Gangstarr are legends in the hip-hop nation. From the militant yet funky 'Manifest' to the ambient yet jazzy album 'Hard To Earn', Guru and DJ Premier have not only been a successful hip-hop group but Gangstarr is one of the most respected hip-hop groups ever to move a crowd. DJ Premier is probably the most respected producer in hip-hop today. Besides doing all of the production for Gangstarr, he has produced for Notorious BIG, Common, Jadakiss, Jay-Z, and D'Angelo. Guru's monotone flow and jazzy delivery always mixed spirituality with street knowledge.
Guru has worked with a myriad of people ranging from House Of Pain to Issac Hayes to Donald Byrd to Dee-Lite to M.O.P. to The Roots. Since their last album 'The Moment Of Truth', Guru has worked with soulful singers like Erykah Badu, Issac Hayes, Bilal, and Herbie Hancock on his 3rd Jazzmatazz album: 'Jazzmatazz Streetsoul' while making an all rugged hip-hop solo compilation album 'Bald Head Slick And The Click' with producers like Pete Rock and The Alchemist and artists like Killah Priest and Ice-T.
Finally, Gangstarr has returned with their next full-length LP since 1998. "The Ownerz" is one of the most highly anticipated hip-hop albums to come out in the last couple of years. With guests like Snoop Dogg, Jadakiss, Krumbsnatcha, Fat Joe, Freddie Foxx, and M.O.P., fans cannot wait to hear Guru collaborate and shine with the guests over Premier's hard-hitting boom bap beats. It is obvious that Guru is an extremely busy man. With only 15 minutes to conduct the interview, I had a quick conversation with Guru, the one and only emcee to consistently rock the mic over Premier's incredible beats. I had so many questions to ask him and so little time. Still, it was an honor. Gangstarr are the owners of everything true hip-hop fans love about hardcore hip-hop!
MVRemix: What goes on? How are you doing?
Guru: What's up Todd? How are you, sir? I'm real good, man. The album is finally finished!
MVRemix: It took a while. 'Moment Of Truth' came out in 1998, right?
Guru: Yeah. This is our first album since then. I did a lot of stuff though. I put out Jazzmatazz Streetsoul and Bald Head Slick album. I did a lot of touring in between. Premier was producing a lot of stuff. Premo was in the studio mixing last night until 8 in the morning!
MVRemix: The new Gangstarr album is called 'The Ownerz'. Why did you call it that?
Guru: That's a good question. People are renting and leasing hip-hop. They are trying to get their little thing. They are exploiting the game. They are trying to actually hustle the culture. That is something that you can't do. That will always backfire on you. So, when it's time to turn that 2003 model that you rented, it's too bad. Now, you're walking again. Now, you're taking the train again. Now, you're taking the bus again. You know? With us, we don't have to give anything back because we never borrowed anything. We are self-contained. We own our sh*t.
MVRemix: Who are the guests on 'The Owners'?
Guru: We've got everybody. Jadakiss, Snoop, Krumbsnatcha, and more.
MVRemix: Tell us about the Jadakiss collaboration.
Guru: The next single and video we have coming out features Jadakiss. It's one of my favorites. It's a song called 'Rite Where U Stand'. It's just a straight battle rhyme. We did the video like the movie 'Fight Club'. You see Premier collecting money from everybody while you see Jadakiss and I just ripping this guy up. He ends up disintegrating because our rhymes are ill. Jadakiss and I rhyme him to death. We rhyme basically until his head pops off. I like that one a lot.
MVRemix: You have a song called 'Nice Girl, Wrong Place'. What's that about?
Guru: The double-A side to that one is called 'Nice Girl, Wrong Place' which is kind of like the new millennium version of 'Ex-Girl To The Next Girl'. It's for the ladies and we did a video for that one as well. It's about a situation where you may meet a girl in a strip club who really has her head together and you ask 'What are you doing here?' Or, you may meet a girl in a diner who is trying to be an actress. In New York, you'll see that a lot. Most waitresses or bartenders really want to be someone else.
MVRemix: What was the collaboration with Snoop Dogg like called 'In This Life'?
Guru: We have Snoop on a joint called 'In This Life' and it's a real serious joint. Usually, people have Snoop on party joints and joints about girls. This song is more about the rap game and the peaks and valleys of life in general. That one is hot.
MVRemix: Who else is on the album?
Guru: We have Krumbsnatcha on a joint called 'Put Up Or Shut Up'. We have Bumpy Knuckles aka Freddie Foxxx and Big Shug on 'The Militia Part III', which is also called 'Capture'. That joint is sick! We got M.O.P. and Fat Joe on a joint called 'Who Got Guns?' That one is not advocating gunplay but more about the mind-state of people in America and our point of view towards the situation. Then, we have another song with NYG'z and Hannibal Stax called 'Same Team, No Games' and I think the title of that one speaks for itself. Even though we all sound different, we're all playing for the same team.
MVRemix: What are some of your other favorite songs on the album?
Guru: We have a song called 'Riot Act' that is pretty political. It's about economic empowerment and urban people. It's about teaching the babies correctly and realizing that we are about to be living in a military state. Then, we have a song like 'Deadly Habits' that is real jazzy. It's a real Gangstarr jazz out track where I comment on my own deadly habits of the past. I quit drinking 2 months ago. I reflect back on when I used to drink and the crazy sh*t I used to do. Then, there are the deadly habits of the people in the industry and America's deadly habits. Then, there's a song called 'Peace Of Mind' and it is about how for me, rapping is like therapy. For me and Premier, doing music gives us peace of mind. We have one called 'The Ownerz', which is about what we represent and how we are putting it down and how we ain't going anywhere. The scratch pattern is crazy. It's a real ill Gangstarr joint. We have one called 'Play To Win' that's kind of like 'Full Clip'. It has a vibe like that. We have 17 total joints.
MVRemix: I hear that you always get asked about new school vs. old school and you have been in both schools. Do you care to comment on you rhyme style?
Guru: I always get asked about the new school versus the old school and my place in it. People that don't know how to listen to hip-hop will probably tell you that I sound the same but anybody that knows rhyming, rap, and emceeing, knows that my styles now is like the new millennium Guru. I call my flow the fountain of youth flow.
MVRemix: You were saying that some people tell you that you sound the same… I think people just have to listen to 'Hard To Earn'. Songs like 'Brainstorm' to 'Mostly The Voice' to 'Blowin Up The Spot', your delivery is so different on each song.
Guru: Thank you! That's what I try to do! I appreciate that you recognize that. A lot of people... I won't say any names but there have been some articles written that say 'Guru's flow hasn't changed' but it has! If it didn't, nobody would want to listen to it. Trust me.
MVRemix: How did you change your rhyme styles for 'The Ownerz'?
Guru: There's joints like 'Zoning' that's just real hard spitting. Instead of just rhyming every word at the end of the sentence, I rhyme 3 or 4 words within the rhyme. It's 3 or 4 syllables worth of a rhyme. Rhymes are different now. Techniques are different now. A lot of this album rhyming-wise, explores rhyming techniques.
MVRemix: In the beginning of 'The Moment Of Truth', you said you do have some formulas. What are they? How is a Gangstarr song created? What is the process?
Guru: Our formula is like this. We start with the title. Then, Premier makes the beat. Then, I do the rhymes. Each time I do a rhyme, I am writing it directly to the beat. So, whatever flow I do has to go directly to the beat.
MVRemix: For the people who do not know, could you explain the meaning behind the name Gangstarr?
Guru: Sure… Gangstarr represents 3 things: Street knowledge, intellect, and spirituality. When I say street knowledge, I am talking about survival out here. A lot of people have book smarts but when they get placed into a situation that deals with something different, they don't know what to do. In this day and age, I think you have to have a bit of each one of those. When I say spirituality, it doesn't have to be any specific religion. It's just that if you are around anybody who does not believe in anything spiritual and something bad happens to them, the first thing they say is 'Oh my God!' Then, they become spiritual. Sometimes, people are in situations where they have to give credit to a higher power. That's what that is about. When I say intellect, I don't mean that you have to go to any specific college or anything. Some of these people cannot afford college or the opportunity is not there. They cannot even qualify for scholarships. So, they don't go. If you are a grown ass man or woman, it is on you to have a thirst for knowledge and to seek out to find the answers to your questions. That's what Gangstarr is about. We're like a survival kit. Street knowledge, intellect, and spirituality.
MVRemix: What is the symbolism behind the logo of the chain and the star?
Guru: The chain represents unity amongst struggle. The links represents the link we all have through struggling. The star represents the power of the music and the power of the creativity that shines through all of the adversity.
MVRemix: What happened to Jeru The Damaja? Are you still cool with him?
Guru: We're still cool with him. He decided to do his own thing. He wanted to do his own beats and everything. He asked to be out of his contract, so we let him out.
MVRemix: Big Shug was important person to you and the Gangstarr Foundation. Can you expand on Big Shug's involvement?
Guru: Big Shug was a member of the original Gangstarr but he got locked up. That was my man. He put me on. He pushed me to take rapping seriously as a career. We were doing it for fun and he told me, 'Yo, you're good at it. You need to be more serious about it.' So, I always give Big Shug love for that.
MVRemix: The Gangstarr Foundation used to consist of Gangstarr, Jeru, Group Home, and Big Shug. Who is in The Gangstarr Foundation now?
Guru: #1 is Big Shug because he's the head. So, Gangstarr Foundation is Big Shug, Krumbsnatcha, who are both from Boston.
MVRemix: Boston is important to Gangstarr these days. Tell us about it.
Guru: Big Shug is from Dorchester. Krumb is from a neighborhood called Lawrence. They call that 'Lawtown'. They call Dorchester 'Warchester' now. That's where Benzino is from. I'm from there too.
MVRemix: You are from Boston, M.A. and Premier is from Texas. Both of you met in Brooklyn. How did that happen?
Guru: Well, we met through Wild Pitch Records. I was already signed to Wild Pitch and Premier sent his demo to them. I basically found his demo and wanted to work with him. We were actually asking to work with one another. He heard some singles I did with Mark The 45 King and some other guys. I broke up the other guys in my group and he broke up with his old emcee. The label was going to use him to produce but I was asking to work with him. At the same time, he was asking about me. So, the label put us on the phone together and we clicked.
MVRemix: What does 'DWYCK' mean? Some people on the Internet say it means 'Do What You Can Kid'. What does 'DWYCK' really mean?
Guru: No, but that's pretty good though… actually. 'Do What You Can Kid'. It probably could've meant that. It was just a slang that we used to use back then. It was like a slang thing we used to do. Greg Nice used to do it to everybody. Biz Markie started it actually. You used be in a crowd and say someone's name and go 'Yo! Son!' The person would turn around and go 'What? What?' and you would say: 'Dwyck!'. It's like 'My dick!'. It means the male genitalia. We switched it up to 'Dwyck'. It was just some sh*t to psyche each other out.
MVRemix: What do you think hip-hop is lacking? What do you think hip-hop needs?
Guru: Originality. Hip-hop is lacking structure. We need a union. I don't know how it is going to happen but we need a union where we have the platinum artists and the well-respected artists that don't sell all together. We need platinum artists and the well-respected artists that don't sell as well as influential people in the business and people on the street. We need the leaders in all of those categories all together. They need to come together and communicate and share. Right now, you have radio and it's all f*cked up. I remember when New York used to have 4 different radio stations for hip-hop when I started. Now, I was happy that a new station came about but they are both playing the same thing over and over again! It's terrible. That needs to change. I think hip-hop needs more communication and more dialogue between the leaders in this game. We are so used to becoming successful and making a name for ourselves in our own right. Then, going to our little retreat and keeping the goodies to ourselves. I don't understand what that's about. I look at life like this: if you know something or have the knowledge, it is your civilized duty to pass the knowledge on to someone who needs it.
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"I always get asked about the new school versus the old school and my place in it. People that don't know how to listen to hip-hop will probably tell you that I sound the same but anybody that knows rhyming, rap, and emceeing, knows that my styles now is like the new millennium Guru. I call my flow the fountain of youth flow."