip-Hop scene in an inexplicable limbo, Boston has really stepped up for the East Coast. Pretty much anytime you see a rapper you’ve never heard of on a track featuring Edo G, Termanology, or Singapore Kane (and sometimes Masta Ace), you can expect a melodic, pensive beat, thoughtful lyrics, and an overall solid track.
That’s the case with the above track by SEEK, apparently 1/2 of the Boston group RADIx, with Edo G. The camera work could be more intersting by, I dunno, changing at all, but at least it fits in with the whole “Perspectives” idea. Boston’s been on point in the late double-Os, so if someone could tell GiftedUnlimitedRhymesUniversal to get his head out of his ass, I’d appreciate it.
The world had to pretty much fall apart in order to inspire Guru to work again and another 4 months for this video to drop. Here’s hoping that it doesn’t have to freeze over in order to get him and Premo back together on some Gang shit. Oh and in case you slept on the Version 8.0 Lost & Found LP, here’s a few highlights off of it. I’m relatively disengaged by this album, though it is by no means toneless.