Guru/Solar – Gettin' Jazzy (Ultimate and Exclusive Interview)
Interviewed and written by Russell Norman - Special correspondent
In the current age of Hip Hop, in what some would say is the art forms 30 year in existence; we seem to have come to a crossroad of sorts, a vital point in which the very integrity and soul of the music itself seems to hang in the balance.
A little dramatic, well not if you ask the generation affected by this “Epidemic.” You would undoubtedly find it hard to miss the growing numbers of disgruntled purists with lamentations of the decreased genre. In addition, the endless barrage of processed and pre-packaged material of questionable artistic value funneled to the masses through the countless radio stations, music video networks, via the internet, motion pictures, etc.
In turn, this tasteless, yet ridiculously lucrative formula provides us with more incessant droning of the industry’s next so-called gangster/thugged out/ pimping rapper façade. Mix this with a simple, catchy, bass heavy, gunshot laden track and include any whiny plastic prima donna attempting to sing beautiful about stories of murder and dope. In today’s market, oddly enough, you just might have a hit.
This of course is being manufactured, marketed and pushed to us by greedy label execs operating on behalf of the gluttonous corporate machine one million times removed from the culture. Thus, creating another mindless slave to the system perpetuation, the usual negative stereotype, along with touting the most ignorant and irresponsible behavior in the most sickly fashion.
It became so transparent it’s almost comical, besides the fact, these elaborate tales of crack dealing, drug abuse, alcoholism, misogyny and homicide arguably promotes and glorifies not just black on black crime but the outright destruction of the race.
Driven by this genocidal mind state and the grotesque worship of the “almighty dollar,” who could blame any fan or artist for recognizing the future indeed looks grim. A far cry from the days-of-old where creativity and individuality was the norm and credibility was established by simply putting out good music, not how much hype could be generated through trendy gimmicks, make believe personas, and you guessed it, more drama!
Enter GURU, esteemed rap veteran, formerly one-half of the legendary Hip Hop group Gangstarr (Hard to Earn, Moment of Truth, The Owners) and his new partner in rhyme Solar, the passionate and gifted up-and-coming super producer. Together, with a skill only rivaled by their aim to be a definitive force in true Hip Hop music, they released their CD, JAZZMATAZZ Vol. 4. The Hip Hop Messenger: Back to the Future.” On their newly formed record label “7 GRAND RECORDS” and outstanding effort check full of a new type of organic funk, laced with a wonderful blend of that Jazz/Hip Hop fusion and those witty and thought provoking lyrics we’ve come to know GURU, A.K.A. Baldhead Slick to put it down for about two decades now.
A while back I had the opportunity to catch up with Guru and Solar while promoting their album “JAZZMATAZZ Vol. 4,” as well as their new record label “7 GRAND RECORDS.” We spoke of these new and exciting business ventures, their roots, and what goes on in today’s Hip Hop movement. More importantly, what lies ahead for the future? Among other things, they were pleased to tell me how they planned to be a breath of fresh air in an otherwise stagnant climate and a beacon of hope for a culture in desperate need of light at the end of the tunnel.
CM: What’s your mission statement?
GURU: Well it’s our goal to get in touch with the new press, the smaller press so to speak and to really get them in line with what we’re trying to do at “7 GRAND RECORDS.” Obviously, it’s a very daunting task to bring credibility back to New York hip hop and just back to the game with where it all started. You know hip hop started here in N.Y. It started off very intelligent, a very powerful medium that was all inclusive that everybody could get involved in. Of course, it was music for people first and then became music for the world. That’s our mission statement there.
CM: When did you start “7 GRAND”?
GURU: Approximately four years ago.
CM: So how did you guys meet?
GURU: Solar and I were introduced by a mutual friend a little over 6 years and we hit it off. We became friends and started hanging out and everything. Solar was around during my last dealings with my last group and the major label I was on. He was privy to a lot of frustrations A&R’s telling me what to do creatively…this and that, and other execs who weren’t from the coast or from the hood so to speak. I expressed my frustrations to Solar and he was like, “You’re an icon you should start your own label. This guy did it, that guy did it! If it’s that bad why don’t you start your own label?” I was like Hhmmm! Then I gave him a call and told him I’m thinking of starting a label and I want you to get down with me. He laughed and was like, “I said you start a label! I didn’t say anything about me,” but we worked it out. We put things together in a very methodical way. We put the label structure together and then started working on tracks. This was like two years after knowing him as a friend that I started hearing his music and I was like…Wow! He read my mind because I was looking for a futuristic sound for GURU. A new sound for GURU to take things to the next level, the next phase and everything came together almost spontaneously.
SOLAR: We both realized there was chemistry there. I’m prolific when it comes to making music, just because I love it so much. It’s something I’ve always done out of love. I never have seen myself making a livelihood out of it. Jazz has always been a passion of mines. I just do that to keep myself complete, whole or sane. I could say the same with hip hop. I’ve done well for myself before I even met GURU, but I’ve always done music. It’s just part of my culture, part of my strength and part of my social structure. It’s always something I did ‘til this day. I can say I love being in the studio. When I have the choice between the studio and being in N.Y. in a night club, 9 out of 10 I’m in the studio. I love it!
CM: You spoke of being well-off before you met GURU. What else do you do besides the music? Tell us about that.
SOLAR: Well, basically just so your readers know, I grew up in N.Y. in the streets. I was able at a young age to take what I learned in the streets; my navigational skills for survival…I was able to parlay that into various business ventures. I’m not ashamed to say legal ventures. I was able to make some good investments and get in with some good people. By the time I met GURU, I was pretty much almost retired. I was working with homeless children. That was my big thing! It’s still a very pressing problem in America. Most people don’t realize the homeless population in America is growing.
CM: So you have an organization or a charity?
SOLAR: Yes we do. We have a non-profit called Each One Counts. So you know the music has given me a whole ‘nother outlook. I look at Angelina Jolie and her work with the U.N., I look at Bono and I look at Oprah and her venture in Africa with the school. So a lot of my drive to be successful is just that; to be a mode where I can make a positive change in the world.
CM: Tell me what got you into hip hop and what borough are you from?
SOLAR: Ah, Brooklyn my brother. Yes indeed! I lived in B.K. but went to school in Harlem. So I was there pretty much when it all popped off; Grand Master Flash, Theodore, Disco 3...I was there. I was a baby, but I was there. That’s what happened. I loved it. I’ll never forget the first time I seen somebody get on their head and spin around. I said, this is it right here, this what’s poppin’ Daddy!
CM: Now GURU, you came up in Boston, correct?
GURU: Yeah! Roxbury and Dorchester. Then I made my pilgrimage to N.Y. early 84...late 85 with $1500, a duffle bag and a dream.
CM: $1500, a duffle bag and a dream! What was that dream?
GURU: Well, hip hop was in Boston but it was local. I wanted to be more than just some local Yokel. Everybody there was just doing it for fun and I was like I want to touch the world with this.
CM: Do you think Boston has a strong hip hop scene?
GURU: Yeah they do. There’s a lot of talent but it’s still the situation…not a lot of outlets.
CM: And most people know of course, Almighty RSO, BEZINO…
GURU: I mean, BEZINO’S from my old block, you know. He came up with another crew. I use to see them back in the day coming up. Big ups to them, I know ‘em.
CM: And Ed O.G. & The Bulldogs!
GURU: Same here, he’s from Roxbury. His crew…we all use to kinda battle and do shows, but it wasn’t any beef though. It was always love.
CM: No doubt. Now you’ve been dropping the JAZZMATAZZ albums for years now. What got you into the Jazz music scene?
GURU: Well, I started doing my work with Gangstarr at a time when everyone was sampling Jazz. We were some of the first that did that; if not the first. Then I said, “I want to do a solo project back in ‘93 and take it to the next level and actually get with the cats we sampled.” One of the first people we talked to was Dr. Donald Byrd, and he was with it. Right away he opened up the idea and he put the word out about me in the JAZZ arena to the other Jazz cats…Roy Ayers and Lonnie Liston Smith that I was working with. That’s how it all came about. Then I wanted to get some of the greatest vocalists involved. So the initial concept was to get the jazz cats we sampled and to get them to play line hip hop beats and grooves.
CM: So is The Owners the last album for Gangstarr? Is that it?
GURU: Yes. With that I reached my peak, my pinnacle with that. That was the sound for that era; a legacy and I want to leave it as that. But at the same time, I wanted to re-invent, recreate and move on. What I’m doing right now, it’s not about GURU doing a solo project. It’s about GURU and Solar and the hottest new label in the game “7 GRAND RECORDS,” a new voice for N.Y.; a new power base.
SOLAR: And we‘re distributed through Sony, so we‘re taking it up a notch. Now we have major distribution worldwide and have major corporations behind us that definitely give us the impact we‘re looking for, so we can even up the playing field. At the same time what GURU is saying is important. People should really take a look at what’s going on here. This is not uncommon in any music from when you have two great people. Those two people are going to burn out on each other and burn out on their situation. It’s much wiser to take the mature path that GURU’s and D.J. Premier have taken. Those guys are not going at it. They’re not disrespecting each other. You’ll never hear me say a bad word about Premier and you’ll never hear Premier say a bad word about me or GURU. That’s how it should be done. That should be applauded!
CM: It definitely should be. Now tell me how did you guys come up with the name “7 GRAND”?
GURU: Ha Ha! You just keep the good questions rolling, don’t you? That’s what’s up!
CM: Thanks! That’s good to know.
GURU: I’ll let Solar do that one.
SOLAR: Well you know, 7 GRAND… 7 is a very instrumental number in popular culture here in America. 7, of course is a so-called lucky number and also a powerful number. The seventh letter in the alphabet some interpret as GOD. Also, in various countries around the world in various cultures, 7 is considered a very lucky, fortunate or blessed number. We see it as the perfect number. So that number automatically came into play…7, and then GRAND is larger than life. It’s kind of like bigger than itself so to speak; the Grand Royale, the Grand Extreme, the Grand Finale. So we looked at Grand and 7 as something perfectly larger than life, something big, omnipotent, omnipresent… you know, 7 GRAND.
CM: Before we conclude, is there anything at all you’d like to tell the “CONSCIOUSNESS” readers?
GURU: To keep supporting magazines and publications such as yourselves. Open up intelligent dialogue and not to be afraid of intelligent dialogue and intelligent creativity in hip hop, because that’s what’s going to save hip hop.
SOLAR: I would say very similar, you know, to access independent media. So my last statement would be like, I give big props to you my brother, because I know this isn’t the path that leads to the big pot of gold. You cats are very important to keeping hip hop alive. You know, keeping the real elements of hip hop alive, so that we are able to communicate various ideas, various musical techniques; various political and social economic positions are all forwarded through independent media. If we look at other more mainstream media, they’re basically just selling. It’s just like a big advertisement. Everything inside is geared really towards selling and people are going to access independent media. You guys will become the future of hip hop because the internet is becoming stronger and stronger. So again, I say to the average hip hop head, there’s nothing wrong with plugging into the latest hottest junk food that’s out there. Whatever “they’re” pushing at any given moment and that’s cool. At the same time look at it like fast food. You’re going to go to McDonalds and grab the Big Mac; you’re going to grab the Whopper, whatever! You know what I mean. Look at “7 GRAND” as the salad! So pick up that “7 GRAND” CD.
CM: Well, GURU, Solar! I, on the behalf of the “CONSCIOUSNESS” readers, I would like to thank you for this privilege. It’s been our pleasure. Thanks again.