GURU

Interview by Jeff Wiesner.
Photographs by Ben Harris, BSK.

The new Guru album - “Baldhead Slick and the Click” - is not the Guru of Gangstarr, it isn’t the Guru of Jazzmatazz. In addition to unlimited rhymes, Guru has unlimited styles. From running with drug dealers and stick-up kids to having a son of his own, many influences have shaped his music over the years.

DN: You grew up in Boston, right? I lived in Boston for a few years. Where did you like to hang out in Boston?

Guru: We used to always go to the clubs on Lansdowne, they still got a couple of hip hop clubs down there. As far as the hoods, you know – Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan – those were my stomping grounds. Jamaica Plain, Hyde Park, all of that. It looks a lot different from when I was growing up there.
Oh, they actually gave me a proclamation note – Boston. It was ill. The city council. They were giving me ups for my work with the youths and positive lyrics and, y’know, the fact that I ventured out from Boston and made it in the music business. It was nice to get that kind of recognition from the hometown. Things like that I can’t put a monetary value on cos that’s like real love from the home and that feels good.

How does making music now compare to when you first started out? Now you’re more established. You’ve got the albums, you’ve got the singles, you’ve got the respect –

Now I’ve got to get the loot. Now I want the money bags! [Laughs] It’s not a game. I’ve got a kid. I’m a father. 15 month old, beautiful little boy. His name is Keith Kaseem. Premier is his godfather.
We came into this game at a time when it was for the love. And we’ve still got that same love and intensity, that same hunger because I think also because we got jerked. A couple times. And instead of staying frustrated, we kept it moving and turned the frustration into more good music.
We came into the game at a time when everyone was signed to a major and that was the biggest thing. And now it’s independent stuff kickin’ off. So that’s kinda what this “Baldhead Slick and the Click” album repre-sents: my chance to put something out there on the independent tip.

With your album titles, you went from the last one, “Moment of Truth,” a title that seems to have a profound meaning and points to a larger idea, and then to this next album “Baldhead Slick and the Click,” it’s more focused on you and your crew. Is that what you’re trying to emphasize with this album?

Ill Kid Records [Guru’s label] has always been this tool that I use to get my artists out. I always wanted to do something like this, but I wanted to learn more about the biz, to cut out the middle man and to have ownership and control. That’s kinda the key things that I’m focused on now. Gangstarr is still on a major, but the audience there is kinda built-in. Eventually, maybe it will be Gangstarr Records or some company that me and Premier come up with.

I read that with Jazzmatazz you’re focused on a more inclusive audience. Now that you have a kid, is that going to influence your music overall – that you’re trying to have a wider audience?

On “Streetsoul,” I had a “Parental Advisory” sticker. That’s why I called it “Streetsoul” [and not “Jazzma-tazz”]. My objective with “Streetsoul” was to bring the audiences closer, the Jazzmatazz and the Gangstarr audiences.
I’m a versatile MC. I’m not some type of MC that you can say “Well, Guru’s like this.” I have mad abil-ities. That’s why the name is “Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal.” My mental and my spiritual is vast. It’s not just on one level. There are aspects of me that are more sophisticated and mature. That’s what Jazzmatazz is.
Gangstarr is the whole scheme. That’s what’s in my heart and soul, every minute of the day. That’s what makes my blood pump through my veins. That’s my family, my child, my tight ass Gangstarr friendships. That’s a one-on-one dialogue with the urban youth, the funky ass beats with scratches.
I did Jazzmatazz because I didn’t want people to keep calling Gangstarr “jazz-rap.” I knew that if we were going to be labelled as jazz rap, the career wasn’t going to last that long.
I did Jazzmatazz to kinda protect Gangstarr and also to take it to the next level and get those actual jazz cats that we sampled to work with hip-hop. And also to let the older people know that hip-hop is not just some violent noise, and to let younger people know more about their culture. It’s also like, these [jazz musicians] are people who admire what I have done in my career, and what I’ve done with Premier and so forth, and these are people whose music I love. So it’s a chance to work with somebody in a mutual respect situation. It’s always fun to create with somebody who has love for you and you’ve got for them. That’s the only way that I would do it.
It’s the same with the “Baldhead Slick.” That’s my people. It’s just grimy, the grimy cats. Growin up in Boston, I went from runnin with drug dealer cats and stick-up kid cats, to runnin with cats that was pimpin. I was exposed to a lot of that. All of those things come into building my character besides coming from a good family, a strong family, working as a case worker for foster kids, and working in a maximum detention home for juvenile offenders. From running with the wrong crowd and wilin’ out and hurting my family, going to court a lot, to runnin with straight intellectuals. This is the thing I want young people to know: Don’t put all your chips in one basket, so to speak, because you’ve got to have versatility. You’ve got to be able to do a couple of different things. Gangstarr represents street knowledge, intellect and spirituality. Those three things are like a survival kit right there.

Looking back on the experiences that you’ve had, what would you say is the most rewarding part about being in your industry in the position that you have? Is it being able to work with the individuals who you respect? Being able to communicate a message and have an audience to say it to? Or is it influencing other people?

I think it’s all of those. All of those make me feel real good. And also having a job I enjoy. That’s the greatest thing right there. I get stressed, but then I’m grateful as hell cos I could be doing something that I hate, like a lot of these other people who look miserable every day. At the end of the day, it’s a blessing. That’s a good feeling, and that’s something that I can pass on to my son and feel proud about.

One last question, moving off of the topic of music for a second. These days you can’t turn on a radio or television set without hearing about what happened in New York and the World Trade Center. I know you have Muslim influence – I don’t know if you’re Muslim yourself, but I was wondering what your opinion is on these events. Do you think it’s doing more to bring us together or tear us apart?

My parents are Christian, my cousins on one side are all into the Nation of Islam, followers of Elijah Muhammad and Minister Farrakhan, and a lot of my boys in New York and around the U.S. are Five Percenters, I have my sister and a couple of friends – Herbie Hancock, he’s a Buddhist – who I’m close too, and then in college when I went to Moorehouse, I majored in business, but I minored in philosophy and religion so I studied a lot about different religions. I have Rastafarian friends, I have Jewish friends, and one thing I know is that religion can easily be used to separate people, just like race and creed. That’s what’s going on. Even amongst religion, you have people who are all different sects of one religion. That’s the problem.
These guys, these terrorists, remind me of the Ku Klux Klan who used to use the bible to do their evil deeds. Those are the two ends of the spectrum, but it’s crazy like that. For me, it’s a wake-up call, and it should be a wake-up call to America to keep its backyard tight. To go over there, and always try to jump into somebody else’s business in their countries, and yeah you try to bring peace, but you bring peace through military action.
There is a unifying element going on in New York, which is good. But why does it always take a tragedy to happen for a family or community of people to come together? That’s wack. And that’s been going on forever. Like my neighbors, where I moved to in New Jersey, they didn’t even speak to me. They’re like, oh, that’s the rapper cat. And they all knew, and I don’t even know how they knew. And now they speak. Now they’re like, oh, well is everybody all right? And how’s your son? I didn’t even know they knew I had a son, cos they don’t even speak. After this, everybody wants to be friendly, so it’s interesting.

Alright, cool.

Thanks, that was hot.