Guru and Solar: Hip Hop Pharmacists

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“Real Hip Hop’s been lost but now it’s found right here,” Guru recently declared in a London hotel room. The rapper, made legendary for his work alongside DJ Premier as the wordsmith of Hip Hop duo Gang Starr, was back in town “on a global grind” with producer and business partner Solar to promote their latest work together on 7 Grand Records; Guru 8.0: Lost and Found, which features Solar on the mic for the first time. I last spoke to the pair in the summer of 2007, when it was clear the duo were on a mission to shake up the impact of ‘intelligent’ independent Hip Hop. Catching up two years on, their path hasn’t changed… But has the climate?

“When you talked to us last time [click to read] we had completed our second project together, which was Jazzmatazz, Vol. 4. There has been a lot popping since then but that album was definitely a key manoeuvre for 7 Grand Records – myself and Solar – because it reinvigorated the Jazzmatazz franchise,” Guru tells me.

“We had some really great artists on there and we put it all together ourselves without a big major corporation behind us or anything and you’re talking about a star-studded affair – we had Common, Bob James, Damian Marley, Kem, Raheem Devaughn, Omar, Caron Wheeler, Dionne Farris, Blackalicious, Slum Village, Bobby Valentino – the list goes on. For us to put such a culmination of great artists together like that on our own was something that definitely made us proud.”

Producer Solar, who also recently began lending his flow to Guru’s albums, adds, “The fact that we were able to stay in business from that time to now and we’ve seen the music industry take a serious beating in the three years and this has been the most brutal for sales. Even in such a tough environment we’re growing and thriving and so far this album is setting up the fastest of any album that we’ve released… The fact is: we’re not a major label, we don’t have that kind of money, so we don’t approach our process of releasing records the same way. We release our records in a very organic sense… We don’t make our music to reach a mass audience, we make our music for the smaller audience who sets the real trends…”

guru-solar-picture1“We’ve heard Talib Kweli say that Hip Hop is dead, we’ve heard Nas write the epitaph for Hip Hop Is Dead, we heard Jay-Z after him [say] there’d be no more, so we’ll accept that Hip Hop is dead – but we won’t believe that it can’t be brought back to life, that it can’t be resurrected so to speak that it can’t be put back where it needs to be – and [we] are endeavouring to do just that; to keep it alive, to keep real Hip Hop futuristic and keep it relevant… That’s the long and short of what’s been going on since the last time we saw you.”

The key word there being futuristic, according to Guru – “because a lot of people when they talk about real Hip Hop, they tend to think that you gotta go back.” Guru knows this more than most – though his post-Gang Starr releases have been met with critical acclaim, many die hard Gang Starr fans want nothing more than to hear Guru back with Premo, recording that ‘classic’ material – or something that closely resembles it. But he insists, “We’re not going back, there’s no time machines.”

“That era was a great era, the golden era, but then the bling era came and the golden area was outta here. Now we have a situation where we made a real Hip Hop record for ‘09 – not a real Hip Hop record for 2000, not for ‘95, but for ‘09. So it’s got principles and elements of those classic eras and things that make you feel that energy but at the same time it has the progressive, futuristic stylings of really polished production that Solar is a master of, of the top producers that are out in the game right now – and then you have of course the veteran voice. With the challenges that he gives me musically, I’m taking my lyrical ability and concepts to new heights.”

It’s a popular phrase bandied about, but do the duo really believe Hip Hop is dead? “On a general level,” Guru responds, “what’s being pushed and put in the mainstream is not really even hip hop. So of course as an intelligent listener I dig and I find…”

Solar concedes, “I think it’s not dead but it’s really getting the shit kicked out of it right now. Any time you take more from anything than you give or put back, it’s gonna die. If you have a tree or plant and you’re just constantly taking from it and you don’t put any water and you don’t put any fertiliser in it, it’s gonna die. But it doesn’t mean that plant won’t come back again next year and give you plenty of fruit. So we see it as we’re the pharmacists, we’re the ones cultivating a younger generation, a very intelligent generation.”

Guru 8.0: Lost and Found is out now on 7 Grand Records.

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Marsha Gosho Oakes

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