Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1074

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GURU & SOLAR: Team Talk (B&S remembers - Interview May 2009)

Guru Guru Guru & Solar Guru & Solar

Iconic East Coast rapper Guru teams up with his new music and business partner - innovative New York producer Solar - for the duoâs new LP âLost And Foundâ, released through the twosomeâs own 7 Grand Records.

Relaxing backstage at Camden Townâs world-renowned Jazz Cafe, Boston-raised lyricist Guru - who earned legendary street credentials as one-half of iconic hip hop duo GangStarr before instigating a groundbreaking fusion of rap with live jazz via his Jazzmatazz album projects - is keen to discuss his aforementioned latest musical partnership. Which, since 2004, has seen him and NYCâs Solar independently release four successful albums - 2005âs âVersion 7.0: The Street Scripturesâ; 2007âs âJazzmatazz Vol. 4: The Hip Hop Jazz Messengerâ; 2008âs âGuruâs Jazzmatazz: The Timebombâ; and now 2009âs âLost And Foundâ.

âSolar and I were introduced by a mutual friend over six-and-a-half years ago, and we immediately hit it off beyond just musicâ, begins the articulate, confident MC, whose 13-album/20-year career has seen him sell over 3.5 million records worldwide: âAt the time I was really disgusted and tired of the A&Râs and executives at the major labels I was dealing with constantly trying to tell me how to do my stuff. I mean, youâd be surprised - even though it may appear one way on the outside - at what goes on behind-the-scenes-with these record companies. And I just didnât wanna be stifled creatively any more. I wanted artistic freedom. And, because we were friends, Iâd often express those opinions to Solar. So one night we were trying to have a good time, just hanging out; I was in my complaining mode... And he was like âListen, man. Youâre an icon! If itâs that bad, start your own LABEL!â.â

âSo I thought about it, called Solar back a few days later, and was like âYeah, Iâve decided I wanna DO this label thing!ââ, continues Guru in signature, clearly-spoken tones: âAnd, while his first response was like âWell, good luckâ, I was like âNo, I want you to get involved WITH me!â⦠Because, even when we first met, I just knew he was a VISIONARY. Like from Day One his tracks blew me away, plus his business brilliance made me realise he and I together would make for the perfect match - like The Dynamic Duo sorta thing. So I was like âThis is the future for Guruâ... And Iâm now being proven right! âCause now youâve got your favourite iconic rapper combined with New York Cityâs brightest producer-and-visionary as CEO and President of a boutique label (7 Grand). Which, in a tough musical market, is doing well worldwide as ambassadors of real hip hop. And thatâs something the world has never SEEN before! You know, itâs a PHENOMENON - and Iâm proud of it!â

With 7 Grand now owning the trademarks to both Jazzmatazz and GangStarr, the label is already proving itself a successful global brand in terms of both record sales and tour revenue. With Guru and Solarâs live show having proven immensely popular on the worldwide festival circuit (huge shows in Russia, France, Japan, UK, Chile and Brazil, to name a few); plus the extreme sports arena (headlining high-profile snowboarding and skiing competitions; plus The World Skateboard Championships in Prague, San Diego and LA).

âYeah, 7 Grand records to me is the epitome of what great New York hip hop represents, taken to the new millennium and beyond!â, asserts an equally-confident Solar: âNow weâre in control of our own label, weâre free to introduce forward-thinking hip hop concepts to the masses. I mean, our first album âThe Street Scripturesâ came out in 2005, and now - with âLost And Foundâ - weâre already on our fourth! And to me this latest record (which features a guest appearance from UK soul don Omar on the track âRideâ) just represents pure hip hop in 2009. Itâs not a Jazzmatazz record this time, itâs in a whole ânother realm. And I think itâs gonna bring in tons of new fans, as well as keeping our existing fans happy with the progress weâre making as producers and artists.â

Despite still being best known worldwide for his classic rap collaborations with hip hop super-producer DJ Premier as aforementioned iconic duo GangStarr, Guru today is more all about moving forward with his new musical partner-in-crime, and remains surprisingly non-forthcoming on his whole GangStarr experience: volunteering only: âWhatâs important today is that those principles that GangStarr was founded on - street knowledge, intellect, spirituality - are being taken to new heights now by Guru & Solar. You know, we canât go BACK, but we can go to the FUTURE - while holding on to those important principles.â

Nevertheless, on the subject of his Jazzmatazz concept - the groundbreaking hip hop/jazz series which has now seen him release four acclaimed volumes - Guru thankfully returns to his usual quotable self. Happy to discuss how Jazzmatazz has enabled him to collaborate, over the years, with a veritable whoâs-who of musical icons; ranging from such jazz greats as Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock and Roy Ayers to world-renowned soul vocalists like Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu and Macy Gray - while also taking-in credible rap and reggae acts like Common and Damian Marley along the way.

âBack around â93 - when I first came up with the Jazzmatazz concept - I was noticing how a lot of cats were digging in the crates and sampling jazz breaks to make hip hop recordsâ, he explains: âBut, while I thought that was cool, I wanted to take it to the next level and actually create a new genre, by getting the actual dudes we were sampling into the studio to jam over hip hop beats with some of the top vocalists of the time. You know, the whole thing was experimental, but I knew it was an idea that would spawn some historic music. So, though everyone at first was like âWhere does it fit in?â, I was like âIt doesnât NEED to fit in! It fits in with ITSELF!â⦠And thatâs how it became a leader, in terms of influencing other things. Because, as it evolved, I was able to add elements of R&B, soul, funk, reggae, rap - all on to the original base of hip hop and jazz.â

Meanwhile last year interestingly saw Guru and Solar re-energising the Jazzmatazz legacy by taking the whole concept to new, more youth-oriented territory with the release of their first Jazzmatazz Mixtape - âGuruâs Jazzmatazz: The Timebomb/Back To The Futureâ: âWell, the idea behind the mixtape was to bring the Jazzmatazz concept to the underground heads, so to speakâ, reveals Guru: âWhich is why we got on board some of the up-and-coming, younger-generation lyricists in hip hop who are really spitting some very thoughtful lyrics. You know, it was Solarâs idea to do it this way - and itâs turned out to be the first release of its type to have a successful world tour.â

âYeah, the fact is itâs bringing the family TOGETHERâ, adds an enthusiastic Solar: âYou know, early on in Guruâs career, EMI Records marketed Jazzmatazz and GangStarr as two totally different entities, and so the fan-bases were completely SEPARATE. Whereas at 7 Grand we see no point in separating the two. So the Mixtape basically represents the Jazzmatazz street record for the kids. And, since we put it out, weâve seen that concept starting to really take hold. Because some of the concerts weâve done have been truly phenomenal. Like we did a show in Mexico City to a crowd of 2,000 kids where their average age was like 15/16; we did some shows in Sweden, where two kids of like 14/15 stayed in the hotel lobby ALL NIGHT just waiting for Guru & Solar to come and sign autographs and take pictures... And all of that to me represents a good look all-round for 7 Grand! I mean, to me we do the best hip hop/jazz show on Planet Earth! And Iâd defy ANYONE to try and say anything different!â

Editors footnote...

Guru - A ground breaking Hip Hop legend who will be remembered for his outstanding contribution to to his art. Jazzmatazz and GangStarr will, in the main, define this brave rap innovator, who wasn't afraid to take chances cross-pollenating genres to great critical acclaim - RIP Guru, your spirit will live on and on... and on through your music.

From Jazz Funk & Fusion To Acid Jazz
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