Guru & Solar: Group Therapy

T hroughout his career, Guru has rhymed in allegory. Classic material like “Now You’re Mine” and “Just To Get a Rep” never used names, but let driving words teach valuable lessons on life. Three years after Gang Starr made their last record, Guru reflects on the last chapter in the group’s life and the lyricist […]

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hroughout his career, Guru has rhymed in allegory. Classic material like “Now You’re Mine” and “Just To Get a Rep” never used names, but let driving words teach valuable lessons on life. Three years after Gang Starr made their last record, Guru reflects on the last chapter in the group’s life and the lyricist tells a story that’s not so ambiguous. The group that showed so many fans what it meant to be respectful and respected at once, felt disrespected by the industry, their label, and seemingly, each other.

Today, Guru says he’s in a better place. The Boston-born MC says he has been sober for four years, many thanks to his new partner, Solar. Together, the duo released Guru’s Street Scriptures in 2005 to mixed reactions. While the record sold respectably, critics and fans scrutinized Guru’s decision to go solo, and Solar for being the one to take on DJ Premier’s duties.

Freshly healed, Guru and Solar embark on a new Jazzmatazz project in 2007 with strengthened bond. Both look warmly at the future of their 7 Grand label while Guru puts issues from his past to bed with perfect clarity. Jazzmatazz, as a series, seems to have always been about emotional release. Historically, they’ve come at times when you weren’t in the middle of other projects. That seems true now. What emotions are coming forth in Volume 4?

Guru: This is gonna be the best one, in my opinion. That’s due to the fact that…the first one was an experiment; the second one continued. The third was more like a compilation because I had so many outside producers. The first two were more organic. This one is Guru with Solar, with a pure musical vision. Our relationship is growing. This is going to be an example of that growth and intensity. Lyrically, this is my best work. Solar’s production is pushing me in new realms, lyrically. On Version 7.0: The Street Scriptures my favorite record was “Cave In.” Lyrically, it impressed me. Guru, you said, “A lot of cats owe me for the game I lent them.” Many in Hip-Hop would agree. In your eyes, what is it you feel you’ve given?

Guru: The game I’ve given Hip-Hop is ‘be yourself and manifest your lyrics.’ Being able to spit and all that is great. But how you living? As far as the [lyric], that’s multifaceted. A lot of MC’s can make a good record, but can they make a good album? Do they have a stage show? It’s a total package of an MC is what you get with me. That’s where the game is at. That beat, albeit a loop of a classic, is always a pleasure to hear.

Solar: I was the second one to address that particular composition. Melle-Mel and [Grandmaster] Flash had done it [as “White Lines”]. It was a different time, and they used different equipment to do that song. The lyrical content was very reflective of a hedonistic lifestyle that was being led in the ‘80s. In 2005, it was almost like a righteous Sopranos episode. Guru’s the don, speaking like, ‘Y’all thought I was dead. I’m the godfather of this.’ When Snoop made Doggfather, the record was criticized ‘cause it did not have Dre production. The same happened to Wu without RZA. Solar, do you feel you were unfairly judged just because you were filling DJ Premier’s role?

Solar: I say quite a bit.

Guru: A lot!

Solar: An excessive amount, to the point where it’s detrimental to Hip-Hop. If I succumbed to that, you’re talking about a whole talent – a whole career, that would be shut down by negativity. I’m not gonna succumb to it. Thank God that the fans, worldwide, have risen this album. We’re over 100,000 units, this is very successful. The interest is there in ‘Guru and Solar.’ I’ve been blessed, but at the same time, there is a reason for concern. The industry has become this close-minded and this hostile towards a new producer with a new sound.

Guru: Or to an artist who wants to recreate himself. People cling to the past too much. For Gang Starr fans, that disappointed me. Gang Starr was never about that. If you listened to my lyrics with Gang Starr, it pointed to a time like this, where I’d have control over my creativity.

Solar: I was disappointed that people didn’t give me more props for not sounding like Premier. He is one of the most ripped-off producers of all time. I still hear beat reels mimicking his style. Sales-wise, the A&R’s and record companies would have been much more eager to have three to five Alchemist and Premier type beats than they was of what I was bringing. They asked, specifically, for that sort of thing. Solar, in the aftermath of this, will we be seeing your work more places?

Solar: It looks like there will be. Honestly, I feel like the collaborations I do as a producer are gonna have to include Guru. That’s how we see it. So when you see Guru working on another project, it’ll either be a Solar produced track, or a project that we thought he should be on. I interviewed DJ Premier in December. I asked him if “Counter Punch” on Big Shug’s album would be the last time Hip-Hop fans heard Guru over a Premier beat. He said, that Gang Starr was merely on hiatus because of Virgin Records’ promotion of The Ownerz. Your comments?

Guru: I don’t agree with that. I don’t see us working together. The way I see it now, I don’t see that happening…for a few reasons. That song, “Counter Punch,” it was real old. That song was so old that they shouldn’t have put it on that album. But I guess they wanted something with me on it. I guess he was putting a good spin on it, but I don’t agree at all.

Gang Starr had reached its peak with me. I moved on. I wanted a whole new musical vision. When we were recording The Ownerz, that whole situation was frustrating. During the recording of that album, I was already looking for a way out. That was the last album under our contract. Yeah, I would say the label screwed up certain things. But I’d also say that a lot of things were already screwed up. On a money side or personal side?

Guru: Both. That hurts me as a Hip-Hop fan – the same way when CL Smooth aired out Pete Rock on our site two years ago. To a Hip-Hop purist, that’s not unlike The Beatles breaking up…

Guru: There’s a saying that all good thing gotta come to an end, sometimes. That’s just that. All my favorite artists were able to recreate and reinvent, so I had to do that. On many levels, as an artist, I wasn’t getting the proper attention or stimulation of my creative talents. The Ownerz, I didn’t like the album, I didn’t like doing it. Do you wish it wasn’t out there?

Guru: No, not like that. I just knew, when I was doing it, that it was our last.

Solar: Let me add something that I feel is relevant. I sympathize with your, and anybody else’s feelings. When I came into the picture, The Ownerz was in progress. What I saw in Guru was an alcoholic. He was drunk all the time, that’s fact. He was functioning. We met as friends. I had no ambitions to produce with him, or get involved with Gang Starr or anything. I was just Guru’s man. But I did make friends with everybody in the Gang Starr Foundation. I got to see a man that was at the end of his rope. Virgin wasn’t really committed to Gang Starr at all at that point. Premier and Guru had disconnected from each other. If they weren’t in the studio doing a song, there wasn’t nothin’ goin’ on with them two. They weren’t fighting or bickering, but there was nothing there. Nobody was excited about The Ownerz. The fans need to understand this.

Guru: He had his own crew, I had my people – me and Solar. I used to always to always talk about these major labels influencing our music, and how disgusting it was. That’s where we started ‘bout putting a label together. Solar encouraged me to do it – just me. I called him back like, “Why don’t you get down with me?” Then it came down to me and my drinking and all of that. A week later, I quit. I haven’t taken a drink since. You can hear that on “Surviving the Game.” When I rhyme, I rhyme about what really goes on in my life. I have always wanted to do my label. Premier was well aware. But he never mentioned wantin’ to do that with me. He did it on his own. At that time, that whole Virgin situation was frustrating. I couldn’t do outside projects – as a vocalist, without their approval. Premier could produce anybody and do anything he wanted. That was a messed up situation. What about the mutual connections you have and the Gang Starr Foundation? Are they forced to decide between the two?

Guru: At the time, the Foundation was all breaking up too. All this happened together. Jeru had already left. I see him on occasion, that’s a good brother, I got love for Jeru. I see Lil’ Dap. Melachi had gotten locked up. He’s out now, doin’ better. At that time, the Foundation didn’t exist.

Solar: The money had dried up too. When Gang Starr was in their hiatus, they were touring, making lots of money. They were able to support that entourage. I don’t wanna make it sound like these guys weren’t loyal and didn’t have love. They did. They were a family – a family that was financially health. At the end, D&D was goin’ broke, it wasn’t an affluent situation. People that were there during healthier times… it’s a delicate thing. You can stand there and be supported, or you can go out and support yourself ‘cause you can’t be supported anymore.

Guru: I’ll take it one step further. That was a point where I had to me. I wasn’t concerned about that. Those guys could’ve chosen any type allegiance that they wanted when we left. They chose to go with Premo. That’s fine with me. I don’t have a problem with it. I knew that. Guru, Hip-Hop history suggests that Young Guru isn’t the first time something like that has happened. Rev Run began his career as ‘Son of Kurtis Blow.’ There’s two Dr. Dre’s. Def Jam even had South Central Cartel, which is comprised of two members, Prodeje and Havoc, which is identical to Mobb Deep… am I missing something?

Guru: First of all, people using each other’s names is that they have no knowledge of that person. One’s from the West and one’s from the East, like Dr. Dre. That happened to be a coincidence, if you believe in coincidences. That’s different than someone having the knowledge of me and my life’s work, and still taking the name and putting a “Young” in front of it. That’s very offensive. What are we gonna have now? Young Rakim? Young KRS-One? I would be appalled at that. I would be appalled if someone called themselves Young Premier. That, to me, was totally disrespectful, uncalled for, and I’m not goin’ for it.

Solar: I’m born and raised in New York, a true New Yorker. I’m a success story who made it before I made it in music. I feel that any man should be responsible for his actions. Nobody was steppin’ up to ask Young Guru what was goin’ on. I did it. I got his number up at D&D [Studios]. I called from D&D to Baseline [Studios] to speak to him. He was there. I heard him in the background. He started clownin’, me son. I heard “f**k them” in the background, specifically. That information was translated to Guru. The fans don’t know that element. I’m sure that Run didn’t disrespect Kurtis. Maybe ‘cause [Young Guru] is at Roc-A-Fella, and they’re taking this position, he thinks he doesn’t have to talk to Guru. But it just looks you’re putting the “Young” in front just to diss Guru. Maybe he thinks Guru’s washed up. I’ll take it one step further to see what his motivations were, they weren’t honest. In his interview, he said that Premier told him it was okay to use the name. That’s irregardless. It’s Guru’s name.

Guru: That’s cowardice. I don’t condone that activity. Thank you for sharing all of this.

Guru: It’s important for the readers to get the story from the horse’s mouth. Come see us live. We got one of the best Hip-Hop shows on the planet.