Guru - The Guru Returns
Wednesday, 10 October 2007
DJ Premier may have been revered for his sophisticated beatmaking but, away from GangStarr, the poetic Guru, too, expressed an affinity with jazz - as Herbie Hancock did with hip hop before him. Jazzmatazz was revolutionary. It was Guru's manifesto. The MC proclaimed that, as a movement, the oft-misunderstood hip hop paralleled jazz. Significantly, with the guest-laden Jazzmatazz, Guru also pre-empted neo-soul - D'Angelo, Erykah Badu and Alicia Keys.
The MC regarded Jazzmatazz as a genre unto itself, although he showed disdain for the media's creation of 'jazz hip hop'.
Now, seven years after the third instalment, Streetsoul, Guru has returned with the self-funded Jazzmatazz, Vol 4: Back To The Future. This time the Bostonian has a co-conspirator in the "quintessential urban New Yorker" Solar, with whom he runs the indie 7 Grand Records.
The pair met around the time of GangStarr's final LP, The Ownerz, in 2003. Then Guru (like Premier) was battling Virgin. Solar advised he venture out.
The relatively unknown New Yorker guided Guru's streetwise solo foray, Version 7.0: The Street Scriptures, of two years ago. Today Guru considers Solar to be an equal in the Jazzmatazz enterprise and they share interviews. Inevitably, hip hop purists will compare Solar to Premier - ironically more so because Guru is determined to give him shine. However, Solar patiently rejects any implication that he's following in Premier's footsteps as "a disservice" to listeners. "My and Guru's relationship comes in a whole different period of time," he responds. "Our relationship is based on something completely different.
"We were friends before we were business partners."
Unlike Premier, Solar - an MC - harboured no ambitions to produce when they connected. Guru recognised his talent and, importantly, the fact that he's "not driven by corporate ambition." "I don't make my sound to fit radio." And, in contrast to Premier, Solar is a business partner as well as a collaborator. Their dynamic is different. "I think that people who are stuck in the past are just gonna be stuck in the past, there's very little I can say, but I didn't feel I had anybody's shoes to fill," Solar says. "I live for myself. I don't base my success or failure on no other person but myself."
Certainly Guru, whose father was Boston's first Black judge, is generous in his praise of Solar and his ability to propose concepts, not merely cut beats. Moreover, Solar "multitasks". "When I met him, he was a self-made successful man - wealthier than me - out of deals," Guru reveals. "My parents were married 53 years and I've had this family support and different things - even though I was a rebellious, crazy youth - but Solar didn't have that. He didn't have any family. He came up the hard way in the streets of NY and made something great and positive out of himself, so that alone is inspiration.
"You don't have to necessarily 'get rich and die tryin'.' I got love for 50 [Cent], and I got love for a lot of these cats in the game, I'm just saying that there's other ways to look at things - and that's what we represent. We represent positive energy overcoming negativity."
Solar is expanding. He's responsible for a hot remix of the Gym Class Heroes' smash Cupid's Chokehold, which admittedly features Guru. Next he'll drop his album, 5000 Degrees And Burning. Still, Solar doesn't aspire to be the new Kanye West, pimping his skills. "To be quite honest, Jazzmatazz is such a big undertaking, being that I produced the whole album and also directed the first video, it's best that right now the world doesn't get confused - because I'm able to do so many different things."
The fourth Jazzmatazz isn't a radical departure from its predecessors. With acts like The Roots, contemporary audiences understand the hip hop/jazz equation - Jazzmatazz is less groundbreaking. But that's not the point. "It's a timeless project," Guru asserts. "It keeps evolving." He and Solar listened to the previous three volumes when contemplating Jazzmatazz, Vol 4. "We realised where we needed to take this one and [we] didn't just want to make a compilation or a 'best of' or whatever. We wanted to really take the franchise, so to speak, to the next level."
At any rate, with the Jazzmatazz series as much about the guests as Guru's input, surprises abound. "We always like to have a balance of the jazz legends and the soon-to-be-legends, so we continued that trend," he says.
At Solar's suggestion, they approached the oft-sampled jazz great Bob James. "People just don't realise how important he's been to hip hop," he offers.
Guru credits his early Jazzmatazz cohort Donald Byrd with introducing him to the jazz fraternity - and so James knew his rep. "He got it right away," Guru says of Byrd, "he understood, because, I guess, he was a fusionist himself."
At the opposite end of the spectrum, the slick R&B cat Bobby Valentino cameos. Then there is Aussie songbird Shelley Harland, now residing in the US - Solar loved her demo.
Guru is currently touring the US, "grassroots style", with Solar. Solar has assembled an international band comprising musos from the UK, Europe and North America. They aim to reschedule their Australian dates from last year.
As far as Guru is concerned, GangStarr is a closed book. (Premier is preoccupied producing Christina Aguilera et al.) Nevertheless, Guru knows that some GangStarr fans want - or expect - him to reunite with Premier. "There will be some kids doing that, but I would argue that they're maybe not real GangStarr fans because, if they put anything negative to it, then they're not GangStarr fans. We don't need them to come to our shows and we don't need them to buy our records. Because the principles of GangStarr - street knowledge, intelligence and spirituality - are being upheld to the fullest extreme with 7 Grand Records and Guru and Solar.
"Everything that GangStarr was based on is encompassed here - plus more.
"They need to realise that this is an evolution and that, if you really have love for what was in the past, then understand what's going on now - 'cause what we're doing is we're going into the future with those principles intact and with the principles of hip hop intact."
Jazzmatazz, Vol 4: Back To The Future is out through Shock.