Monday, March 15, 2010

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Jazzmatazz, Vol. 3: Streetsoul

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

Respect Due To The GURU

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

DJ Wonder Presents: Get Well Soon (The Guru Respect Mix)


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