What can I say about Gang Starr? Guru — who passed away Monday — and DJ Premier were one of the most important groups in hip-hop. Along with all of their classic albums — No More Mr. Nice Guy, Moment of Truth, the list goes on — came a slew of major, quintessential hip-hop songs: "Take It Personal," "Step in the Arena," "Words I Manifest," "Ex Girl to the Next Girl," "Mass Appeal" ... all great records.
I first met Guru in the mid 1990s, when he and DJ Primo would visit me and my partner, DJ King Tech, at our "Wake Up Show" on San Francisco's KMEL-FM. Gang Starr even headlined a couple of our concerts, so we always had a great rapport over the years. On their record "Royalty," Guru mentioned me and Tech, along with DJ Bugsy, Red Alert and Funkmaster Flex. I actually have a cameo in the video for the song — in the late 1990s, to kind of get that stamp of approval from Gang Starr really meant something because of what they stood for: integrity, principles. They may not have achieved the level of mainstream success that other groups did, but they stayed consistent in their message.
When their first single, "Words I Manifest," came out, I was on the West Coast, and Guru gave young people, especially young black men, a sense of pride. It kind of inspired us to find knowledge of self and live righteously. As a group, I don't think they made any mistakes; there's nothing they did as Gang Starr that makes me think, "I wish they hadn't done that." Early on in his career Guru partied hard, but he never forgot a friend.
I remember Guru came to our house in L.A., and we were there to record music for our This or That compilation — he actually performed on three cuts. One was called "NY N---as," another was "Reality Check" — that was a song Gang Starr gave us — and another was called "Above the Clouds," with Inspektah Deck. That album had Eminem on it, it had Chino XL, many different artists; Guru came back and did a song for our 2005 album Back to Basics as well.
Gang Starr were some of the easiest people to work with, considering who they were, and it was a tremendous honor. Right after we recorded some of those songs at our home, we literally went to the backyard and started playing basketball. I take pride in saying that I beat Guru in a one-on-one game of 21.
He was a really down-to-earth person and we will continue to celebrate his legacy and his life through his music, from Gang Starr to Jazzmatazz to his solo projects and all the outside work that he did.
Guru was a true asset to hip-hop and, you know, he stood for something. A lot of the time we don't have that with us. Some people are just making music for the sake of making words rhyme. But that dude had undertones to his work, messages that were for the sake of making our lives better.
So rest in peace, Guru ...
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