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Sixteen years ago on this day, the Wu-Tang Clan dropped it’s second album as a group, following the legendary “36 Chambers” LP. Forget a mixtape this week. I’ve put aside my usual assortment and dedicated this one to tracks only off Wu-Tang Forever. Here are my favorites.                     @codymarcroft

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Happy Memorial Day from yours truly. Shout out to all the soldiers who have perished while preserving our freedom here in America, and those who currently serve our country.

Lately I’ve been into Action Bronson. Dude is hilarious, personable, and chooses production/producers wisely. Not to mention, he can rap well.

This first one is probably my favorite rap video of the decade, at least. Also, love when Action raps over guitar loops. It seems to fit his voice and his aggressive, in-your-face delivery.

 

 

I love Action’s punch lines. He packs many of them in this 2 minute jam. The Sandusky line might’ve been a case of “too soon,” but what can you do, right? (“Foul living like Sandusky and Paterno”).

 

 

Action must has a weight lifting theme going on. Here’s his latest music video; this one for the single “Strictly 4 My Jeeps” which will appear on Action’s upcoming album, “Saab Stories” (love that album title). Yes, I will be reviewing that album.

 

 

Here’s another track off Action’s Mixtape collaboration with producer The Alchemist. This is another tape my buddy Rug_Lyfe got me into. He’s a big Alchemist fan, and I have become one as well. The man talking about Chandeliers at the end is a great touch…

 

 

Another awesome cut off “Rare Chandeliers”. Great opening lines from Action…

 

 

I love the bass line that runs underneath the beat. And the sampled hooks are groovy as it gets.

 

 

Couldn’t resist getting Roc Marciano in this week’s Mixtape Monday. He handles a feature in this one.

 

 

Him and Action tagteam the beat again…

 

 

Along with Action Bronson’s  rap catalog, he seems like a good dude. Apparently at a Coachella 4/20 show, he tossed 4oz of weed out to the crowd. 4oz. That’s a lot of money, and a lot of trouble he could potentially face.

But better than that is the fact that he went into the crowd and pushed a man in a wheelchair to the front of the crowd… Classy guy.

 

 

who then proceeded to crowdsurf…

 

“Why do bad things happen to good people? Seems that life is just a constant war between good and evil.”

 

That was most likely the sentiment of all those involved with hip-hop when MC Keith Elam – the very person who spoke those words – passed away. Elam, known in the hip-hop world as Guru, died on this day – April 19th – three years ago.

His name was an acronym, which stood for “Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal” – and he had plenty of rhymes, indeed.

A Roxbury, Massachusetts native, Guru’s career took off with his founding of Gang Starr in 1985. Gang Starr began in Boston as a hip-hop group consisting of various rappers and producers. However, the it released a handful of records that failed to receive much attention. The group inevitably split in 1989, leaving Guru as the only member willing to pick up the pieces. He found the perfect fit in Houston, Texas native Christopher Martin – better known as DJ Premier [I’ll refer to him as Premo] – who would soon become one of the best hip-hop producers of all time.

Along with Gang Starr, Guru did some solo work – most notably his experimental fusion of live jazz music and rap in a series of albums titled Guru’s Jazzmatazz. From 1993 to 2007, Guru released four volumes. He worked with jazz musicians such as Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Ayers, among others.

He also scored guest appearances from Slum Village, Pharrell, Erykah Badu, Big Shug, Common, Macy Gray, The Roots, Bilal, and others.

In Vol. 1 (1993), Guru speaks about the project:

“Peace yo, and welcome to Jazzmatazz –an experimental fusion of hip-hop and live jazz. I’m your host the Guru. That stands for “Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal.” Now I’ve always thought of doing something like this, but I didn’t want to do it unless unless it was going to be done right, know what I’m saying? Because hip-hop, rap music, it’s real. It’s musical, cultural expression based on reality; and at the same time, jazz is real and based on reality.”

Here’s a cut off Vol. 3 (2000), featuring Erykah Badu.

 

 

But with the addition of Premo in 1989, Gang Starr would become most critical to Guru’s legacy. With himself as the rapper and Premo as DJ and producer, Gang Starr grew to be loved by underground hip-hop fans everywhere. The newly organized duo pumped out its debut album in 1989 with the release of No More Mr. Nice Guy. The album displayed the jazzy samples and eye-crossing scratches of Premo, while showcasing Guru’s talents as an uplifting, positive rapper who could also pack a punch full of attitude with braggadocious bars. No More Mr. Nice Guy set the tone for what would be fourteen years of classic, underground hip-hop.

 

 

 

Gang Starr went on to create five more studio albums from 1991 to 2003. The duo drew massive attention from the hip-hop community and helped construct the reputation of East Coast rap. Guru’s self-described smooth, but rugged monotone delivery captivated listeners around the world. I considered the 1998 album Moment of Truth to be the most popular Gang Starr record (and my personal favorite – so yes, there is some bias). The title track, along with “You Know My Steez”, “Above the Clouds”, and “Next Time” are among the most recognizable cuts from Gang Starr.

 

 

I remember when my brother brought home Dave Mirra’s Pro BMX 2 for our Playstation2. That was the first time I heard Gang Starr, and it was this song. Even at the clueless age of eight years old, I was still impacted by “Moment of Truth”. The words caught on, and I began rapping Gang Starr lyrics around the house (of course without the swears because the game censored them). It was really my first taste of 90s rap. In hindsight, I owe a lot to the late 90s and early 2000s video games for introducing me to rap. Games like Dave Mirra, Tony Hawk Pro Skater, and NBA Live introduced me to Tribe, Gang Starr, Rage Against the Machine, Naughty By Nature, and Public Enemy.

It was a time when I was too young to find that music on my own, and of course my parents wouldn’t buy albums for me because of the stigma about rap. But beyond the profanity, “Moment of Truth” is a positives song, and while I lacked specific understanding of Guru’s lyrics, I caught the gist of being honest, reflective, and humble.

 

“Actions have reactions, don’t be quick to judge/

You may not know the hardships people don’t speak of/

It’s best to step back, and observe with couth/

For we all must meet our moment of truth.”

“No one is untouchable, no man is bulletproof /

We all must meet our moment of truth.”

 

Legendary words.

 

 

One of Guru’s best brag raps, “You Know My Steez.”

 

 

Above the clouds features a Premo beat with enough bump to make your heart leap out of your chest. Your head will bob itself. Guru’s voice was perfect for Premier’s raw, rugged, New York style beats. His lyrics in this track are some of his best, in my opinion – playing on godly figures and outer space references. It was a complete package for Guru, too, speaking with captivating flow and commanding delivery:

 

“I Self Lord And Master, shall bring disaster to evil factors/

Demonic chapters, shall be captured by Kings/

Through the storms of days after/

Unto the Earth from the Sun through triple darkness to blast ya/

With a force that can’t be compared/

To any firepower, for its mind power shared/

The brainwave causes vessels to circulate/

Like constellations reflect at night off the lake/

Word to the father, and Mother Earth/

Seeking everlasting life through this Hell for what it’s worth/

Look, listen and observe/

And watch another Cee Cypher pullin’ my peeps to the curb/

Heed the words; it’s like ghetto style proverbs/

The righteous pay a sacrifice to get what they deserve/

Cannot afford to be confined to a cell/

Brainwaves swell, turnin’ a desert to a well/

Experience the best teacher; thoughts will spray/

Like street sweepers Little Daddy street preacher/

Illustrious feature, narrator you select/

Accompanied by Deck plus the DJ you respect.”

 

Gang Starr suffered a fallout after its last album, The Owners, in 2003. I felt it was noteworthy, but unnecessary to the point of this piece. Today I wanted to celebrate the legacy of the late, great Guru for everything he contributed to hip-hop, all the inspiration he provided for me as I grew up and cultivated my love for hip-hop. Three years ago he sadly passed away, but his memory lives on through the musical trail he left with his distinctive voice and sharp rhymes.

Rest In Peace Keith Elam, Aka Guru, we’re all still listening.

ripguru

 

Some more Gang Starr classics…