Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1097

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Guru Guru

Ever since the earliest Gang Starr material Guru and jazz music have been linked, a connection highlighted by the groupâs involvement in the soundtrack to Spike Leeâs 1990 flick âMoâ Better Bluesâ, which starred a young Denzil Washington as a troubled horn-player. But it still came as a shock to some fans when in 1993, at the height of Gang Starrâs street credibility, the Boston-raised lyricist momentarily stepped away from partner DJ Premier to record the first groundbreaking âJazzmatazzâ album with the likes of Roy Ayers and Courtney Pine.

Now returning with his latest star-studded excursion into musical fusion, âJazzmatazz Vol. 4â finds Guru and his right-hand man Solar seeking to restore some order to the troubled hip-hop world they see around them.

B&S: What initially inspired the âJazzmatazzâ concept?
Guru: I saw that a lot of cats were digging in the crates and sampling jazz breaks to make hip-hop. I thought that was cool, but I wanted to take it to the next level and actually try to create a new genre by getting the dudes we were sampling into the studio to jam over hip-hop beats with some of the top vocalists of the time. It was experimental but I knew it was an idea that would spawn some historic music. A lot of people have told me over the years that âJazzmatazzâ introduced them to hip-hop.

B&S: Considering you were known at the time as an underground hip-hop artist, did you receive any resistance when you tried to branch-out to record the first âJazzmatazzâ project?
Guru: âThere was resistance from some of the so-called hip-hop purists and also the record label didnât really know how to market it because the concept was something theyâd never dealt with before. But Donald Byrd was the first person I spoke to about âJazzmatazzâ and he was like a mentor to me throughout that project. He really put the word out in the jazz community that I was serious about putting the album together. That stamp of approval from a legend like Donald Byrd really made the process of communicating with the artists I wanted to work with a lot easier.

B&S: What similarities do you see, both culturally and musically, between jazz and hip-hop?
Solar: You could say that hip-hop is a direct descendant of jazz. Culturally, jazz brought different races together through music, much in the same way that hip-hop has. Plus, jazz musicians were dealing with social issues that were being ignored by popular culture, which is something that hip-hop has also done over the years. Musically, a lot of jazz is built around the bass and the drums, which are also the key elements of hip-hop. But it was only while preparing to produce âJazzmatazz 4â and listening to a lot of old jazz that I realised how much of an influence the music has had. I never really understood what people meant when they said that acts like Marvin Gaye and Earth, Wind & Fire were influenced by jazz because I didnât see them as being jazz artists. But now I can see how much of an influence jazz has had over the years, not just on hip-hop, but on so much popular music.

B&S: Guru refers to himself on the album as being âThe Hip-Hop Jazz Messengerâ. What does that title mean exactly?
Guru: As an MC Iâve always tried to uplift and elevate listeners but without preaching to them. Iâve always tried to blend that street knowledge with intelligent creativity, so youâre always going to get a positive message from Guru and Solar. Weâve been doing interviews all over and weâve been asked everything from what we think about the current controversy in the States about explicit rap lyrics, to our opinions on the recent shootings in Virginia. Anytime you get asked those kinda questions, as an artist that lets you know people see you as being more than just someone who kicks some shit on the mic or makes a little beat on some hippity-hoppity shit. It tells me that people think our opinions count.
Solar: Itâs important for us to show that you can still make good music and be successful without having to talk about how many times youâve been shot or who youâre gonna kill. All these artists who say their music is just entertainment that has no influence on the listener need to start taking more responsibility for what they say and do. If you yell âFire!â in the middle of a crowded building just for the sake of entertainment, all of those people who might get injured trying to escape are on you.

B&S: Whatâs next for your 7 Grand label?
Guru: Weâve got an official 7 Grand mix-CD coming out featuring original production from Solar and appearances from artists like Aceyalone, Zion I and Lord Tariq. Solar has his own album coming called â5000 Degrees And Burningâ, which is all about that gully New York production mixed with real musicianship. We have a âJazzmatazzâ documentary forthcoming, and if Doo-Wop would ever turn his album in weâll have that coming out as well (laughs). Weâre also looking for new artists, but we want to work with people who donât conform and play it safe just to fit in with whatâs already popular. Overall, 7 Grand is gonna stay committed to showing people that thereâs nothing wrong with being intelligent and creative in hip-hop today.

âJazzmatazz Vol. 4â is out now on 7 Grand Records.

Words Ryan Proctor

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz

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