Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

In Memoriam: Guru

Guru (an acronym for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal), the iconic, paradigm-shifting founder and rapper of hip-hop legends Gang Starr and creator of hip-hop jazz died yesterday after spending much of the previous two months in a coma following a heart attack. He was 43. Born Keith Elam in Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1966, Guru founded Gang Starr in 1987 and released a handful of singles that achieved enough regional success to catch the attention of New York DJ Premier. In 1989, Guru and Premier released their landmark first album No More Mr. Nice Guy, followed by five others, the last, The Ownerz, in 2003. One of the originators of the East Coast hardcore style, Guru’s hard-edge, rapidfire, syncopated delivery matched the uncompromising seriousness of his lyrics. Particularly critical of what he felt was a drift in hip-hop toward popstar meaninglessness, Guru remained relevant and true to his origins even as he celebrated his own achievements as a wordsmith on joints like Check the Technique, Take It Personal and Code of the Streets.

In 1993, in the wake of the duo’s finest album Daily Operation, Guru teamed up with a diverse crew of jazz artists including Branford Marsalis, Donald Byrd and Ramsey Lewis to release the first of his four Guru Presents: Jazzmatazz series of albums, showcasing jazz improvisation over a hip-hop beat while taking a somewhat more lighthearted lyrical approach than he took with Gang Starr. The final Jazzmatazz album was released in 2007. Guru also released two solo albums during the decade. He is survived by a son. His longtime collaborator Solar (no relation to the French hip-hop artist MC Solaar, whose career he springboarded here in the US) released a controversial posthumous letter ostensibly written by the rapper distancing himself from DJ Premier, with whom he had split after the duo’s final album together seven years ago.

April 20, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, obituary, rap music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Canibus at Tramps, NYC 9/17/98

Got there on time, about quarter after nine. By the time I got inside (mega frisking – no great surprise, after all: this was a hip-hop show), McGruff was finishing up. He didn’t embarrass himself – it seems that Canibus is choosy about who rides with him. Surprisingly, the crowd wasn’t as energized as it usually is for hip-hop at this venue (one of the few in town south of 125th St. that’s willing to book rap at all). Canibus came on shortly therafter and delivered only a 30-minute set – the advantage for those who came out tonight was that nobody had to stand on the accursed floor here long enough for their feet to hurt). Although Canibus only has one album under his belt, he’s already in the upper echelon of rap lyricists. He also has a stage presence I’ve only seen in a few hip-hop artists: Chuck D, Ice-T and KRS-One. To drive home his talent, much of his show was just him rapping without any backing tape or support whatsoever: he’d do a verse, then they’d turn the DAT on again, then there’d be a pause (“Yo yo yo….”), then on with the show. His most impressive bit was a freestyle: again, without the DAT running. Other high points of the night were the acerbic, politically-charged Nigganometry from the new album, and then, predictably, his monster hit Second Round Knockout, to close the show. Mike Tyson didn’t show up to contribute anything. The sound was fantastic: you could hear every word, and the backing tape was pleasantly low in the mix, mostly low, computerized bass rather than the trebly, feedback-prone screech that it usually is here for rap shows. It’s unlikely that someone this talented and bound for stardom will be doing any more appearances at such a relatively small venue.

September 17, 2007 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment