Thursday, April 22, 2010


Let's go back sometime between 2003 and 2004, a friend of mine had a job at Comedy Central and through a connection there, he got a shot to interview with Dave Chappelle to be a writer's assistant on the "Chappelle's Show."

After spending an appropriate amount of time discussing just how cool the prospect of working on the show was, just how great of a break through it would be for him, and just how amazing it was to be presented with such a great opportunity, we turned towards interview. What would it be like? What would Dave Chappelle ask? What would you say to Dave Chappelle? How can you stop being a fan and be a man who needs a job?

And this eventually went into, "what if he asks me what kind of music I listen to? I mean, I'll say hip-hop, cause that's true, that's what I listen to, but..." Of course the real question was what do you tell Dave Chappelle, as a suburban white kid whose been listening to hip-hop since day one to prove that you are exactly that, a suburban white kid who grew up listening to all styles of hip-hop since you first started listening to music.

And of course, being the over thinking, intellectually lazy white-guilt laced liberal young adults we were (and still are) we felt it was important not to be able to pick a favorite album or artist that fell somewhere in between mainstream popularity and bowels of the hip-hop underground. Something not too obvious but not too obscure. It was easy not to pick something too popular, Juveniles 400 Degrees wasn't gonna make the cut, but the obscure thing was an issue. It was clear that Tim Dog's Penicillin On Wax was just screaming out, "I'M PICKING THIS BECAUSE I WANT YOU TO KNOW VERY CLEARLY THAT I HAVE KNOW A LOT ABOUT THE RAP MUSIC BECAUSE I'VE BEEN LISTENING TO IT FOREVER," but what about his former group The Ultramagnetic MC's Critical Beatdown? Did that say the same thing?

And it hit us (me to be honest) "Moment of Truth." Here was an album perfect for our purposes. Not the biggest seller of all time, and not an I-know-more-about-underground-hip-hop-than-you album either. It's not just a serious contender for best hip-hop album of all time, but a hip-hop litmus test. To own this album said a lot about you and your tastes. (good) And to NOT own it said even more. (moron) It's too bad we never got to test the theory, the interview never happened, my friend went on to find success elsewhere writing screenplays, Chappele went off the air, and Guru died two days ago.

Let's go back to Spring, 1998, when Moment of Truth, the album that proves you know what the fuck you're talking about came out. Back when people still bought cds, there was that special feeling of unwrapping it, putting it in, hearing the first song, and just knowing the whole goddamn album was gonna be spectacular. Similar to feeling you get at 17 years old blasting The Militia till you eardrums bleed while making a right off Green Tree to speed down Jean Nicolet.

Now let's go back to a time when talking and proving just how good a certain rap song was a lot more difficult. In the last ten years, the world at large has accepted hip-hop and gained a lot of knowledge. For all the shit rap you hear, the average dude does know more these days about what makes a good beat, and how a good flow sounds. Back then, it wasn't so easy.

But with Gang Starr things were different. You could talk about them in a far more intellectual way with any level of rap fan. To a casual hip-hop ear, the intricacies of the beat on Above The Clouds. To a hardcore dude, a debate on whether or not The Militia could be considered a posse track. (I've actually witnessed this very debate) And everyone in between can spend years dissecting Guru's flow on DWCK.

Now I'm going back to 2000. Gang Starr came to Madison, Wisconsin and killed it at the Orpheum. It was an odd thing, a one-off show in the middle of nowhere for them, but they came, and set it the fuck off. To this day, it was the single best rap related event I have ever attended. Premier put in work, actually performing duties on the turntables most at that time left for the DAT. Guru never lost his breath, always stayed right on top of the beat, and only had Premier's occasional help as his hypeman. The two of them put on a show, running through their whole catalog with crazy energy without subjecting the crowd to such live hip-hop fuckery as the first-verse only performances of every song you want to hear, nor did we sit through constant instructions on what to do with our hands and what type of noises to make.

Guru wasn't just one half of Gang Starr, and perhaps in his death, he can finally be acknowledged as the brilliant rapper he was in his own right. Noz wrote "...(Guru is) the greatest case against the modern, dogmatic definition of lyrical lyricism. Because Guru’s strength lied not in hot punchlines or clever multi-syllable rhymes but purely in his ability to instill wisdom." I'd go further. Guru's strength as a rapper went far beyond his pure ability to instill wisdom. He was able to instill said wisdom while being displaying amazing feats of "lyrical lyricism." And while his strength didn't start and end with hot punchlines or multi-syllable rhymes, he did both well, instilling wisdom at the same time. Come on, Guru's rhymes were "rhymes were whipped with swift execution/one verse could coerce your girl to prostitution."

And if you look at typical rap song story lines, Guru took them and made them his own. In Take 2 and Pass, he did the unthinkable and wrote an ode to marijuana and getting high with his friends but avoided making it a pot-head style tribute. With "The Militia" he gave us a posse track (or not) that didn't suck, and is still one of the greatest club-bangers to this day. And even as a club-banger, it's still different. Ex Girl To The Next is perhaps the greatest rap song about love, and loving the wrong the girl. "Full Clip" is also the greatest new song to be featured on a greatest compilation by any artist of any genre. And as track one on their greatest hits double album, it also functions as one of the better hip-hop statements of purpose. This is who we are, this is what we do, I'm two magazines fully loaded to your one, plus I ain't gonna quit spitting till you're done.

In the next few days I'll get more in depth on certain specific moments, songs, and what not of Guru's career, I mean I haven't even touched on Jazzmatazz, and kept my Gang Starr talk relating mostly to Moment of Truth just because of the terrible anecdote at the beginning. That being said, if you ever have a chance to work for Dave Chappelle, tell him it's your favorite album.


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