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Interview with Guru & Superproducer Solar

23 Feb 2006

MC Guru is a survivor. Not many MC’s have been able to maintain both street credibility and continued success as a recording artist for almost two decades. He began his career in 1987 as a member of Gangstarr and stepped out as a solo artist with the release of 1993’s Jazzmatazz Vol. 1 . Recently he branched out on his own and started his own record label, 7 Grand Records, teaming up with close friend and business partner, Superproducer Solar and released 2005’s critically acclaimed Guru Version 7.0: The Street Scriptures.

Riding off the critical acclaim for his production skills on The Street Scriptures, Solar plays a huge factor in modernizing Guru’s sound, using the backdrop of New York City not only to guide the direction of the musical production, but also to celebrate the city’s history of musical diversity.

Taking a break from putting the finishing touches on next year’s anticipated album, Jazzmatazz Vol.4 Guru and Solar will be performing at Jazz by Genre V: Hip-Hop Jazz, at the Mod Club this Sunday, December 3rd . “We’re looking forward to working with some really hot Toronto musicians and it sounded too good to pass up,” says Solar.

AfroToronto: How did you to meet?

Solar: We got together as friends, approximately six years ago, during the recording of his last gangster recording (2001’s Baldhead Slick & Da Click).  He was going through one of those typical industry horror stories. He was burnt out on his record deal, on his management, on his creative wellspring and things weren’t good around him. In an artist’s lifestyle, they either have to change, pull themselves together or start drinking heavily and end up being an industry horror story. And he didn’t want to do that, and his friendship with me – I wasn’t in the music industry, but had done well for myself, so he drew on the normalcy of my life.

And being in the industry for the length of time that he was, he was surrounded by fake people, yes people, that weren’t telling him what was going on, not what he needed to be what they needed to get from him. They really didn’t care if he was drinking heavily because it put them in a position to take advantage of him. One night, we were hanging out in New York and I was listening to him complain about his label, so I said, ‘why don’t you start your own label?’ I kinda forgot about it and a couple of days later, he called me and he had really taken it to heart and he was going to do it. And I said, ‘good luck with it,’ and he said, I want you to be on the label with me’. After some prodding and convincing, I said, ‘alright.’

Running an independent record label vs. the security of a major label. At this point of your career, were there any worries about taking such a big gamble?

Solar: It’s all about passion. My passion and Guru’s passion for the art form is going to transcend the gambles that we are taking. And quite honestly, in art, in anything that has been created, it’s always been a gamble for the artist.

Guru: That’s exactly where we’re coming from. We’ve taken plenty of chances, and that’s the reason why we do what we do.

When did you first discover Jazz music?

Guru: I was influenced by my godfather, through the Hi-Fi stuff, and he had speakers that were bigger than me. He would make me sit down and listen to Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins. And my grandmother would listen to Nancy Wilson and Roberta Flack. Definitely at a young age I was exposed to Jazz, but I really began to appreciate it as I got older.

With the upcoming release of the 4 th Jazzmatazz album in today’s market, how do you think that the younger audience will receive it?

Guru: The thing about Jazzmatazz is that it is its own musical genre. Before it was experimental and bringing all these different elements together, but now the whole name Jazzmatazz represents all those elements coming together.

Solar: Even though it’s Jazzmatazz, some of the greatest breaks that have influenced the greatest songs in Hip-Hop have come from Jazz musicians. Do get it wrong, there’s some cutting edge Hip-Hop on this record. There are some tracks on here that maybe some of the jazz purists might not like, but they’ll do well in the club and on the radio. That’s why I make the point that to say that realizing that jazz music itself is a fusion of a cultural expression. That alone quantifies Jazzmatazz Vol. 4.

Guru: The people that I worked with on the first couple of albums told me that they got flack from the critics or whatever, but they stuck with their vision and it ended up being a success. That’s the main reason I enlisted Solar to work with me because his sound is futuristic, youthful and it’s mature at the same time. It’s incredible what he’s doing with the tracks. Musically it’s going to appeal to a lot of people.

So who’s on the new album?

G: I don’t want to say too much, but we’ve got everybody from David Sanborn to Karen Wheeler from Soul 2 Soul, Ronnie Laws and UK vocalist Omar. We’re going to have singer Liz Wright and Common and Blackalicious as far as Hip-Hop goes. There’s going to be something for everyone.

S: I have to admit, working with some of these greats is an honour. We sat down to speak to David Sanborn - a statesman of jazz - and we realized that music is universal, no matter how old you are, how young you are, there’s a certain communication between musicians, a camaraderie that’s truly inspirational to talk to that man and for that man to understand what me and Guru are going through.

It seems like 7 Grand is more than just a record label, it is a movement. Is this correct?

Solar: You have to keep in mind that all this is happening on 7 Grand Records, and I really like all Hip-Hop fans, but you have to understand that we’ve had years of Bad Boy, Jay-Z where all we saw was porno and bling and all that nonsense. New York doesn’t represent that. New York is the capital of Jazz. 7 Grand is a label that embraces content, embraces greatness, taking gambles, so it’s really up to the fans out there to support what’s happening and you will get a ripple effect of better music through out the industry.

Guru: 7 Grand is all about intelligence, creativity and the exchange of information.

Solar: and it’s great for youth and people who just love music and might not feel as alienated as they did in the past.


For more information, check out www. myspace .com/guru7grand

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