Posted tagged ‘guru’

R.I.P. Keith “Guru” Elam 1966-2010

April 21, 2010


On April 19th 2010 Keith Elam, better known as rapper “Guru,” lost his largely unreported battle with cancer. After a month in coma, the Boston-born MC left planet Earth and said “Suave.” There’s been an unfortunate amount of controversy surrounding his death, namely his manager enforcing a strict list of who was allowed to see him that did not include his family and a “goodbye letter” that seems uncharacteristically petty and possibly a forgery, which has added a troubling coda to one of the genre’s most prolific legacies. In the interest of a proper sendoff, I’d like to focus instead on the music that made the man great.

NOTE: Not the Actual Cover

Guru is known to most as one-half of seminal Hip-Hop duo Gang Starr. Along with DJ Premier, the two signed to Wild Pitch in the late-80s, releasing their first album No More Mr. Nice Guy.. While it spawned two successful singles in “Positivity” and “Words I Manifest,” the group was still defining their sound, a vision they realized on 1991’s Step in the Arena. Widely considered their official debut, Arena became the template for the often imitated rap-jazz hybrid sound of the early 90s. Back by Premier’s layered orchestrations, Guru showcased an intentionally monotone flow and simplified writing style that wasn’t a dumbing down, but rather an enforced minimalism that make the presentation of his Nation of the Gods and Earth beliefs and socio-political concerns more subtle and effective than most of his genre’s peers. This album also began one of rap’s strongest four album streaks that included 1992’s Daily Operation, 1994’s Hard to Earn and 1998’s Moment of Truth. Longevity is rare in Hip-Hop, but the two achieved it through not only changing with the times but making the times change with them.

One of my personal favorites is their song “Ex Girl to Next Girl.” Released in 1992, it’s a rare look at relationships-after-relationships that remains mature without sounding particularly soft-batch. Guru’s performance on the song is nothing short of perfection, playing up the realistic ups-and-down of both sides without overindulging in bravado or “emo” tendencies that typically ruins others’ similar attempts. The flow shows an earnest reflection, giving the song a conversational sound that conveys a recognizable familiarity to the listener. This everyman’s Superman persona heard here would remain one of Guru’s most recognizable traits throughout his career.

Another one of his most memorable performances came in the form of 1994’s Nice and Smooth collaboration “Dwyck.” One of those verses that everyone in Hip-Hop seems to have memorized, the stream-of-conscious lyrics that effortlessly change subject with every bar gives the performance an almost puzzling unpredictability while inadvertently celebrating how diverse Guru’s subject matter is. Most first-and-foremost remember the “Lemonade was a popular drink and it still is / I get more stunts and props than Bruce Willis” couplet, but remember it’s immediately preceded by a gun reference and followed by name dropping Langston Hughes. Not too many could get away with covering such a wide-range of topics in four bars, but somehow Guru made it work.

Apart from Gang Starr, Guru found success with his Jazzmatazz collection. Along with being one of rap’s few successful concept-albums, it achieved the even rarer-feat of reaching out to rappers from other countries and even other languages and still being successful. Not only a smash in the states, the international flavor of the first Jazzmatazz lead to the album becoming circulated worldwide. To this day I hear stories of people coming back from visiting everywhere from Israel to Argentina and hearing “Yeah, I was having brunch at some hole-in-the-wall restaurant when suddenly someone threw on Jazzmatazz and everybody, knowing what it was, just started vibing out.” Why does one man have such an appeal? Maybe it’s the storytelling, maybe it’s mostly the voice. Either way, it’s an unfortunate loss for Hip-Hop as one seminal catalog comes to an end and a shining talent slides into the sunset.

For further reading, please check out the homie Timlaska’s analysis of Gang Starr’s Step in the Arena and Hard to Earn.

ABC News – “Music + Children = MURDER!”

March 12, 2010

Yeah, one more Kanye joke. Anything to finally get a Big Lurch reference on this site.

“Everything Old is New Again.” – Peter Allen (1974)

“Those Who Do Not Remember the Past are Condemned to Repeat It.” – George Santayana (1905)

“Abracadabra Boom Shaka Dae, I’m Violent J and I’m back like a vertebrae.” – Joseph Bruce (1997)

Oh 1999, can it be the party that Prince predicted has returned? It was a simpler time of intern jokes and Furbies where dancing computer-generated babies ruled the world and anyone who released a compact disc became an instant millionaire. It was also the year marred by the Columbine shooting and thirty-five days later, the Insane Clown Posse releasing an album that debuted at number 4 on the Billboard 200*. They had no radio or video play and lacked even the slightest mainstream media acknowledgement, yet their major label distribution propelled their word-of-mouth momentum to move over one million copies of The Amazing Jeckel Brothers into the homes and “homes” of millions. Not unlike James Cameron, they returned a decade later with Bang! Pow! Boom! and not only repeated their success but surpassed their original achievement. So of course with the numerous natural disasters happening all around the world and further unrest reaching a fever pitch in Iran and the rapid approaching of a turning point with health care legislation here in America no other news stories happening anywhere in the world, this week ABC’s Nightline took an investigative look at Horrorcore and the Insane Clown Posse.

Folks, this is a must see –

I’ll give you a second to regain your composure. Yes, in 2010, the American Broadcasting Company devoted a sixth of an hour of prime time programming to the Insane Clown Posse. Further, this trusted news program beamed into millions of homes suggested these middle-aged men in clown facepaint were somehow a threat to their children’s safety. While I understand there is something to said for the appeal of the sheer spectacle that Utah, Arizona and Monroe Country, PA all consider Juggalos (the nom du clown of Insane Clown Posse fans**) a “street gang,” but it’s the absurdity of this that warrants the coverage, not the non-existant legitimacy. Instead, Martin Bashir acts like the concerned social worker that Joseph “Violent J” Bruce and Joseph “Shaggy 2 Dope” Utsler never had and attempts to guilt them into apologizing for their “music” causing bloodshed at the hands of white trash across the country. Buena Vista stockholders, this is where your money is going to.

"I don't believe in this evidence you speak of."

My frustration here isn’t because I’m particularly “down with the clown” (I’m not***) but more so with the blatantly irresponsible journalism that has followed the duo for the better part of a year now. For whatever reason**** there has been growing media attention toward Juggalo-related crimes. The most bothersome was that of Richard “Syko Sam” McCroskey a 20-year-old who killed four people in Farmville, Virginia. While my sympathies go out to the victims and their families, it was infinitely aggravating to read the murderer referred to as an “aspiring rapper” and see numerous web headlines rushed to press as “Rapper Kills Four.” The kid had a MySpace, a Microsoft Sound Recorder and THAT’S IT. Records indicate he had only performed in front of people ONCE and this somehow designates him an “aspiring rapper?” You never read the name Charles Manson prefaced with “aspiring singer-songwriter” or Ted Bundy as “amateur tapdancer,” so why is it in the dwindling coverage ever offered our genre, it has to be that of an entirely irrelevant ginger caucazoid who assumably reeks of stale Funyuns and spilled Miller Lite.

"When Keeping it Horrorcore Goes Wrong" Pictured: Syko Sam who murdered four people and probably smells awful.

This is what happens when you give the seat of the great Ted Koppel to Martin Bashir. While the man is responsible for the glorious 2003 Michael Jackson documentary, it was a work of pseudo-papparozzi crash journalism. It’s hardly what should constitute the basis for modern edutainment, but he’s brought that same exploitive edge from the King of Pop to the guys who wrote “Chicken Huntin” and carried Bill O’Reilly into a discussion that went…well…here:

What Bashir either believes or wants to draw from his audience, is the perpetual fear that these entertainers are somehow pied pipers of misguided youth and that parents are/will be powerless to stop them. He further demonstrates his absolute lack of familiarity or research of the subject matter by implying children are endangered by “Horrorcore,” a sub-sub-genre at absolute most whose name hasn’t been said in any serious manner since its absolute failure in the mid-90s. The Posse’s perpetual defense is that of Jon Stewart’s, the “we’re entertainers, look who you’re aiming your ‘credible’ journalistic rage at” and honestly, they’re right. I could use this sentence to echo their sentiments of how it’s the parents’ fault that their kids are screwed up or let music have such a power over them, but I’d rather use it to tell you THE INSANE CLOWN POSSE RECENTLY COMPLETED A FEATURE FILM AND IT’S A WESTERN! Even the harlequin battalion in question never reached the level of insanity that is ABC’s Nightline expose. If they really wanted to cover the dire effects of irresponsible musicians, why not look at how the “We Are the World” remake has had a negative effect on Haiti donations? Why not address Gang Starr’s Guru present comatose state and the legal mess forbidding visitation from the man’s own family? Instead Martin Bashir rips the scab off a long healed Faygo-related injury and cranks the Riddlebox in a way that would surely put him at the Hell’s Pit end of the Wraith. It’s these tactics that both society as a whole AND the Psychopathic Family tend to look down upon. Awful.

So until next time…Let’s Agree to Agree!

*See how I just lumped these two unrelated events together? I could write for Nightline!

**People you’ve never met before who, allegedly, can ingest Monopoly and defecate Connect Four.

***But I do want to still send MCL out to my fresh Family reading this. Woop woop!

****No, the sixth Joker’s card magnifying Shaingra-La doesn’t count as a reason.

I, VALENTINE – Music For Loving Lovers in Love and Sultry Singles

February 12, 2010

Editor’s Note: This is something I wrote that originally appeared “somewhere else” back in 2007. Times were different then, so in order for something so archaic to be comprehendible by today’s audiences I’ve added a few *NEW* elements, which will be signaled by obnoxiously writing “new” in capitol letters with two asterisks on either side.

Hearts, Stars and Horseshoes,

It’s that time of the year again. That day between observing Martin Luther King Jr. and (dead) Presidents when we remember that the person we’re sharing a bed with is pretty alright as well. For singles, this is a day when one either remembers how fortunate they were with lovers past (I see you baby!) or loathe the fact that nobody loves them and spend the evening awkwardly trying to scoop something young, drunk and warm (I see you, baby.)

For me, regardless of romantic condition, it’s a time of eating Sweethearts candies and listening to some of the most inspired musical memories from seasons past. That in mind, I thought I’d post some fitting music to you regardless of your condition this February 14th. What follows will either A) Get you and that special someone in ‘that kinda mood’ to have a night of Valentine Laffy Taffy together B) Get you singles pumped up to pimp it out tonight, or C) just chill and procrastinate on that homework due tomorrow you should have had done last night.

Hey, I have to earn one of those Facebook Wall Gifts somehow, right? Also, you’ll notice a lack of Isaac Hayes, LL Cool J, and Marvin Gaye in this list. I agree that they’re probably the Best Love Summer Jam No. 1 OMGLYLASBBQ muzik eVaR, but do you really need another list telling you how great “I Need Love” is?

And into the Tunnel of Love we go…

Some people call him the space cowboy. Some call him the Gang Starr of love.

1) Gang Starr – “Ex Girl to Next Girl” (1992)

For the Romantically Reflective –

A mixtape favorite of mine for several years, this was the centerpiece of Gang Starr’s 1992 classic “Daily Operation.” DJ Premier’s manipulation of Caesar Frazier’s “Funk It Up” becomes the perfect backdrop for arguably Guru’s finest hour. Never has his introspective vocabulary and everyman delivery suited a song better than this tale of love, loss, and closure. Mature without being pretentious, intelligent without being forced, “Ex Girl to Next Girl” remains one of the genre’s greatest moments. Perfection.

2) Amy Winehouse – “F*** Me Pumps” (2003)

For the Cynical Singles in the Corner of the Club Laughing at Those of Us Who Buy Into this “Hallmark Holiday” –

Before she was on the verge of being the next big import, Amy Winehouse debuted overseas with an interesting genre-bending album called “Frank.” Influenced by everything great about the Wikipedia article about the last 50 years of popular music (as well as some not-so-great things such as improper dieting) the album found her channeling great heartfelt R&B one moment and singing soulfully over Nas’s “Made You Look” the next without missing a beat. The highlight for me was “F-Me Pumps,” a scathing bit of cynicism that sounds like it was recorded in Heaven.

On a personal note, this song remains the single best song I’ve ever been introduced to on one of those “relationship” mixtapes you make for your special someone that they’ll probably listen to once or twice over the course of the relationship*. *NEW* The version that was given to me was a remix known as the Mylo Mix, which I’ve sentimentally thrown up here.

3) Main Source – “Lookin’ At the Front Door” (1992)

For those in Relationships That Plan To End Them as Soon as they Get the Gift and it becomes the 15th –

Arguably the best album to drop on Wild Pitch Records, Main Source’s “Breaking Atoms” is much more than just Nas’s recorded debut. With one of the all time greatest producers Large Professor behind the boards, this album contained one of Hip Hop’s greatest police brutality cuts (“A Friendly Game of Baseball”), posse cuts (“Live at the BBQ”) and the only one-verse song that rivals Eric B. and Rakim’s “Paid in Full” (“Peace is Not the Word to Play”)

The album also contained this single, “Lookin’ At the Front Door.” One of the most referenced songs in the genre, this break down of exactly why a relationship isn’t working is funny, clever, and ultimatly moving. Couple that with one of the most recognizable beats of the era and you have an undisputed Hip-Hop classic, everything the genre can and should be.

4) Souls of Mischief – “Step to My Girl” (1992)

For the Overprotective Boyfriend, and those who Covet them –

A song that sadly never saw the light of day on “93 Til Infinity” due to sample clearance issues, this Bay Area banger about the absurd machismo of overprotective boyfriends is one of the best creations from a crew who, at the time, could do no wrong. The beauty of the Grover Washinton Jr. sample (an instrumental cover of Bread’s “Aubrey,” a song with lyrics so pre-emo that my wrists hurt just listening to them) and the contrast it provides to the crew’s endearing slapstick makes for a one-of-a-kind gem. With the sample at the end making for one final solid laugh, the song is four minutes and nine seconds of perfection. The hilarious KRS sample for the chorus doesn’t hurt either.

5) Chaz Kangas – “Black Cherry Chazfool” (2009)


For those having this night of all nights for awkward first dates –

*NEW* Originally “Black Cherry Audrey” from my 2005 collaboration album with Patrick “Kid Icarus” Swanson (Mouthful of Bees), here’s a quick press blurb from before the album’s release:

“One of the prettier moments on “Notes from the Underground”, this charming ode to awkward love disarms, arms, and disarms again.”

I had always liked the song and would work it into my live sets whenever possible. Once “Knee Jerk Reaction” came out I forgot about it and didn’t take it out of the vault until last December when I wanted to rework an old song of mine as the B-Side to my 2009 Christmas song “Christmas Mischief.” I don’t recall what exactly drove me to do it over “Lovefool” by the Cardigans, but somehow it worked.

Love me, or leave me alone.

And on that note, I hope you’ve enjoyed this romantic romp. I’m trying real hard to earn one of those Facebook wall gifts, so hopefully this great deed** won’t go unrewarded.

I also want to dedicate this post to my college Facebook girlfriend of two years, Katherine “Shadowcat” Pryde. Of all the fictional characters I’ve ever been involved with, you’ve by far kept it the realest. If you’re not busy with the X-Men, save me a dance at the end of the night.

Your Valentine,

*The worst is still “Teenage Rock and Roll Machine” by the Donnas.

** Greater even than the 2002 Adam Sandler film Mr. Deeds.