Guru: Just pulled an all-nighter with Premier, finished the album at 7:30 this morning.
Silent Uproar: Did you guys get to record anything at D&D (Studios, birthplace for many legendary NYC hip-hop tracks produced by DJ Premier and others) before it shut down?
Guru: Most of the album was done at D&D, only three songs were from another studio. We were practically done when D&D closed.
SU: Were you (back in the studio) adding cuts to the album? I know review copies had been sent out to certain outlets already.
Guru: Those copies only had 5 songs on it – the album’s got 17.
SU: Really? That’s wack that full album reviews are coming out in magazines, when they’re only judging five songs.
Guru: Lemme explain something to you – that’s one of the things about the industry that pisses us off. Because labels are like “oh, we’ve got to get you this review.” Premier hates playing his shit for people when it ain’t done. We always put extra songs on the album, people ain’t hearing the album in sequence, or unfinished vinyl mixes. But you got label cats like, “we gotta get this review for this magazine a couple of months ahead of time.” I understand why they do that, but as far as like a group like us, you’re not going to get a real proper review (of the full album) unless you wait for us to turn it in!
Guru: But that’s the politics of the business. It’s funny that you touched on that because we got kinda perturbed to have our album reviewed when it wasn’t fully done.
SU: No doubt, but I can understand that people want to get the review out, because there’s so much buzz on this album. Across the board, people who might even just be casual music listeners and casual hip-hop fans, they’re excited to hear new GangStarr – because it’s been a while. (The first single) “Skillz” was getting a lot of burn with the video, which I was surprised to see because a lot of times quality stuff doesn’t get spins like that.
Guru: It comes down to maintaining good relationships with people through the years. We’ve always had good relationships with people at BET and MTV, just (through) our own organization as GangStarr and our management. I tell our younger artists things like that, like “yo, you can do whatever out on the block, but when you handle your business, the same people you see going up you’ll see coming down, so you’ve got to make sure that you’re able to maintain business relationships with people over the years.
SU: What artists are you working with now? What’s up with the GangStarr Foundation?
Guru: GangStarr foundation consists of a couple of new members, a couple of old members. There’s Big Shug – like my best friend I grew up with. He was part of the original GangStarr but then he got incarcerated. I linked him up with Premier, he’s doing some production for him. [Shug] was going to have an album out on Payday, but then they folded. Then we got guys like Krumbsnatcha from Boston as well, keeping my hometown represented. Krumb was on the Moment of Truth album, on a song called “Make Em Pay.”
SU: Yeah, his verse was tight on that.
Guru: He actually just got home from a parole violation, so he’s out with us. Unfortunately, jail is a reality for a lot of young people out here, it’s not cool. Of course, we’ve got M.O.P. is extended family, Bumpy Knuckles, a guy named H. Dap from a group called Forbidden. He’s real ill, he was on Moment of Truth on a song called “It’s a Set Up,” and “Same Team, No Games” on the new album. Krumb’s on one called “Put Up Or Shut Up,” and Big Shug and Bumpy Knuckles are on “Millitia, Pt. 3.” So [as far as older members of the Foundation are concerned], Group Home, me and Li’l Dap are still tight, and Jeru kinda just left on his own.
SU: I know there was a lot of speculation on that – you guys definitely touched on it in that in-depth Elemental magazine interview.
Guru: Yeah, that was interesting. We’re always passing the torch to those around us who we felt were talented and worthy. Premier has his own label, Year Round Records, he’s got a group called NYG’z, they’re on the album, the same song as Dap. He’s got a guy named Ray Roulette from Uptown [Harlem], Black Bart from Queensbridge. I got Krumbsnatcher rollin with me on the Ill Kid label, then a cat named Less from Montreal who’s SICK, a 19 year old Jewish kid.
Guru: I actually had a single by him on the internet doing real well on the Internet called “My Time” – he’s kind of like the top up and coming rapper out of Canada.
SU: Did you meet him on tour, or…
Guru: Actually, I met him sleeping on people’s floors here, at the Rock Steady anniversary event 3 years ago. Then I got a guy named Black Jesus from Harlem. We got a tight-knit group of dudes, we roll with a lot of guys we started out with. The GangStarr Foundation also has guys with us who don’t rap. The same crew who’s been down with us since day one. It’s some grown-man shit that we’re doing. Even the music we do. I believe it’s relative and pertinent to the youth, but it’s grown-man shit. When hip-hop started, it was grown men. Hip-hop was started by guys in their forties, tired of gangbanging and losing loved ones, and developed an artform out of nothing, by going up to the streetlamps, plugging in turntables, cutting up records trying to find a break and then threw somebody on the mic – now it’s a million-dollar industry.
SU: You say the album’s on some grown-man shit, but that’s how you stay consistent. Everybody is just trying to get a single it seems, or shouting out endorsements for stuff they might not even like.
Guru: That’s why we call this album The Ownerz, because we feel like [hip-hop] is being exploited, and that people are renting or leasing it for a temporary period – then they gotta hand it in! We own our share, and we’ve BEEN owning our share, and we continue to be that way. We want to resurrect a New York sound that’s been dying out.
SU: Premier built that sound. When people think of “New York hip-hop,” it’s a Primo track. Like the stuff that he did on Jay-Z’s last album; honestly, that one track is my favorite song on the disc.
Guru: That’s funny, I’m always asked which Premier track [produced for another artist] that I wish I had, and there’s “D’Evils” which he did for Jay-Z and the other one, I forget the name but it goes, “du-nu, du-nu, nu, nu…nu.”
SU: “So Ghetto.”
Guru: Those are my two favorite joints he did with Jay-Z, then there’s for Biggie when he did “Kick In The Door” and “Unbelieveable.” Then there’s “Nas Is Like,” “NY State Of Mind,” “Memory Lane,” all that shit. “Represent.” For me, the fact that Premier is producing other cats, it makes me feel good, because he’ll tell you that it’s like people are buying into the GangStarr sound. Because it all started with GangStarr. Doing this album was blood, sweat, and tears because it’s a group he’s in, not just a project he’s doing, producing someone else.
SU: It’s more personal.
Guru: I’m not spitting as Guru from Ill Kid or Baldhead Slick [another GangStarr side project], or Guru from Jazzmatazz, I’m spitting for two people instead of one, so it’s more intense. It’s the nucleus for what we do.
SU: How was the tour with Common?
Guru: That was one of the best tours we’ve ever been on, for a few reasons. One, it was really smooth – again, some grown-man shit – and probably minimum incidents of drama, maybe half an incident. That’s because we were on some real organized shit, and each group had respect for each other, there wasn’t any ego problems with who goes on stage first, none of that dumb shit. We go way back with Common, with Talib, so that was dope. The tour was really good for reintroducing us, to be back with the same team of guys that we’ve been on the road with for years. The same stage manager, same tour manager, same merchandise guy. We filmed a DVD [on the road.
SU: GangStarr has really built itself on longevity and consistency, it’s known as quality material. I’m just curious to where you think it’s going after this album, how you think the sound is going to evolve.
Guru: Our sound has definitely evolved with the times, but it’s deep-rooted – on some New York shit. In “Skillz” and in the Jadakiss record, Premier has developed a bounce that’s like “new millennium Primo.” It’s still raw, it’s still sampled, it’s still those head-nodding beats, but it’s not the same stuff he was doing on the last album, it’s next level. When you have something unique, and at the forefront, they bite it. So this album, he’s at the next level of Primo, so it’s keeping the followers off guard. The next thing we do will be whatever that next thing is. We like to add on where we left off. Lyrically it’s the same way. The rhyme style [of today] has changed, so I combine newer styles and newer attitudes with my old styles and voice. We start with the song titles, Premier makes the beats to the titles, then I rhyme to the beats, it’s a unique formula.
SU: Let me tell you – I was at a club a few nights ago, right before Easter, and the biggest response of the WHOLE night was for [GangStarr classic] “DWYCK.” It just went off.
Guru: We had [Greg Nice and CL Smooth] come on stage at the NY show, the final show of the tour, and it took the whole crowd up another level. The New York show was the quietest show of the whole tour, until that moment. They went crazy. Like I said, I really think that here, in the home of hip-hop, there’s a real cry for leadership, and that’s where we come in.
SU: Keep doing your thing, I can’t wait to hear the new album.
Guru: 17 tracks, produced by Premier. We got Fat Joe and M.O.P. on a joint, we got Jadakiss on the next single, a singer named Boy Big from Kansas City, Freddie Foxx and Big Shug, NYG’z and H. Dap, Krumbsnatcha, one with Snoop Dogg. It’s real serious, not the typical Snoop Dogg, it’s about this life and the business that we’re in. I’m excited about it, man.