While mostly the voice, it’s more. Guru is hip-hop’s best PR Man, and he doesn’t need to rent out a fancy hotel to attract an audience. On the verge of releasing their sixth album over a fifteen year reign, Gang Starr’s main purpose is to cherish the woman we call hip-hop.
Guru is quite possibly the crowned vocalist of hip-hop. He’s taught us a savy way to speak, a way to drive lyrics with subtlety, and he’s ressurected the Jazz appreciation in the streets. Guru and DJ Premiere are not just “one of the best yet”, they are just that, the best.
With probably a million other things to be doing, Guru carved time out of a Brooklyn afternoon to unleash the updated Gang Starr formula, dispell the rumors, and teach a few semesters of hip-hop love…and the masses are lovesick.
AllHipHop.com: The famous echoing Gang Starr phrase is the “updated formulas”. In words, how did you and Preem update the methods for The Ownerz?
Guru: As far as the beat tip, Premiere always evolved his style for what it is. I mean, he always his signature, having heavy drums and key changes which goes back to his love of the game when somebody’d walk through with a big ass radio, (laughing), carrying a big ass radio! But he does different things with the way he bounces his beats now: different patterns, and a different bounce, sometimes different uses of the high hat. Technically, if you’re really into knowledge of beats, you can hear the little things he does that are different. Other people may not be able to hear it. Just the way he chops a lot of samples from different things. He plays some things, but he keeps it minimal too. ‘Cuz he actually plays drums, keyboards, and bass. It feels like it’s moving, or almost as if it’s being played live. Because what he does is he hears it once in his head and then he finds the shit that sounds like it.
AllHipHop: And how did you update?
Guru: My style is my voice. But the flow is always changed to the beat. We listen to everything. We’re always up on what’s new and current. That’s the difference between us and a lot of groups that fell off. We just didn’t get hung up in what we were doing, we were always aware of what was going on in the scene, in the market, in our competition, whatever you want to call it – game. We definitely keep that hunger and intensity. Me, I call it sparring. I spar with a lot of younger cats. There’s a lot of cats I’m executive producing. I’m always listening to beats, so my flow adapts to the times. I might mix a new flow with an old flow and come up with a whole different flow (laughing). I started rhyming in ’77, in no way could my style now be the same as then. Nobody would want to listen to me. It’s all about perfection, being versatile.
AllHipHop: I love the concept behind the title, there are a lot of heads lending and borrowing the culture, you own it…
Guru: Yeah, because our style can’t be duplicated and copied. Our style is pure. We are actually the resurrectors of the New York sound. A lot of New York rappers, aside from Nas and a few others, have left the New York sound for dead. Because they wanted to compete in the market with the South and the West. I don’t you have to do that. I think you can bring it to the forefront, the New York sound. Because right now everything is bouncing, and I like that! But that’s not all I like. I think there needs to be more of a variety in the market places, more of a balance of what the clout is getting. Right now New York is a monopoly. The same records that are on the radio are the same records that are in the clubs, they’re all the same! And there’s gotta be more good shit out. And there is. Like Premiere has an XM Radio show with Marley [Marl], and they have the chance to play different shit on there, breaking records. There’s a skit on the album about DJ’s, because they’re supposed to be the ones breaking new ground. But they’re not, ‘cuz they’re scared. I got no problem with the hustle. But you can’t hustle the hip-hop culture, but you got to know about it. A lot of these cats coming into the game don’t even know who Big Daddy Kane is and Public Enemy are. It’s like when you apply for a job. You better know about that company! So in order for these cats to last in hip-hop, they better do their homework.
AllHipHop: This record was pushed back a few times. I had heard that you and Premiere were unhappy with the way the original record sounded…
Guru: That wasn’t it. It wasn’t done [laughing]. Please, whoever you heard that from, correct them. I hate that shit. That is the furthest from the truth, ‘cuz I’m one of the most honest people you will ever know. If that was the truth, I’d tell you. How could we not be happy with our shit? [laughing]. We get excited about our shit! The only reason it was pushed back was because of the record company was gonna put out right after the “Skills” video with no set-up, with people not even hired yet. We have people on our label, rock-n-roll and shit, not hip-hop! We’ve never been on a hip-hop label. The closest was Noo Trybe. We’ve been in the EMI system since Step In The Arena. We’re still on EMI. Chrysalis was like Pat Benatar and Billy Idol and Virgin is Janet and Lenny!
AllHipHop: It’s always been “Produced by DJ Premiere, and co-produced by the GURU” What is your role in Gang Starr production?
Guru: Very good! Good question. First of all, before I met Preemo, I learned about production from Mark the 45 King. He did the first two [Gang Starr] singles before I joined with Premiere. He taught me about finding those sounds that you want, how to program them, search for them, and how to chop them. I’m pretty nice with programming beats. On Moment of Truth, I did two songs: “Make ‘Em Pay”, and “She Knows What She Wants.” Premiere always mixes them because he has a certain ear. He’s a DJ, so he’s on the next level. As far as production, look at DJ’s. Like Dr. Dre, Just Blaze, Alchemist, Jermaine Dupri even. A lot of the hottest producers are DJ’s. So there’s a certain ear they have and a certain way they listen to records that’s different. It’s keener. I’m a student of Premiere. When it came to this album, I wanted him to do all of ’em. It’s been so long. I knew he’d get excited by that, so he went into a zone. As far as me, I might bring him something that I want him to sample. I might suggest stuff to him, even stuff to scratch. And he’ll take my ideas and flip ’em. He might suggest stuff to me to write about. We don’t always sound cut and dry. Everytime Premiere is ready to mix, he calls me. And I sit, I don’t say shit. That’s how we are, we’re a team like that.
AllHipHop: One track that changed my life was “The Planet.” You wrote that song about coming up and struggling at a point where you were very successful. Why then?
Guru: Because success as seen on the outside might not be the same behind the scene. Number two, I’m still coming up! [laughing]. Seriously, because of the struggle between popularity versus sales. The marketing and promotion. You know how a lot of kids say, “I like them ‘cuz they’re underground, and I don’t like them ‘cuz they’re commercial.” It’s not designed like that. Some underground shit is wack. Some commercial shit is wack. We liked 50 Cent when he was underground, we still like him now that he’s the most popular rapper in the world. How do we keep afloat, being that…well, we didn’t go platinum, but everybody loves our shit. That’s why we can always do a show with no album out. We can always do a tour. That hungriness is always there.
A lot of times rappers are doing better than they were but they’ll reach back to tell you a story. What you’re doing is, you’re using your own personal experience to the listener, something inspirational, and also it may be something that they’ve been through. They can relate to it. I know a couple of kids who said, “I liked The Planet because I moved here, and I’m trying to make it in graphic arts, or whatever.” So that’s just a story of a pilgrimmage that anybody can relate.
AllHipHop: How is it functioning as a group without D&D Studios, which was a Gang Starr headquarters and shrine?
Guru: It’s dissapointing because it makes us feel like maybe those guys didn’t have the love we’ve got for the art. That’s just personal. But me, I think they wanted to put all their money in the record company. With the change of technology, they didn’t get the Pro Tools. A lot of guys are producing at home. They ran out of clientle. The only work still coming there constantly, was us! Rent’s high in New York. It did hurt because it was a second home. And a lot of history was there. Even the fights [laughing]. There were times where that place used to be like the Riker’s Island rec room, you know? [laughing]. We miss that. And Premiere, I actually think it was good for him, know why? Just in the way this album is more confident. We talk the pause button off, we’re here, we’re owners. Even though the four years went by, we been running around for those four years. We didn’t wait that long. So the next album will start recording in October. Premiere was forced to find another place that could give him the sound he wanted. I thought that was good, he didn’t – at first [laughing]. We got a new studio, we did the last three songs there. We like the sound even better. There’s a certain sound that D&D had that was signature, but we found one just as good. Nothing ever stays the same.
Visit www.GangStarrOnline.com to check out the album, IN STORES NOW. Also, Guru and Preem will be touring in the US through July before heading overseas for two months.