The rep grows bigger
Guru has spent 15 years successfully crossing the border between hip hop and jazz. Here he tells Mark Edmundson about the collective force of Jazzmatazz
‘I’ve personally always been about trying to create new, relevant, hot music,’ states Guru in a considered tone that sits well with his rap canon, ‘and thanks to my partnership with the super-producer Solar I’m able to do that. Not everyone has a Solar.’
This isn’t the response I was expecting from a question that was intended to stir up a little ill will towards his contemporaries. Guru may not be among hip hop’s more attention-grabbing ruling class, neither was he among the very first to break the sound nor of the current Rocks’n’Rolls Royces of today’s bling set, but at a trim and youthful 40-plus he remains true to hip hop’s roots, a dependable constant, markedly still touring new material of enviable quality.
‘This is a highly complex issue,’ continues his latter day brother-in-arms Solar. ‘For one, I know I speak on behalf of many people here in the US when I say that we’re very appreciative of the fact that these “old school” artists are at least being able to tour their music and make an income.’
Though unexpected this is a commendable stance, which tells of a no-nonsense duo currently wading against the tide of comparatively tuneless and frequently negative chart hip hop joints in the US.
Solar continues: ‘It’s a struggle here in America to get the industry, promoters and so on here to start paying the same attention to these artists so they’re not relegated to going overseas just to be able to work at their trade. When hip hop was king here, when it started, it was a concept that was born out of pride, out of frustration, out of intelligence and creativity. America’s become, in that sense, a dead zone.’
It’s 15 years since Gang Starr founding member and standard bearer Guru, with an analogous concern for paying his dues, first eschewed hip hop’s sampling culture in favour of collaborations with live jazz artists for his Jazzmatazz side project. In the eight years that have passed since the release of the ubiquitous third instalment, Street Soul, the adopted New Yorker has enigmatically parted company with fellow Gang Starr stalwart DJ Premier and gone his own way with producer Solar on their 7 Grand label.
After the release of a Guru solo album the pair have turned their attentions to Jazzmatazz , currently touring last year’s volume four, The Hip Hop Messenger (Back to the Future), which features a typically informed line-up of guests from mich sampled soul-jazz man Bob James to hotshot UK rhymesmith Youngun.
‘For me it’s really based on a love for MCing and a love for the art form,’ says Guru of his longevity and resolute unwillingness to rest on his laurels. ‘So that always comes first with me. I listen to everything, and the stuff I like I get inspired by. So I’m never gonna stray too far from what I do, but at the same time I’m constantly challenging myself.’
Now with Solar on board Guru feels he has breached the next level, and both are indignant that his evolution isn’t received in the same way as the Madonnas, Springsteens or Stings of this world.
‘The difference is that they were embraced with their new stuff,’ laments Sonar. ‘Hopefully the hip hop arena can wake up and embrace Guru properly.’
Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, Fri 14 & Sat 15 Mar.