Monday, March 15, 2010
Donny pays tribute to Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal for the latest installment of Court Dunn and 2DopeBoyz VERSES video series.
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Album Review iTunes
Give Keith Elam credit for knowing how to surround himself with great talent. It's a fact that has guided his career from the early days of Gang Starr — the group he formed with one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time, DJ Premier — to his solo Jazzmatazz albums, recorded with a host of jazz legends including Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, and Branford Marsalis. This third volume in Guru's Jazzmatazz series came not only after a five-year break, but at a time when the notion of jazz-rap was almost as antiquated as the '70s jazz-funk sound it helped resurrect back in the late '80s. Guru undoubtedly realized this, so instead of focusing strictly on jazz this time out, he made Streetsoul more of a roots album. With all the great contemporary R&B talent on display, though, any jazz-rap fans still left could hardly be annoyed with Guru's shift in focus from jazz to soul. A trinity of late-'90s soul divas — Macy Gray, Erykah Badu, and Kelis — each have features, and the swing-to-urban production behind Badu's contribution frames her vocal excellently. DJ Premier also shows up, contributing his usual excellent trackmaster skills to "Hustlin' Daze," with vocals by Donell Jones. Fellow rapcentrics the Roots make an appearance on the fight-for-your-right anthem "Lift Your Fist," and Guru inserts two pioneer tracks, Herbie Hancock's "Timeless" and Isaac Hayes' "Night Vision" near the end. Unfortunately, the one caveat to Streetsoul — Guru's rapping talent hasn't improved at all — is practically unavoidable considering he pops up for a verse or two smack-dab in the middle of almost every track here. [Streetsoul was also released in a "clean" edition, containing no profanities or vulgarities.]
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
As you would have heard by now, Keith E.E. ‘The Guru’ is seriously ill following a heart-attack. While there has been a flood of support from his friends and fans, this sad news has also given fuel to trolling douche bags to take some cheap shots at the man. Don’t get it twisted, bent-up or confused – at the height of their career, nobody was touching Gang Starr when it came to the classic MC / DJ combination. Not even Pete Rock & CL Smooth can match their legacy when you consider that The GURU and DJ Premier gave us three of the greatest rap albums ever made. Once Keith E.E. broke out from the Gangstarr Posse in Boston and hopped a Greyhound to the Rotten Apple – where he was soon to be paired-up with Texan DJ Premier – it was on like Donkey Kong. Following some early 12″s with The 45 King, No More Mr. Nice Guy introduced the world to the group known as Gang Starr in all their rough-around-the-edges glory.
Despite a horrible cover and some low-budget recording (“first album took us two weeks”), the record contained enough sparks of originality to catch the attention of everyone who wasn’t born legally deaf. Once the ‘Manifest’ and ‘Positivity’ remixes hit, we were offered a glimpse into the true potential that these two outta state characters were about to display. When Step In The Arena hit the following year, it showcased the phenomenal development of the crew. Premier had since cut his teeth on Lord Finesse’s debut album, and the time spent rubbing shoulders in the studio with Showbiz and Diamond D clearly paid off, as his sampling and programming techniques were now cutting-edge, while GURU had evolved from his self-conscious ‘posititive’ content of his earlier lyrics into a self-assured intelligent hoodlum persona. There was nothing else really like it when it dropped – eighteen tracks, some clocking in at under two minutes? …Arena was fresh, original and raw without pandering to the trends of the day. Resistance was futile once ‘Just To Get A Rep’ hit…
Daily Operation managed to up the ante another notch, as the crew responded to the misguided ‘Jazz Rap’ tag by unleashing a stripped-down, unapologetic declaration of hardcore beats and rhymes. While the ‘in-crowd’ was busy shouting corny chants and multiple beat change-ups, Gangstarr unleashed unyielding loops, sparse tracks and scratched hooks. Gifted Unlimited proved time and time again that it wasn’t ‘Mostly Tha Voice’ after all, as his in-the-cut delivery and brutally honest worldview provided the ideal compliment to the stark tracks. And who could forget the timeless b-side insanity that is ‘DWYCK’…
For anybody that was yet to be convinced for some inexplicable reason, Hard To Earn delivered the knock-out blow in 1994, as the Gangstarr Foundation were given even more exposure (following ‘Speak Ya Clout’ from the previous project), as Melachi The Nutcracker, Big Shug, Lil’ Dap and Jeru The Damaja got a little shine. Moment of Truth proved that only were they still relevant in a rapidly-changing commercial landscape, but still had a few tricks up their sleeve as well (such as getting Scarface on a track), while even the troubled The Ownerz had some gems on it.
The legendary status of Gang Starr is rarely questioned, so that’s not the issue here. The problem is that many Johnny-come-lately’s want to try and diminish the contributions of GURU to the Gang Starr sound. They insist that Premier’s tracks carried him, his rhyme styleis too basic or that the crew would have been better with someone else handling vocal duties. These people are morons. Not only did GURU co-produce every record that the crew ever released, but he’s been responsible for more classic quotes and vocal hooks than you might initially realize. ‘Shorty said nah,pulled the trigger and stepped….’ ring any bells? Despite any misgivings you might have about the Jazzmattaz projects, if nothing else I’m sure GURU bagged some bad-ass jazz broads over in France on the strength of that shit. Please take moment to stop jocking Preme and acknowledge the vet that is Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal, and wish him a speedy recovery while you’re at it.
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Monday, March 1, 2010
1. Dwyck – Gang Starr
2. Doe In Advance (Unreleased) – Gang Starr
3. The ? Remainz – Gang Starr
4. Full Clip – Gang Starr
5. I’m The Man – Gang Starr/Lil Dap’/Jeru The Damaja
6. Step In The Arena – Gang Starr
7. Soliloquy Of Chaos – Gang Starr
8. Just To Get a Rep – Gang Starr
9. Trust Me – Guru/N’Dea Davenport
10. No Time to Play – Guru/N’Dea Davenport
11. Hustlin Daze – Guru/Donnell Jones
12. Patti Dooke – De La Soul/Guru
13. Borough Check – Digable Planets/Guru
14. B.Y.S – Gang Starr
15. Mass Appeal – Gang Starr
16. Fed Up (remix) – House of Pain/Guru
17. Speak Ya Clout – Gang Starr
18. What I’m Here 4 – Gang Starr
19. A Little Spice (Gang Starr Mix) – Loose Ends
20. 1/2 &1/2 – Gang Starr/M.O.P.
21. Royalty – Gang Starr/K-Ci & Jojo
22. You Know My Steez – Gang Starr
23. All 4 The Ca$h – Gang Starr
24. Moment of Truth – Gang Starr
Monday, January 25, 2010
For the seventh chapter in the book of Guru, Version 7.0: The Street Scriptures, the former Gang Starr mastermind strips away from the cocktail and smoke settings of Jazzmatazz and returns to the pastures that made him one of hip-hop's most revered and skilled MCs: the pavement of New York City. Nearly a 20-song homage to the Big Apple, Guru nods in the direction of the city's future, having such established and up-and-coming MCs as Jean Grae, Talib Kweli, and Styles P make guest appearances. Surprisingly, the album is produced in its entirety by Solar, a bold move considering Guru's finest moments often occurred when DJ Premier was behind the mixing disc and drum machine. Having a consistent producer throughout also leads to a bit of monotony in arrangement, leaving Street Scriptures with a dragging feeling toward the conclusion. This could have been trimmed down to a 14-song release, which would have increased the impact of the album on the whole. And while Guru still rhymes better than most, he does have his off moments from time to time, and thankfully there's more than one guest appearance to help songs move along to their conclusion. Not his strongest outing, but certainly an improvement over Baldhead Slick & da Click and the last Jazzmatazz record.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Though it can reasonably be argued that rap grew almost directly out of funk and its particular beat, there are a lot of overlaps with jazz, particularly the bop and post-bop eras: the uninhibited expression, the depiction of urban life, just to name two. Jazz samples have also had a large role in hip-hop, but the idea of rapping over actual live jazz wasn't truly fully realized until Gang Starr MC Guru created and released the first in his Jazzmatazz series in 1993, with guest musicians who included saxophonist Branford Marsalis (who had previously collaborated with DJ Premier and Guru for the track "Jazz Thing" on the Mo' Better Blues soundtrack), trumpeter Donald Byrd, vibraphonist Roy Ayers, guitarist Ronny Jordan, and keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith, as well as vocalist N'Dea Davenport (also of the acid jazz group the Brand New Heavies) and French rapper MC Solaar. While Guru's rhymes can occasionally be a little weak ("Think they won't harm you? Well they might/And that ain't right, but every day is like a fight" are the lines he chooses to describe kids on the subway in Brooklyn in "Transit Ride"), he delves into a variety of subject matter, from the problems of inner-city life to his own verbal prowess to self-improvement without ever sounding too repetitive, and his well-practiced flow fits well with the overall smooth, sultry, and intelligent feel of the album. From Jordan's solo on "No Time to Play" to Ayers' vibes expertise on "Take a Look (At Yourself)" to MC Solaar's quick and syllabic rhymes on "Le Bien, le Mal," Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1 (and what turned out to be the best of the series) is a rap album for jazz fans and a jazz album for rap fans, skillful and smart, clean when it needs to be and gritty when that's more effective, helping to legitimize hip-hop to those who doubted it, and making for an altogether important release.
- "Intro [Light It Up] Jazzalude I" – 1:44
- "Lifesaver" – 4:13
- "Living in This World" – 4:29
- "Looking Through Darkness" – 4:48
- "Skit A [Interview] Watch What You Say" – 5:00
- "Jazzalude II - Defining Purpose" – 1:02
- "For You" – 4:10
- "Insert A [Mental Relaxation] Medicine" – 4:19
- "Lost Souls" – 4:12
- "Insert B [The Real Deal] Nobody Knows" – 3:58
- "Jazzalude III - Hip Hop As A Way Of Life" – 1:17
- "Respect The Architect" – 4:51
- "Feel the Music" – 3:57
- "Young Ladies" – 4:12
- "The Traveler" – 4:01
- "Jazzalude IV - Maintaining Focus" – 1:18
- "Count Your Blessings" – 4:02
- "Choice Of Weapons" – 4:24
- "Something in the Past" – 3:19
- "Skit B [Alot On My Mind] Relevation" – 4:35
The legendary Guru is the frontman and founder of both GangStarr and the worldwide acclaimed Jazzmatazz. Guru was the first artist to truly blend Hip-Hop with Live Jazz beginning in 1993, and seeing the vast influences his Jazzmatazz concept has had on the industry, it is clear that Guru's musical contributions have been way ahead of their time.
As one of the best kept secrets in Hip-Hop and music history, as an innovator and royal luminary of Hip-Hop and Hip-Hop/Jazz, Guru worked with such great artists as Herbie Hancock, Isaac Hayes, Donald Byrd, Ramsey Lewis, Roy Ayers, Chaka Kahn, Branford Marsalis, David Sanborn, Bob James, Erykah Badu, The Roots, Common, Angie Stone, Jamiroquai, Macy Gray and Damien Marley to name a few.
After the release of Guru's "Jazzmatazz Vol. 1" in 1993 there were very many attempts to duplicate the Jazzmatazz Hip-Hop/Jazz concept and even the entire Neo-Soul genre was heavily influenced by Jazzmatazz. The first 3 Jazzmatazz albums were released in 1993, 1995 and 2000. Not only did the early Jazzmatazz music challenge the boundaries of Hip-Hop, Jazz, Soul, R&B, etc., the live aspect was something that none of these genres had ever seen. On a deeper level, the Jazzmatazz show was the first time anyone had seen a vocalist with a live band and DJ which has now become an industry standard stretching all the way to Rock N Roll. Jazzmatazz was the first Hip-Hop act to be asked to play at the world's most prestigious music festivals and brought with it a whole new audience as well as a new youthful appreciation for Jazz and live music which continues to this day. Since its inception there has been no credible comparison to the originality and broad appeal of a Guru's Jazzmatazz concert. This is one of the most captivating musical experiences ever world over!
The release of "Jazzmatazz Vol. 4: The Hip Hop-Jazz Messenger" sparked the rejuvenation of the Jazzmatazz series due to the brilliant production and masterful arrangements brought forth by his producer and partner Solar. This album is now the # 1 Hip-Hop/Jazz release of the decade. Released on their successful new label, 7 Grand Records, distributed worldwide. Though sophisticated musically and conceptually, the album connected with many underground Hip-Hop acts as well due to the fresh new sound that Solar put together. For the new live show, Solar has created a sonic landscape that takes the audience on a musical journey through all of my classic material from early Jazzmatazz to the present and even includes masterful live renditions of GangStarr hits.
Thus, Guru's Jazzmatazz featuring Solar and the 7 Grand Players is the best live Hip-Hop/Jazz act on the planet and appeals to all audiences from pure Hip-Hop/Jazz to hardcore Hip-Hop, to Alternative, to more conservative Jazz, to R&B, Soul, Retro, etc.
Guru and Solar have performed for sold-out crowds ranging from 1,500 to 50,000 people around the globe. There is something for everyone to enjoy here. Look out for more classic Hip-Hop/Jazz coming from the icon Guru and his partner Solar!
Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1
Jazzmatazz, Vol. 2: The New Reality
The Best of Guru's Jazzmatazz
Jazzmatazz - Streetsoul
Jazzmatazz - Back to the Future - The Mixtape
Guru 7.0: The Street Scriptures
Guru 8.0: Lost & Found