To say I’ve been gone from the column awhile would be like saying your mom has been known to sometimes enjoy the company of strange men. I know, you know, hell, we all know. We’re still talking about your mom, right?
I attempted to channel my inner Jay-Z on this one and write the column in my head before chaining myself to the laptop, but that went as well as Ghostface making a smooth transition into the R&B world. Instead, I threw out everything I was thinking of touching on (add your own simile here) and was just going to go off the dome (like your mom after...).
The column has been gone so long my enchanting mug got deleted from the front page. I don’t blame Dee Jekkyl for doing that, since it was probably decreasing traffic, but still, Black Milk and Evidence had their journals stay up for over a year after they stopped telling us what they ate for breakfast. This is a little more interesting, right? Anyone? Whatever.
Probably the biggest news to happen since my last column, one of my all-time favorites, by the way, was the passing of Guru. I know, I know, Lil’ Kim’s resurgence Nicki Minaj’s rise to the top is huge news too. Rank ‘em how you will.
The most interesting part about watching everything that happened surrounding Guru’s untimely passing was the reaction of the hip-hop media, which now includes anyone with a Wordpress account, Twitter page and cool Gmail addy. Most of the Control X + Control Z folks were attempting to wax poetic about how much Guru would be missed and how tragic his death was when we all know damn-well none of them were going to offer top-post coverage to his next Jazzmatazz installment.
Their stan-like reactions got me thinking. I love Gang Starr’s music. Absolutely, positively love it. I almost always have at least one Gang Starr track in my running mix, which is really the only time I listen to the music I want to. I was thinking of writing about Guru and how much I loved his music, but I couldn’t do that because I was one of the fans he absolutely despised. I fall into the group most Gang Starr fans fall into. Guru’s early Jazzmatazz stuff was always cool because it was still Guru and it held you over until another Gang Starr project came out. But after Gang Starr’s last album The Ownerz dropped in ’03 and it started to become abundantly clear over the next couple of years that all was not good between Guru and Premier, most fans jumped off the Guru bandwagon, including myself. That’s not to say I didn’t check for his new music. Guru still was killing it on collabs, like “The Best” with Chief Kamachi or “Major Game” with Domingo, but I found I couldn’t invest myself in Jazzmatazz Vol. 4 knowing that a Gang Starr follow-up was highly unlikely.
I admit I wasn’t a loyal Guru fan. I saw where he was going and it wasn’t where I wanted him to go, so I cashed my chips in. Guru made timeless music with DJ Premier, and he made some very dope tracks with some bonafide jazz legends, but I wouldn’t be honest if I wrote about how great of a fan I was of the solo Guru because I represented exactly what Guru couldn’t fix in a large part of his fanbase - the fan who couldn’t let go of the Gang Starr foundation and see Guru as a separate entity the way we all saw DJ Premier as his own entity.
But regardless of how crappy a Guru fan I may have been over the last few years, his death still hurts and it’s an overwhelming loss for the real hip-hop community.
With that being said, all you DJs can now stop making your “Best of Guru” and “Best of Gang Starr” mixes for free download. Guru’s real fans already have all of his music and for any new fans, let them go on iTunes and cop for the sake of who Guru left behind.
When I think about it, it’s really not fair the way we, the hip-hop community, treat hip-hop groups. The MC is expected to work with his producer and only his producer, and anytime the MC steps out to work with another producer, there’s a huge outcry about how said MC has lost his way and is going to lose all of his fans.
Don’t believe me? Ask C.L. Smooth. Ask Pooh and Phonte. Ask the Clipse. If Prodigy didn’t have Alchemist I would say to go ask him. With the exception of P and Phonte, who gets a ton of love for his role in Foreign Exchange, any rhyming members of a group have always struggled to form a solo career while their producing partner, whether it be Pete Rock, 9th Wonder, Pharrell or DJ Premier, will go on to work on a variety of projects and have the majority of those projects be well-received and rarely questioned by fans.
Fans weren’t that upset over C.L. Smooth’s only having one track on Pete Rock’s classic Soul Survivor compilation, but I’m sure when C.L. was promoting his first solo project American Me back in ’06, he had to field more than a few questions about what was up with Pete Rock.
Even today, no matter how high Pooh and Phonte reach in their post-Little Brother days, they will always be asked what’s going on with a 9th Wonder reunion. No matter who else they work with or how they all change, fans will still wonder what’s going on between them and have they spoken and is everything good and if it’s not good then what has to change and what can they do to help...
It would get exhausting answering questions about that anytime you agreed to do an interview and it would be even more exhausting knowing every time you went to make a new track it was going to be compared to your older work that you did when you didn’t know as much but were working with a producer you had incredible chemistry with. As the questions and comparisons to your older, “classic” material piled up, I could completely understand resenting everything you had done when you were younger and developing a bitterness that wasn’t supposed to be there.
I completely understand why Guru never wanted to elaborate on his situation with DJ Premier over the last few years. To him, why bother? It wasn’t going to change or enhance his current musical journey. If anything, it would take away from whatever he was doing. In Guru’s mind, it probably wasn’t fair that press and fans wouldn’t take his new music at face value. It wasn’t fair that reviews would say it was good music but it still wasn’t Gang Starr. And it certainly wasn’t fair that DJ Premier could produce for every other rapper out there and get props for it while Guru working with Solar was met with mixed reactions.
It’s the same with Little Brother, who has had to answer questions surrounding 9th Wonder’s sudden departure from the group in 2008 during their Getback and Leftback promo runs. The first time, they were a little more guarded in their answers, never really hinting at the reasons for why there was a split. 9th couldn’t leave just because ‘Te and Pooh wanted to work with other producers, could he? As they made their rounds with the press for Leftback, their supposed last album together until their next album together, they were a little more candid regarding their internal issues, letting on that even though they had reached out plenty of times, 9th refused to hit them back and instead of contacting them about Leftback’s iTunes bonus “Star,” a cut recorded around their Minstrel Show era, had his people contact iTunes instead to have the song removed. If those are the moves 9th makes, Pooh and ‘Te are better off without him, where his moves resemble that of an MTV Teen Mom realizing that she can’t go party with her friends anymore because she has a crying baby marinating in its own feces.
Producers get off easy here. When you look at the demise of groups, sometimes it’s just a clash of personalities and you could say it was bound to happen sometime. But other times, when one side stays eerily quiet on a subject, they are able to avoid the blame that they split up the group because they’re not saying anything. And in today’s game, if you’re not saying it on Twitter, then you’re not thinking it and there’s no way it could have happened.
I’m not sure how my comeback column turned into a Guru confessional which somehow morphed into a rough analysis of the fans’ reaction to groups with one producer who record great music and then split up, but, like Guru’s death, I didn’t see this coming. Let’s appreciate our legends while they’re still here.