When Guru’s name is enunciated from knowing hip-hop lips, one undoubtedly associates the Boston MC with the time he invested erecting Gangstarr’s appreciated longevity. His monotone, yet metaphoric delivery mixed with DJ Premier’s uncanny production created a sublime amalgamation of classic records. “You Know My Steez”, “Skillz”, and “Mass Appeal” are a lasting testament of Gangstarr’s genius. That greatness is built upon the timeless principles of street knowledge, intellect, and spiritually.
As Guru evolves, so has his sound. He expounds, “We’re taking those principles of Gangstarr to new heights. Gangstarr is really enduring; it’s just changing forms. At the same time, music itself — classic music — is never going to die. That was classic music, but there’s more classic music to come.” Looking to the future, the confidence that he’s entrusted in Solar (not to be confused with the Parisian MC) is evident. 7 Grand Records, the imprint created by the two, is amassing worldwide acclaim.
If music is the universal language, then Solar is well versed in its dialect. Even though Solar has collaborated with hip-hop’s best, he has yet to shatter the obscure stigma that surrounds him with the American public. Angst-filled American eyes witness the ongoing partnership between Guru and Solar, but they have yet to fully embrace the beatsmith. “I can remember back then when we weren’t appreciated like we should have been. That’s fine because a lot of my music is ahead of its time. What we’re doing at 7 Grand right now is ahead of its time. It’s time for America to catch up,” contends a mystified Guru. Solar interjects, “At the end of the day we’re artists. Anybody who loves music will understand everything we’re saying; just listen to our records.” Let’s see if the music speaks for itself.
BallerStatus.com: Guru, being that you spent many formative years in New York, do you feel that being immersed in that environment helped to develop your lyricism?
Guru: New York has everything to do with my lyricism. Growing up on the streets of Boston, they prepared me a bit, for New York. It was a much smaller environment, so you got … they got the black ghetto there, but it’s smaller. New York was a lot larger scale. New York had the pulse of hip-hop running through it. So, New York was a huge influence on me lyrically.
BallerStatus.com: Solar, has being from New York impacted your production, seeing as there are so many genres of music that’s readily available.
Solar: … Of course, yes, I’m a thoroughbred New Yorker. I grew up in the culture. It’s for me, not only as a producer, but as a man. There are so many different things about the hip-hop culture that hasn’t been seen or that hasn’t been brought out — or has been overshadowed by other situations. Yes, it most certainly has influenced my production … also my rhythm and my writing.
BallerStatus.com: Guru, a lot of people will always associate you with Gangstarr. What’s the difference between Gangstarr breaking up and it no longer existing?
Guru: A band is not going to exist forever. Music is timeless. Whereever I go, Gangstarr moves with me. It’s in me. I created it, I founded it. I put it together. It evolves with me; that’s the difference. And the Gangstarr breaking up, that’s just that version of Gangstarr. But Gangstarr is forever.
In Boston I was Gangstarr. I performed in Boston and then I took Gangstarr to New York with $1,500, a duffle bag, and a dream. I got a record deal on an independent label called Wild Pitch. I started putting out Gangstarr singles on Wild Pitch before I discovered my ex-DJ (DJ Premier). So, I was Gangstarr before he came into the group. After I discovered him, we did some classic records. I’ve moved on to do incredible things with 7 Grand Records and Solar.
Solar: A perfect example would be Jazzmataz 4. Everybody accounted different accounts than Jazzmatazz 3. It didn’t sell well. It didn’t get as much recognition as it should have. It didn’t do as well as compared to other records of that genre. It was pretty much … it was a major label bust. So, we put out Jazzmatazz 4 on 7 Grand, and it’s respected as a worldwide success. We did it independently, which is unbelievable, that we can make a record that can compare or even be better than other Jazzmatazz’ and still keep the franchise alive. At the same time, it can catapult us to the #1 hip-hop and Jazz act on the planet, right now.
BallerStatus.com: As any genre of music continues to grow, it will undergo different stages of its development. What stage of hip-hop are we experiencing? Are these just temporary growing pains?
Guru: Definitely, these are just temporary growing pains. We’ve seen the different changes in hip-hop, in the culture — the different evolutions of it, growing over the years. Right now, we’re going through another one, but it’s necessary…
Instead of just coming with some more complaints, or citing more problems, we came with some music. The music is a solution in itself. That’s what 7 Grand is about. It’s not about complaining or talking a bunch of smack, we’re about action, we’re about bringing forth good positive music that has that street credibility, that real hip-hop for ’09.
BallerStatus.com: For the record, what’s your personal definition of real hip-hop? What exactly is your perception of Southern Hip-Hop?
Solar: I think that was a question that was misdirected at Guru. I was the one who was speaking on Southern Hip-Hop and its relation to real hip-hop, or hip-hop, how it was originally created. There’s been a lot of confusion as to who originated the statement. Just so that you know, so that your notes reflect that, that wasn’t a Guru statement. That was a Solar statement.
Guru: …Real hip-hop is always going to be connected to New York, because it always going to be connected to the root. If there’s not connection to the root, then there’s no knowledge of the history, then you just have just a hybrid. So, real hip-hop has to be connected to the root. I’ll say this: you can’t go back, instead of going back, we go back to the future. That’s the theme that we’re working with. So, you can hold onto those principles that stand out to me, such as, originality: meaning no biting, meaning that if you sound like someone else you’re wack. Be yourself; the list goes on. Those are the things that we hold onto. At the same time, we embrace the digital future, the virtual future.
BallerStatus.com: Solar, I want your opinion as well.
Solar: Hip-hop has all different types of things built into it that are essential for it to continue to grow. If there’s going to be growing pains, there has to be hip-hop growth. In order for there to be growing pains, it has to come from hip-hop in particular. There [is] music and culture music that, that I’m not going to consider, and I don’t consider to be real hip-hop. Not just because it’s new. There’s plenty of real music that I consider to be real hip-hop. It’s because it’s varied so far from what hip-hop originally was just to make a few millions.
Hip-hop was born in that culture itself, and all of this was there. If we listened to any form of hip-hop, even up to the “golden era of the ’90s,” you still had that expression of what was going on in your community. Chuck D said, “Hip-hop music was CNN.” I couldn’t agree anymore. KRS said, “It’s a means to reinstate the power to educate, to bring about social change.” I.E., the Stop The Violence Movement. I could go on and on. I’ll cut it short.
BallerStatus.com: When did hip-hop’s focus shift from the artistry and creativity to becoming a number’s game? Has hip-hop has sold its soul?
Guru: As it became more popular, more mainstream, when big business got involved, it got [more] corporate. Then they started having people who are not from the culture start to manipulate it for their own purposes. Our title track, “Lost & Found,” speaks on things like that. That’s what happened. When you get artists, some of these are great artists, when you get them preoccupied with doing things connected with their personal live to get publicity to sell their records, or whatever — a lot of that works, but you stray away from the music and the culture…
Solar: What we have is greed. How do we control greed? Then there’s a lack of education of the young hip-hop consumer. Even though, what 7 Grand Records is, I don’t believe that they understand that a label like ourselves is essentially to keep us in the gate. We’re the ones keeping this alive right now. We’re not the only ones of course, but I’m saying on a worldwide level, we’re very influential in fighting that the real vision of real hip-hop can exist. The corporate machine as it is related to Guru and Solar, I think our intelligent listener’s and reader’s can read between the lines…
Guru: From my Gangstarr days, I’ve had plenty or opportunities to “sell out”, never have [and I] never will. This is coming from two men who are deeply rooted, I would say immersed, in the culture, in the art form. We’re doing this definitely for the love.
Solar: We are artists and we are completely committed to the art of hip-hop and music making and emceeing. Many times people have said to Guru and myself, like it or not, we’re leaders in this thing right now.
BallerStatus.com: You guys initially teamed up in 2004 to create your imprint, 7 Grand Records, as of right now do you have any other artists signed?
Guru: K-Born and Highpower are a two man group. I’ve always liked two man groups. I’ve always thought that two men that can do their thing is hot. These dudes are some of the best. They’re out of Philadelphia. They’re spitting that raw street intelligence that’s really needed right now. They bounce off of each other brilliantly. They don’t sound alike, they don’t flow alike, but they flow complementary. Their voices are complementary to one another.
They’re on a track called “When They Least Expect” [and] they’re on a track called “Read Between The Lines” with Solar. They’re also on a track called “6 Cipher.” Solar is currently working on their album. We definitely believe in them. They definitely have what it takes.
BallerStatus.com: From a producer’s perspective, is there a difference between one who creates a beat and one who samples an established beat?
Solar: Yeah, there are differences, in terms of the processes, for sure. At the same time, in my opinion, sampling is not only a great way to pay tribute to the original artists/composers and expose them. We can look at Bob James — I didn’t sample Bob James on Jazzmatazz , that was from an original production. All the music, although reminiscent of his style, to have him add on and play just brought it to the next level. So, you know, it has its place, obviously. In Guru’s Jazzmatazz series, he goes on and on and on about the great artists who have been sampled in the past. It has its place when it’s done properly…
Guru: That’s where you see extreme brilliance in Solar’s repertoire as a producer. He can do both very well. He has the ability to go from such a sophisticated project musically like Jazzmatazz 4 to a raw, contemporary album that sonically peeks competitively with everything that’s out right now, such as Guru 8.0 Lost & Found. That’s brilliance to the extreme in itself, right there. Not to mention, that in a three year period he’s worked with some of the top artists in the world. Everybody from Damian Marley to Jazz cats like Bob Davis and Ronnie Laws, to artists like Bobby Valentino, Slum Village, Black Thought of The Roots, Talib Kweli, B-Real … the list just goes on.
BallerStatus.com: Just for the record, on 8.0, I absolutely loved “After Time.” What you did with Freddie Mercury’s vocals, wow! You are a fool for that; good job.
Solar: To go what with Guru was saying, at the end of the day we’re artists. The music speaks for us. Anybody who loves music will understand everything we’re saying; just listen to our records.
Guru: That’s the track that Solar is making his debut as an MC on. In fact, he did his vocals first on that joint. I heard that joint and I was like, “Well damn, what am I going to write? (laughs)” That’s a track that you picked from my album;, that you vaulted from my album. When I heard that beat, I almost broke my neck. (laughs) What it is — is that again, the versatility — the talent and the love for the art form is there. It’s just going to grow. We take time with this, this is 24/7, this is not like for some, you know, for some hype or some fame.
Solar: With the job of a worldwide record company, there’s a little time for sleep, no time almost for socialization. There’s just minimal time for your people and everything is work; we grind. I think that at the end of the day, the fans of 7 Grand and the ones who are really starting to catch on — we’re selling out our concerts around the world — I think they see that.
BallerStatus.com: Within the last five years or so, has there been any MC to emerge or reemerge that reignited your excitement about hip-hop?
Guru: Well, you know, the MCs that we collaborated with on the Jazzmatzz albums, of course. Anyone that we’ve collaborated with, as far as the reemerging, like I said, B-Real…
BallerStatus.com: B-Real is a good guy; he’s very intelligent and well spoken.
Guru: The LOX have been around. I’ve got a chance to work with Styles P. You know, Talib [Kweli] has been around, I’ve got a chance to work with him [and] Common of course. So, all of those dudes. They’re still kicking the willy bubble, you know, the Method Man and Redman joint. Then you got cats like, I’m digging everybody from Immortal Technique to Drake — to people like, People Under The Stairs, Cyanide [Spit], Common Market, Aycealone, Mr. Lif…
Solar: There’s a lot of appreciation for all good and great music. That’s that.