Guru and Solar

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The average career span of an NFL running back is seven seasons, if they’re lucky. The average career span of a successful rapper is two, or if they’re good, three hit records that receive radio airplay. Currently, the average career span for rap producers is grim, as a monopoly – Pharrell, Timberland and Dr Dre – of producers steer the future sounds of hip-hop culture.

It would be easy to raise the white flag and call it quits on hip-hop, but Guru is too young, too strong and too gifted to turn his back on his passion. With the production guidance and business partnership of super-producer, Solar, the rapper and producer duo lead a rap revolution through Seven Grand Records.

Their opinions on hip-hop artist are bleak, leaving little hope for mainstream rap commodities. “They don’t want to be artists, they just want to be millionaires or billionaires, they don’t want to work, they don’t want to suffer. They don’t want do anything that it has been in the past that makes you an artist,” says Solar, adding that Lamborghinis were a luxury he and Guru sacrificed to create music they love.

The two gym toned men may have greater odds at being NFL running backs, instead of musicians in a saturated hip-hop market, but their draft options are not great for men in their 30s. Together, Guru and Solar hit the studio to follow up on 2005’s acclaimed, Guru Version 7.0: The Street Scriptures, by releasing the fourth installment of the Jaszzmatazz series, making Jazzmatazz 4: The Hip-Hop Messenger: Back To The Future.

“I went further back in the history of jazz and found amazing correlations between jazz and hip-hop.”

Format: Please explain how the Guru and Solar working relationship was created.
Guru: Solar and I, we met about six years ago through a mutual friend and we just hit it off instantly, and started hanging out and running through New York. After that I was pretty much telling Solar about my frustrations with the A&R and executives that were trying to tell me how to do my music and messing with my creativity. Solar said, ‘If it’s that bad, Guru, why don’t you start your own label?’ He’s like, ‘You’re an icon, you can do big things with your own label.’ I called him back a few days later and talked to him about it. It was funny, because he was like, ‘I told you to start a label, I didn’t say I wanted to,’ but, eventually, I tried to persuade him and he agreed to do it. We put things together. We put Seven Grand Records together and released our first release in 2005, Guru Version 7.0: The Street Scriptures, which did over 100,000 units worldwide, and still counting. It enabled us to lock down the major distribution that we have now.

“the previous Jazzmatazz albums had elements of hip-hop, jazz, soul and reggae, but for this one, Solar brought in rock, folk and he takes it to the next level”

Format: What challenges were there in making Jazzmatazz 4: The Hip-Hop Messenger: Back To The Future?
Solar: The challenge for me was to be able to feel that I could bring a new chapter to the three previous ones. Knowing that Guru wanted me to produce the whole album, I knew that I had to sit down and do my homework and see where I was creatively, if I could get a whole angle on bringing a new chapter to it. What I did, is I looked back at all the three previous Jazzmatazz albums, but then I listened and I really thought what is jazz, what is jazz itself? I went further back in the history of jazz and found amazing correlations between jazz and hip-hop. Both were formed in Harlem, both were sub-cultures, both evolved into lifestyles and music, both were considered an underground culture and both spread from New York to Europe, which gave them a worldwide credibility. Musically, I tuned in for me, because of the freedom of jazz. Jazz is the opposite of what I thought it was, elitist and exclusionary, when, in fact, it was not elitist. I think Jazzmatazz 4 is a fusion, hip-hop fused with different elements of modern music, but a lot of those elements are directly traced back to jazz. The inspiration flowed in and I shared this with Guru and you hear it on the album, you hear all kinds of different fusions, of course, the core being hip-hop New York style.

Guru: For me, the challenges were lyrically taking it to the next level and by me having a partnership with super-producer, Solar. What Solar brings to the table, musically, pushes me lyrically to the next level. The previous Jazzmatazz albums had elements of hip-hop, jazz, soul and reggae, but for this one, Solar brought in rock, folk and he takes it to the next level – I’m very confident we’ve done that. To me this is the best one.

Solar: Speaking on the actual songs, when you hear what Guru was writing and the features that Guru was the architect of, most people don’t realize that Jazzmatazz is the forefather of a whole genre of music, jazz-hip-hop. Guru’s ability to bring artists together is magical. The diversity of artists from Damian Marley to David Sanborn, it’s just ridiculous. That’s one of Guru’s brilliant aspects that only shines on Jazzmatazz, this is not something you see on the Gang Starr work or his other work, it’s strictly a Jazzmatazz legacy and Guru’s passion.

Guru: A star studded event!

Solar: It’s a talented event. I’ve heard tones of albums that have a lot of great stars that don’t reach, they don’t stretch, they just give radio fucking ga-ga, radio garbage. On this album you hear artists stretching. You hear Caron Wheeler singing the best I’ve ever heard her sing and I’m a fan. Damian Marley, nobody has ever heard Damian Marley at 115 BPM, you wouldn’t even think he was from Jamrock, which was like 70-something BPM.

Guru: Even Bobby Valentino, he brought more soul to the record he did with us than he does on his own stuff. He really went all out. Everybody on the album gave 110 per cent.

“We’re in an era of manufactured beats, it’s not organic like it used to be.”

Format: In your opinions, why are major labels albums not releasing albums like the Jazzmatazzseries, in turn, leaving artists only the option of creating their own label?
Guru: We’re in an era of manufactured beats, it’s not organic like it used to be.

Solar: There was a time, when we first started out with Street Scriptures, and went and sat down with the big dogs, and we had some really good material. Basically, what they said, in a nutshell, ‘Why don’t we put you with Pharrell so you can drop it like it’s hot, or we can put you with Storch and you can lean back?’ This was in 2005, when Street Scriptures came out. Nothing against Pharrell or Storch, Guru knows both of them and certainly worked with Pharrell, and these are great producers, but that was not the vision that Guru was bringing forward. The vision was that New York hip-hop is not dead, listen to what Solar is doing, Solar has a new sound, this is some shit that will bring it back. They had no interest in that. They had no interest in doing anything more than what would be commercially successful.

Guru: Ah, there it is.

Solar: Then we had to go independent. We formed our whole package and we enjoyed it, it was a struggle, but the people we tapped – Talib Kweli, B.Real and Jean Grae – we really tough Street Scriptures had an impact, and it did. The first song off of Street Scriptures is in the score of the new movie Red Line, it’s coming out with Eddie Griffith, next week. The music was there, we knew it was there from the door. We didn’t make a whole lot of money with it, 100,000 copies independent, we broke even and made a little money, but nothing to drive Lamborghinis or Ferraris over. We felt good about the album, but at the same time we felt bad about hip-hop, about music and that pushed us further. At first, I thought it was corporations, but two years, three years down the line, it’s the artists. They don’t want to be artists, they just want to be millionaires or billionaires, they don’t want to work, they don’t want to suffer. They don’t want do anything that it has been in the past that makes you an artist.

Guru: There it is. Solar often says that a true artist is not even just into music; they struggle for their art. You won’t find it unless you come over here to Seven Grand.

Solar: Unless I sit here and lie! I’m not a poor man, when Guru met me I was well off. I could have easily of fronted, but I don’t. I’d say I’ve done more suffering in these last couple years over music than I have for a large chunk of my life. To be passionate about something and love it and see it be hurt and damaged makes you want to come its defense.

“Basically, what they said, in a nutshell, ‘Why don’t we put you with Pharrell so you can drop it like it’s hot, or we can put you with Storch and you can lean back?’”

Format: On Jazzmatazz 4, the song “Fine and Free” uses Jackie Mittoo’s “Summer Breeze” as a sample, Solar, was your production process influenced by old soul, jazz and reggae albums, specifically for Jazzmatazz 4?
Solar: That particular song – I always thought it was funny, because Guru said, later, that people said that to him. I always thought how much we heard Guru over samples and being that I am able to compose, arrange and bring my own take to arrangements, I wanted to do that with Guru. I wanted to see what he sounded like with a new take on the track, not only him, but with world class singers. That particular track is one of our more spiritual songs, because at the end of the day you have to be able to recharge. “Summer Breeze” is a song that I’ve always loved. Even now, to this moment, the original always takes me somewhere else. And I admire it, enjoy it, so I wanted to do it. An idea came to me. I don’t really know how to explain the process.

Guru: The hottest new, complete producer in the game, that’s what’s up with Solar. For me it’s been an honor to work with his genius. He’s pushing me to lyrical heights.

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Format: Guru, you’re a rap veteran, how do you stay fresh and when you rap on a Jazzmatazz albums, are you rapping differently than you would on past or future records that are not Jazzmatazz album?
Guru: How I stay crispy is my love for the art, my love for the culture and that I put my experiences, my day to day life experiences and life struggle, I put that right on the wax, right on the CD. When I get the tracks from Solar, they inspire me to do that. Working with him takes me, lyrically, to the next level and I’ve been going through so much since my last record that it just flowed and it’s like therapy.

Solar: Guru’s always been creative and has always written great songs, there is no question about that. I’m a fan of Jazzmatazz and Gang Starr work. But example, go back to his last album outside of his Jazzmatazz stuff and then you listen Street Scriptures, you hear a much more varied approach to his songs. He’s coming at each song from a different angle and he’s approaching it with a different reverence, a different feel. That I attribute to what Guru is saying, in a relationship with any great artist like Guru’s stature you have to inspire him. That’s my job as a producer.

Guru: Yeah man, keep it tight to your chest, man, hold it up, hold it up! There is no comparison to what we’re doing right now. We’re in a class by ourselves and that’s what we aimed to be. In that respect I’m confident. This album is blazed out. Nothing can come close to this album.

“At first, I thought it was corporations, but two years, three years down the line, it’s the artists. They don’t want to be artists, they just want to be millionaires or billionaires, they don’t want to work, they don’t want to suffer.”

Format: The cover artwork for the Jazzmatazz series usually resembles an old Blue Note jazz album cover. Do you hire the same art director for the Jazzmatazz cover artworks?
Guru: Actually, it’s been different art directors that we worked with, but really, we do it ourselves. It’s in accordance with the concept of different generations coming together, so the artwork reflects the same concept of the music. You have some of the historical elements combined with contemporary elements.

Format: Did either of you listen to jazz while growing up?
Guru: I listened to a lot growing up and I had influences from my god father, my father and since then I’ve still been listening. Donald Byrd is one of my favorites. He was like a mentor to me and as far as Jazzmatazz, he’s the one I talked to first about the whole concept.

Solar: What’s interesting to me, for hip-hop heads, more of you are listening to jazz than you even know, because you can’t have modern music without jazz and certainly you don’t have hip-hop without jazz. Jazz is a precursor to modern music that we have now.

“you can’t have modern music without jazz and certainly you don’t have hip-hop without jazz.”

Format: In the last four to seven years, the majority of rappers are not stimulating imagery with their lyrics, in respect to using rap to tell a story, why is that?
Guru: It goes back to what Solar was saying, it really starts with the artist. The artists are not demanding enough from themselves.

Solar: Let’s look at this from another angle. Sanjaya is the biggest thing on American Idol, so he’s the next big star, but I know more about his hair than his pipes, how well he sings. This is literally going to come down to – almost like it has to run its course and I guess this is the course it’s going.

Guru: Just like a virus, it has to run its course and contain it.

Format: In late 2006 and for most of 2007, the hip-hop media buzz is hip-hop is dead. What are your thoughts on hip-hop’s status?
Guru: I don’t feel it’s dead. We have a mixtape out right now that’s hitting the streets on April 15. It’s called Guru’s Jazzmatazz Back to the Future. We have a song with Aceyalone and he says, ‘Hip-hip isn’t dead, it’s in a new renascence.’ That term is relative, of course it’s provocative, but it isn’t dead at Seven Grand.

Jordan Chalifoux

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4 comments

  1. Wow, if you ask me to put money on the table,I would have bet it all that this was going to be a “wack” (just dated myself)compostion of obviously Premo-less tracks. Although I am a fan of Premiere for life, please forgive me for sleeping on The Guru. I won’t make that mistake again.

    These three strategically offered samples chase away thoughts of the skeptic. “The Living Legend” Takes me back to the quality of the first Gangstarr album. Great work!!! Welcome aboard Solar!

    Peace,

    JNESS

  2. Seattle Hip Hop says:

    We still rep for guru even though he lost his edge. Just funny hearing solar speak about himself in 3rd person. He must have a lot to prove. poor guy.

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