Mostly Tha Voice….(The Fat Lace dedication to Guru)
OK so we’re straight avoiding any conjecture or getting wrapped up in the chaos leading up to the passing of one of our greatest hip-hop artists, we’re staying strictly on some fan shit for this one. We’re certainly not posting any final letters or mentioning past or present business partners. This one’s strictly for Guru….
Each of the key Fat Lace contributors has penned their personal thoughts on Guru and as we do we’ve thrown in some images and audio which map out Guru’s contribution to hip-hop.
So before DJ Premier, there was DJ 1,2 B-Down and Keithy E The Guru, the original Gangstarr. We’ve omitted their first 12″ ‘The Lesson’ as it was pretty terrible. The follow up ‘Believe Dat’ b/w ‘Bust A Move Boy’ and ‘To Be A Champion’ was classic though. The year was 1987 and Gangstarr was born.
Grab the full audio from this 12″ DOWNLOAD HERE
The original incarnation of Gangstarr split and Premier came aboard heralding a new era for the group that would span some 15 years. The seminal ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’ album was released in ’89, reportedly recorded in under two weeks.
Fat Lace’s Dom Grande on Guru:
Despite the endless lazy cracks about the ever-growing necrologue of dead rappers, Guru has, sadly, become the first hip-hop musician to die in public. Over the past couple of months we’ve had time to come to terms with the idea that he was ill, that he was dying, and now we’ve got to get used to the fact that he’s dead. Dilla’s illness was battled behind closed doors, while the myriad gun deaths have been as unscheduled as they were needless. While this probably marks a turning point for the maturity of rap as a genre, it’s a discussion for another day. What we should talk about now is Keith Elam himself.
You know what the dude was about. Lemonade, Bruce Willis, attacking like a slick Apache, forming the militia, and girls wanting more of the diznick (a word still not recognised by Microsoft Office’s internal dictionary). And that’s what we should consider at the moment, the man and his words, rather than trying to turn rap journalism into some sort of episode of Gossip Girl with a body count, speculating on the true nature of Guru’s relationship with his former business and production partner, or the moral sanctity of his current one.
The man was one-half of Gang Starr. In my 15 years of rap standom, I have never met a single human being who I would classify as a capital R, capital F “rap fan” who wasn’t fucking with Gang Starr on at least some level, and I honestly don’t think that there’s a single other act in rap history that you could say that about. GS transcended crazy boundaries: they were easily the biggest rap act to have never made a blatantly commercial move (Guru even qualified for a Daily Mail obituary), were still capable of putting out A+ bangers 15 years after their debut, never dropped a sloppy album, and it’s unfortunate that it took terminal cancer and a coma for people to start to realise that, as we said earlier, Guru was one-half of Gang Starr, and not just some sort of rapping stanchion that Premier draped beats around unquestioningly. So, yeah, RIP big man, we’re pouring a 40oz of R Whites out for you tonight.
So roll onto 1990. Gangstarr’s second album ‘Step In The Arena’ drops marking a quantum leap musically from the ’89 debut and the 12″s preceding it. DJ Premier steps up to the mark and begins to help carve out the trademark Gangstarr sound. The first single off the album was ‘Just To Get A Rep’ which famously sampled Greg Nice’s vocal from Nice N Smooth’s ‘Funky For You’. The B side ‘Who’s Gonna Take The Weight’ had us all talking about Guru upbringing as a Muslim. Also released that year is the Spike Lee movie ‘Mo’ Better Blues’ which features the track ‘Jazz Thing’ which later took Guru off on the Jazzmatazz tangent.
Fat Lace’s Drew Huge on Guru:
D & D Studios could be an intimidating but fascinating place at 2AM. Weed smoke filled the air, and no matter whose studio session you were sitting in on, other rappers would randomly drop in and out. Sat with the Fat Lace Crew while Dilated Peoples and Alchemist crafted ‘The Platform’ single, you’d be surprised by Lil’ Dap, or Freddie Foxxx. Seeing DJ Premier was definitely no surprise, however – he was always up in there. I’d been in touch with Guru’s PR people to do an interview with him about the released of the ‘Full Clip’ compilation, but it just wasn’t happening. However, that didn’t matter when I ran into him at D & D and copped the interview through pester power. It was one of those situations journalists hate – about 20 of Guru’s crew kicking it as usual while my dictaphone whirred in a room about the size of Anne Frank’s cupboard. But Guru was a gent – he shushed his compadres, handed me an ice cold Heineken while he tucked into one himself, and we did the interview then and there. And when I’d drunk my beer, he gave me another. What could have been a noisy, bitty interview, turned into a relaxed chat, and by the end we were kicking it and drinking Heineken in the small hours. It would have been nice to capture that Guru in aspic, before the souring with Premo, before Solar turned Guru against his friends and turned his music into slurry.
Drew’s Top 5:
1. As I Read My S A
3. Step in the Arena
4. Who’s gonna take the weight
5. Words I Manifest
Gangstarr dropped their third album ‘Daily Operation’ in 1992 and set the hip-hop world on fire with hits like ‘Take It Personal’ and ‘Dwyck’ which saw Gangstarr’s sampling of Nice n Smooth turn into a full blown collaboration. Guru stole the show with his line ‘Lemonade was a popular drink and it still is’. A year later Guru goes off on his first tangent with a string of new talent under the banner of ‘The Gangstarr Foundation’. This was the first time we were to hear of the Dirty Rotten Scoundrels who later that year re-released ‘Come Clean’ under the name of Jeru The Damaja as well as Group Home’s first release before ‘Supa Star’ dropped in 1994. Of course Guru’s old friend and fellow Bostonian Big Shug also got a look in.
Three more Gangstarr albums followed, a greatest hits album, more Jazzmatazz collaborations and two solo albums further down the line ensured Guru left behind an indelible legacy. We’re sure all reading this will cherish every record, cassette, CD or mp3 with his stamp on it. As they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Fat Lace’s Dan Large on Guru:
What can I say, Gangstarr and in particular Guru made a huge impact on my life. Countless hours, days and probably months have been spent listening to Guru’s voice and Premier’s beats. I remember the first pair of Ewing’s I copped after ‘Step In The Arena’ came out when there was a gold rush to rock the same shoes as Guru on that album cover. The first time I met him was in ’90 during a visit to London when I tried and failed to get to the A Tribe Called Quest show at the Hammersmith Odeon on time. We caught the last few minutes of the show but afterwards in the foyer we met Guru and Premier, they were so fresh and raw at the time it overshadowed any real desire to get autographs from ATCQ. It wasn’t until some 8 years later I’d see them both again on a famous Fat Lace jaunt to New York at D&D studios. I saw them live in London for the first time circa ’99.
I have many more Gangstarr memories, one involved sinking a few drinks with Biggest Gord in Cannes while watching Premo DJ at a lingerie fashion show, that’s another story but more to the point I conducted two in depth interviews with Guru while at XFM. The first he rolled solo before hooking up with Solar but it was the second interview where I started to worry. Guru seemed detached from the past and his new music was audibly weaker than anything prior to that in his catalogue. By the time the third interview opportunity came along I was prepped by the PR person that I wasn’t to mention DJ Premier in the interview so on principal I declined the opportunity based on my suspicions the previous time. I’m sure the real story will come out in the wash but it’s not about that right now. My memories I’ll cherish are the blunt smoke at D&D, rushing Empire Management with DJ Eclipse to cop Payday promo’s, Guru bigging me up on air for conducting a dope interview, hitting those late 90′s ‘private’ strip club parties hosted by Fat Beat’s Rich King and seeing Guru up in there (actually, what goes on tour…) and most important of all the feeling I got picking up 12′s like ‘Words I Manifest’ through to ‘Take It Personal’, cracking open the shrink wrap and playing them ’til the grooves wore down. These all make for indelible Gangstarr memories.
Dan Large’s Top 6:
1. No More Mr Nice Guy LP
2. Step In The Arena LP
3. Daily Operation LP
4. Hard To Earn LP
5. Moment Of Truth LP
6. The Ownerz LP
Fat Lace’s The Martorialist on Guru:
If you don’t consider Gang Starr a top 5 rap group then you’re just not listening right; a scarily consistent catalogue over more than a decade in a genre renouned for artists crashing and burning after an album or two. How many other groups could’ve put out a labyrinthe Best Of set like ‘Full Clip’ which didn’t include a single dud on it and still had you scratching your head wondering why it didn’t include ‘Check The Technique’ or ‘Brainstorm’ or ‘Gotch U’ or ‘The Place We Dwell’ or ‘New York Strait Talk’ or ‘Form Of Intellect’ or so many other classics? Yeah, exactly. Incredible live show too.
If Biggie was the rap Alfred Hitchcock then Guru was the Sergio Leone because nobody could spin a tale about a set-up involving a shiesty female, some scheming dudes plotting revenge and an account full of loot quite like he could, but Guru was an all round versatile songwriter who could even knock out the sort of non-gay jointz for da ladeez like ‘Lovesick’ and ‘Ex-Girl To Next Girl’ which other claimed the careers of other rappers dabbling with the format and, yes, Big Daddy Kane we’re including you there.
True, ‘The Ownerz’ wasn’t quite the swansong Gang Starr deserved, but go throw it on right now and tell me it isn’t your classic Guru ‘n’ Preem thump right up to ‘Playtawin’. ‘Hiney’ may have been the sort of skit that makes that Kwest Tha Madd Ladd interlude where he pretended to be his own arsehole sound like De La’s masterly ‘The Mack Daddy On The Left’, but, hey, at least they kept their killer B. Side run intact right up until the end with the awesome ‘The Natural’, eh?
We all hoped Guru would eventually see sense that Solar’s beats are about as bombastic as the sound effects in Jet Set Willy and squash his beef with Primo so we could get some reunion shows but that’s never gonna happen now. A very sad thought, but, damn, what a recorded legacy they left.
Top 5 Gang Starr cuts :
1. Code Of The Streets
3. Check The Techique
4. Tonz ‘O’ Gunz
Mr Cee’s Guru Tribute Mix: DOWNLOAD HERE
One last ‘unreleased’ treat:
And a video that says it all….(courtesy of Meaning of Dope)
R.I.P. Keith Elam, Guru, Baldhead Slick, Ill Kid, Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal (July 17, 1966 – April 19, 2010)
Gangstarr top 5′s, memories, thoughts….please….let’s keep this thread going in the comments section…..