All Eyez On MC: Guru
So here’s my rough timeline of discovering Guru and Gang Starr.
I heard Full Clip, or saw the video on TV and it sounded like everything I had been searching for in a rap song – quality scratching, loads of cool brag lyrics, a mega smooth flow, and a really hard beat. I would be on the lookout for the video any time I switched the TV on – this was before YouTube and there was no radio station that would be playing anything like this around me. MTV Base was almost all I had!
I got a bootleg of Baldhead Slick & Da Click – to be 100% it’s not very good album but does have a couple of good songs – one of the songs had the lyric “like I told you in DWYCK” – for some reason it really stuck out to me – wtf did it mean?
I searched and searched, until I found the song title and bought Hard To Earn – this was it, top quality album, from songs like Brainstorm to Code Of The Streets (to this day one of my favourite songs) but I still needed more. I still needed Full Clip.
I had to ask for Greatest Hits CD for Christmas – it was a double CD so cost something like £20. I couldn’t afford that!! I remember opening it and getting condescending looks and remarks from my family, with sister asking the clever question of “Gang Starr – do they go ‘uhhh’?”. I mean, I suppose they do. In fact a lot of rappers probably grunt on their records at some point so fair play to her.
I listened to that double CD over and over and over. Full Clip had a beat and a sound like nothing else I was listening to – then to hear other songs like You Know My Steez and Just To Get A Rep – lyrically there was nothing like this either. I still keep that double CD in my car.
Somewhere in this timeline I looked up some of Guru’s lyrics online (that’s what I had to do before YouTube) and found a final verse on a song with The Roots on Jazzmatazz 3 – and got obsessed with just reading that verse so had to get that CD. Then I got another song of his on a random compilation CD (again, I’m a product of my time) – so of course I got the rest of the Jazzmatazz CDs based off this and flipping love them.
Too many tears of pain, too many years of struggle
Too many drops of blood, too many problems to juggle
Too few jobs available, too few schools equipped
Too few role models; just gangsters and pimps
Will you succumb, will your heart grow numb
Or will you save the world, and use your mind like a gun?
I’m the one – I turn a stick-up kid to a soldier
Me and The Roots, word up, we takin over
Obviously I still regularly blast out all of the Gang Starr and Jazzmatazz albums – I have a preference towards The Ownerz, which is weird because it’s probably the most uneven album they have, but it still doesn’t get the praise that it should, the songs that are good are fucking brilliant.
One Of The Best Yet
Enough of that, here’s why I love Guru.
His lyrics sounds like they are crafted properly and carefully. All of them. He doesn’t just rhyme for the sake of it or force rhymes – he’s one of a select few MCs (Chuck D being another) where it feels like he’s just saying what he wants to say on a song, the fact that it happens to rhyme is by-the-by. Essentially he’s one of the purest, most raw street poets that you’ll ever hear in music. When he wants to get deep on his songs and tackle real subjects, he’s spot on. When he’s telling stories or describing tales from the streets, he’s spot on. When he’s just throwing battle rhymes at you and displaying his lyrical skill, he’s spot on.
Also Guru and Primo work so well as a pair it’s almost unreal.
Weirdly, and I might come back to correct this, but I can’t think of any guest verses from him showing up in other people’s songs – there must be some, but apart from a couple of spots on Gang Starr foundation albums eg. Group Home’s Livin’ Proof – or a little bit of chat on Dilated People’s Worst Comes To Worst – has he actually got any guest spots on songs from anyone not associated with Gang Starr?
Also the Gang Starr Funkmaster Flex freestyle is probably the sickest I’ve ever heard.
Here’s a quote from DJ Premier about working with Guru, it’s a big chuck of text but worth reading.
“Guru would always give me a list of titles before I made any beats for our albums. He would have the whole album mapped out with the titles. Just the titles, not the lyrics, with little notes. It’ll say, ‘’Mass Appeal,’ our first single’. Then he writes the lyrics once he hears the track. That’s why the music always sounds like the title of the song.
He’ll give me the list with little notes in parentheses, like ‘’Tonz ‘O’ Gunz,’ this is about all the guns in the streets.’ Sarah and Gary at our management office would print it out for us because Guru’s handwriting was kind of weird, I’d stick it on the wall in my bedroom, and he’d stick it on his wall. And I’d just kind of chalk it off, like, ‘Today I’m gonna work on ‘Mostly tha Voice.’’
Then once I lay the beat and he likes it, he writes it right there. He’d be writing and scribbling, and we always said it was like he was driving a car. He’d be in the booth reading it, and then he’d start turning the page because he’d start writing all over the place, and he’d have all these scribbles in a circular motion. He kind of just winged it from what he wrote. But I’d record him with him not knowing that we were doing a real take, just to get as much as I could to start with. When he was practicing it, he was even more on, because once you know you’re being recorded, you’re fighting to get it exactly right. But he was very fast in the booth.”