Guru
This interview was done in late 2004/early 2005. Guru was promoting and doing press for his solo album GURU Version 7.0. Rest in Peace Guru. Interview used courtesy of Urban America Newspaper.
WHO?MAG: How did you get into hip hop?
Guru: I was overly excited. I tried to go to every function that was involved in that. Whether it was breaking, DJs rock; I used to drive up from Boston to New York to see all the DJs rock: Cold Crush [Brothers], Funky Four Plus 1, Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, Kurtis Blow, Jimmy Spicer. When hip hop came to Boston it was a couple of weeks after it started in New York. We were having race riots growing up in Boston from the schools being integrated. When hip hop came it all came together: White, Black, Latinos, Asians. That was a real inspiration to me. At the time I was having conflicts with my family. The emcee aspect was basically a way to save my life. Hip hop really saved me from going the wrong way in life.

WHO?MAG: Talk about the new project you’re working on?
Guru: I moved to New York in late 83/early 84. Then in 1986 I met [DJ] Premier and became part of Gangstarr. On my first couple of projects we had 45 King on production. The rest is history. With this project here I let everybody know something that I always do. In the beginning we promote these brothers so they can do the solo stuff. So they don’t go crazy. This is a compilation album. I’ve been touring the U.S. and Europe with my partner Solar. Who I own the label with; I have a new label called 7 Grand. Also we’ve been touring with Doo Wop as my DJ. It feels great because Doo Wop brings a whole nother element to a live show and he raps and all that. The album is called GURU Version 7.0. What it is your favorite rapper reinventing himself; renewing his history. Of course coming from a group like Gangstarr that has so much history and so forth; you have to be careful production-wise to team up in a different direction; Also because the sound wasn’t too much like it.

We created a sound that was sort of complimentary in the next level. But at the same time put Gangstarr in its proper place in history. We’ve been working on the album for almost 3 years now. We have like tons of tracks. I’m also working on the Jazzmatazz Volume 4. Everything is going to go through 7 Grand. The Guru 7.0 album has features like B Real from Cypress Hill, Jean Grae and a couple of other features. We have a couple of other brothers that I don’t want to leave out. (laughs) The album is politically it’s that Guru that everybody has been waiting to hear. I’ve been absent from the scene. On the low for a little while; I got to hit them in head. I’m really excited because it’s my first time being able to use my name Guru for a different type project. Before it was just Jazzmatazz and under that I was able to do Bald Head Slick. This is a real hip hop project with the name Guru attached to it.

WHO?MAG: Who is handling most of the production on this project?
Guru: My partner Solar and myself. I coproduced it. Like I said it’s the next level. It’s the sound that nobody is competing in the contemporary moment. I’m sorry the scheduled release date is April 19th. The vinyl single is out already it’s the number one about a month and a half ago on the Rap Attack list charts and the rapnetwork.com. I’m getting back to the streets and the hip hop community that made me. I’m giving them something back.

WHO?MAG: Give the readers and myself a history lesson. How did the concept for the Jazzmatazz compilations come about?
Guru: When we came into hip hop that was a thing sampling Jazz and 70s stuff like James Brown. Then they thought after sampling James Brown stuff there was nothing else. Of course many cats were digging in the crates sort of speak and finding these other records to sample. Jazz happened to be that natural evolution. We never sat around and said we’re going to create Jazz/Rap! Jazz just happened to have breaks in them and certain melodies and things that went well with hip hop breaks. After we did a song for Spike Lee’s Mo Better Blues [the song was Jazz Thing] and started traveling. The media started labeling us as Jazz/Rap. I wanted to keep Gangstarr from being labeled; but at the same time step up and claim that type of music that something we were pioneers in. So Jazzmatazz was a solo project that came about. I was producing other artists. Where I wanted to show the older generation that hip hop is not just a violent thing. Also show the younger generation that Jazz and other forms of music are our history. Bring the generations together sort of speak. The first one was in 1993. The first person I talked to was Dr. Donald Byrd and he was very enthusiastic about it. He talked in a raspy voice. He said “Yeah this is history. This is literature”. He was real cool. He kind of put the word out to the other Jazz cats that Guru was the man. He’s involved and doing something that nobody has ever done. That was the beginning. In 1995 was volume 2. In 2000 was volume 3 Street Soul. The next one will be coming out after the Guru Version 7.0 will be the next Jazzmatazz volume 4. Again that will be going through 7 Grand.

WHO?MAG: Can you give us an idea who will be on the next Jazzmatazz?
Guru: Right we’re just getting tracks and recording. What we do is we get a wish list together. Start taking contacts and start sending rough tracks to people. So we’re not at that stage yet where we’ve locked anyone down.

WHO?MAG: If I’m not wrong you worked with Miles Davis on the first Jazzmatazz?
Guru: Actually I was supposed to. Easy Moe Bee did work with him. Unfortunately he passed away. I worked with Donald Byrd, Roy Ayers, Lonnie Liston Smith, Ramsey Lewis, Herbie Hancock, Isaac Hayes, Chaka Khan, Branford Marselis. Who else? Many others; Freddie Hubbard; I actually toured with a lot of those guys too.

WHO?MAG: Has the change in sampling laws stifled your creativity to sample and create music?
Guru: Not at all. Because the production that we’re embarking on now. Hold on a second. [In the background I can hear Guru working on some music with Solar and someone playing or sampling a saxophone] The production encompasses a lot of live instrumentation as well. We use samples as well as live stuff. There is no limit. It’s not like we got to sample. It comes from a feeling that we get when we do tracks.

WHO?MAG: When you were down here in Miami you told me that you were working on another Gangstarr album. When will that come out?
Guru: We’re doing these solo projects. So there’s no definite date; but it’ll be after these two albums: Guru 7.0 and Jazzmatazz volume 4.