Guru’s Legacy

I was extremely saddened about the death of Keith Elam last week and couldn’t help but think of how both he and his sidekick DJ Premier crafted and molded my musical psyche while in high school, college, and into adulthood. Gang Starr and Guru’s music was and still will be admired and dissected in the annals of rap and music history. His lyrical style and his social commentary on politics, women, being a black man in America, knowledge and consciousness, as well as raw street life; was the nucleus of Guru’s oral interpretation of black America during the late 1980’s up until his death. I vividly remember buying the cassette “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and playing it in my dad’s Olds. See, at the time my pops had the Bose factory speaker thing going and hearing “Manifest” and “Positivity” rollin’ down 38th Street was what me and my boys called “ballin.” Hearing Guru open with the lyrics on “Manifest along with DJ Premier’s sample of James Brown’s “Hipsters Avenue” opened Pandora’s Box on rap music for well over a decade.

“I profess and I don’t jest cause the words I manifest

They will take you, sedate you, and I will stress upon

You the need for, you all to feed your

Mind and soul, so you can lead your-self

To keep, I got a real objective here

I am effective here, cause I select a clear

Message to all, suckers I maul they fall from

Into the pit of purgatory

I go for glory, I take an inventory

Countin all the tough luck ducks while I narrate

Relate and equate, dictate and debate

My fate is to be, cold makin history

I use sincerity, but I’m so very deep

Doubts are questions, of all the skeptics

I’m kickin clout and, I’ll leave you vexed

It’s just true, there’s nothing so-so cause I know

Right about to spin it I’m in it admit it I did it

To you, cause this is what I’m into

So chill while I instill that we all must fulfill

The proper mission for us and yo this is a must

It’s usually lines of my rhymes I ingest

These are the words that I manifest, I manifest”

Keith Elam was born on July 17th, 1961 in Roxbury, Massachusetts. Education and knowledge of self was stressed by both his mother and father. “Guru’s father, Harry Elam, was the first black judge in the Boston municipal courts, and his mother, Barbara, was the co-director of library programs in the Boston public school system. Before beginning his rap career in earnest, Guru graduated from Morehouse College in Atlanta in 1983 and took graduate classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan. He worked briefly as a social worker.”(1)

Music was his passion as he decided to quit graduate school during the early 1980’s. As hip-hop was shaping up to become a music force which later would become mainstream, he’d rap under the name of MC Keithy E. It wasn’t until 1986 when he changed his name to Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal, a.k.a Guru. A year later he founded the group Gang Starr hooking up with DJ and producer Premier. The two ended up with a record deal on Wild Pitch Records and dropped their first album “No More Mr. Nice Guy” in 1989. Their debut single “Manifest” was an instant classic and was a hit on both radio and the new video music formats that developed during rap’s infancy. Primo’s beats and Guru’s honest and sincere lyrics made them popular at a time when the duo rap groups like EPMD, Salt & Pepa, Nice & Smooth, Outkast, and Black Star dominated the radio waves.

It wasn’t until director Spike Lee used the group’s signature record “Jazz Thing” for his 1990 movie “Mo Better Blues” that put them on the map. Premier began really using a lot of jazz riffs for break beats introducing the Hip-Hop generation to the music a lot of MCs and rappers were using as samples. When the duo dropped their second release “No More Mr. Nice Guy” was the calm before the storm. Primo’s signature production and cutting over his beats added to the gritty rhyming style of Guru. By their third release “Daily Operation,” the group recorded a classic triggering off a slew of crate gems like “Take It Personal,” and “Code of the Streets.”

My fondest and best moments of Guru is when he produced and spearheaded what would become a landmark in Hip-Hop. His 1993 release of “Jazzmatazz” volume 1 would be one of the most important crossroads in both jazz and rap. Guru recorded a record of original music along with some sampled jazz loop, along with some of the living legends of the music. The disc featured Branford Marsalis, Ronny Jordan, Courtney Pine, Lonnie Liston Smith, Roy Ayers, and Dr. Donald Byrd. Fusing both a live jazz band with rap was both ingenious and a critical success. He would also go on to record three other “Jazzmatazz” projects featuring diverse artists like Kem, Bob James, Vivian Green, and Chaka Khan.

Both he and Primo would ride high on the success of their solo projects as well as other Gang Starr projects like “Moment of Truth” in 1998 and their last record “The Ownerz” in 2003. But friction between the two as well as the change in climate of rap music took a toll on them both creatively. Guru formed 7 Grand Records with producer and rapper Solar in 2005 and released the fourth volume of “Jazzmatazz.” and in the summer of 2007 released what would be his last record before his timely illness.

Producer and friend Solar released a statement the day after Guru’s death stating:

“I, Guru, am writing this letter to my fans, friends and loved ones around the world. I have had a long battle with cancer and have succumbed to the disease. I have suffered with this illness for over a year. I have exhausted all medical options.

I have a non-profit organization called Each One Counts dedicated to carrying on my charitable work on behalf of abused and disadvantaged children from around the world and also to educate and research a cure for this terrible disease that took my life. I write this with tears in my eyes, not of sorrow but of joy for what a wonderful life I have enjoyed and how many great people I have had the pleasure of meeting.

My loyal best friend, partner and brother, Solar, has been at my side through it all and has been made my health proxy by myself on all matters relating to myself. He has been with me by my side on my many hospital stays, operations, doctors visits and stayed with me at my home and cared for me when I could not care for myself. Solar and his family is my family and I love them dearly and I expect my family, friends, and fans to respect that, regardless to anybody’s feelings on the matter. It is my wish that counts. This being said I am survived by the love of my life, my sun KC, who I trust will be looked after by Solar and his family as their own. Any awards or tributes should be accepted, organized approved by Solar on behalf myself and my son until he is of age to except on his own.

I do not wish my ex-DJ to have anything to do with my name likeness, events tributes etc. connected in anyway to my situation including any use of my name or circumstance for any reason and I have instructed my lawyers to enforce this. I had nothing to do with him in life for over 7 years and want nothing to do with him in death. Solar has my life story and is well informed on my family situation, as well as the real reason for separating from my ex-DJ. As the sole founder of Gang Starr, I am very proud of what Gang Starr has meant to the music world and fans. I equally am proud of my Jazzmatazz series and as the father of Hip-Hop/Jazz. I am most proud of my leadership and pioneering efforts on Jazzmatazz 4 for reinvigorating the Hip-Hop/Jazz genre in a time when music quality has reached an all time low. Solar and I have toured in places that I have never been before with Gang Starr or Jazzmatatazz and we gained a reputation for being the best on the planet at Hip-Hop/Jazz, as well as the biggest and most influential Hip-Hop/Jazz record with Jazzmatazz 4 of the decade to now. The work I have done with Solar represents a legacy far beyond its time. And we as a team were not afraid to push the envelope. To me this is what true artists do! As men of honor we stood tall in the face of small mindedness, greed, and ignorance. As we fought for music and integrity at the cost of not earning millions and for this I will always be happy and proud, and would like to thank the million fans who have seen us perform over the years from all over the world. The work I have done with Solar represents a legacy far beyond its time and is my most creative and experimental to date. I hope that our music will receive the attention it deserves as it is some of the best work I have done and represents some of the best years of my life.”

Guru died on April 19, 2010 at age 47 while battling cancer for over a year and a half. He suffered a heart attack that lead him into a coma. His legacy was timeless in that he invented music that will be around long after he’s gone. Raising the bar on producing great music while elevating black culture without the exploitative and negative stigma that has seeped into this generation’s Hip-Hop. A true original and a Hip-Hop icon around the world. Thanks for the memories.

The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report


Brother Ali: Rap Music’s Second Coming

In a world when Hip-Hop has become a bedlam of bikini laced “meat shops” and “bling sessions” in both videos and radio; the morals of the record industry have pushed rap towards the clubs and is more geared for listeners 25 and younger. Don’t get me wrong, I like Drake and Young Jeezy, but a lot of the rap music has become exploitative and isn’t what some of the founders of this great music set out to do over 30 years ago.

White rappers have had to pay their dues to gain acceptance in highly African-American dominated music culture. MC’s like Everlast, MC Serch, Eminem and the Beastie Boys have made created a niche in Hip-Hop and in the record industry. These artists have created their own style and branding of Rap that crosses over in Rock, Alternative, and R & B.

Over the last decade I’ve only been able to count a handful of classic Hip-Hop albums. Lil’ Wayne and Jay-Z have dominated the radio waves and dropped classic discs. But, there’s one emcee who’s worked harder and packed houses; yet never gets the validation nor props unlike his media fueled counterparts.

In fact, as Eminem put Detroit on the map well over a decade ago; rapper Brother Ali has done the same for Minneapolis. He and the Rhymesayers Records Crew has added another depth to the talent that comes from this music mecca. Ali has been on the scene for well over a decade and he’s released a classic disc “The Undisputed Truth” to rave reviews and is an indie and underground gem. His underground following as allowed him to expand his European base making him one of the hardest working Emcee’s in game. His lyrical content is deep and raises  the level of conscious rap like his heros Chuck D, KRS-One, Paris, and Mos Def.

Jason Newman was born in Madison, Wisconsin but moved a bit before his family moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Although Ali is white, he was born with a rare form of Albinism. This genetic condition has allowed him to live without the pigment needed to give his skin, hair, and eyes color. Due to the serious nature of his condition, a major side affect is that he’s legally blind. While attending high school, Jason was heavily influenced by Hip-Hop and became interested in Islam. Before graduating, he converted and took the name Ali. At the same time he was excluded by some of his family members as well as people of his own race.

Upon graduation he knew he wanted to pursue music. Producer and MC Slug of the rap group Atmosphere allowed him to tour with him. It was his real exposure to the underground rap scene as well as notice that there weren’t many white rappers in the game.

Atmosphere would also eventually contribute to Ali’s current success. Members Slug and producer Ant produced every Atmosphere record except albums Overcast! and Lucy Ford. The two would meet in high school. Slug along with classmates Seth Patrick and Brent Sayers formed what would become the Rhymesayers Collective. Performing under the moniker Urban Atmosphere, the guys developed a following in Minneapolis. Rapper Musab introduced Slug to producer Ant and eventually convinced him to hook-up with the group while recording tracks for them. Rhymesayers Records was formed out of this collective to produce and record their own music.

In 2000, Brother Ali released “Rites of Passage” as a demo. He wrote, produced, and recorded the project himself out of his own pocket. Although it was released as a cassette, he toured and performed with the Rhymesayers and was sold at their shows.

His debut disc “Shadows On The Sun” was an introduction of Ali as a person and went into depth about his life and personal conflict with his race. Producer Ant from Atmosphere, who’s produced his last three CD’s and two EP’s, put an imprint on his unique sound that’s evolved over the last 15 years. The disc was a critical success yet there wasn’t major press nor national distribution.

I like how Ali has been able to covey his triumphs and tragedies through his music. Some of his personal songs like “Rain Water” dealt with him coming to terms with the death of his mother and grandfather to cancer and suicide. Or, his analysis of the corrupt political and economic structure in “Uncle Sam Goddamn.” The video was shot in Washington, DC and includes images of police brutality, cross burning and lynching. He candidly talks about how the United States made money off the slave trade and its lack of commitment to help the poor. Ali paints a picture with hunting lyrics like “talking bout’ you don’t support a crackhead, what you think happens to the money from your taxes?Shit the government’s the addict.” The backlash of the video caused the phone company Verizon to pull him from their upcoming sponsored tour. The Department of Homeland Security froze he and his staff’s bank accounts and made him register all his info to them while he was on tour overseas.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Eminem; but I’m a bit tired of his demented take on his Mom’s drug abuse and his ex-girlfriend Kim’s hang-ups! Also, he relies on gimmicks and pranks to get his points across. Whereas, Brother Ali is honest and hungry about his craft. Ali reminds me a lot of writers Richard Wright and James Baldwin in how he’s able to paint a picture of America verbally, but from an intelligent white man’s point of view.

In interviewing him, he never came off as what we in the black community hail as “a wanna-be!” Him going through isolation from his peers, losing family, dealing with a divorce and being homeless has made him a stronger and humble person. You clearly hear it in his music as well as when you break bread with him.

His latest disc “Us” reflects the speeches and thoughts of noted Islamic Minister Imam W. Deen Mohammed stating “there’s no me and no you…it’s just us.” Ali believes we all must live as one despite how people look and treat you.

I predict big things for Brother Ali. He’s hungry and serious about his music and isn’t swallowed up by the mass music meltdown that Hip-Hop has gone through. Support him but most importantly embrace his music. Listen to what he has to say. An art most emcees have forgotten to do.

The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report

Confederates and the Hutaree: Divided Soul

“Confederate History Month

WHEREAS,  April is the month in which the people of Virginia joined the Confederate States of America in a four year war between the states for independence that concluded at Appomattox Courthouse; and

WHEREAS, Virginia has long recognized her Confederate history, the numerous civil war battlefields that mark every  region of the state, the leaders and individuals in the Army, Navy and at home who fought for their homes and communities and Commonwealth in a time very different than ours today; and

WHEREAS,  it is important for all Virginians to reflect upon our Commonwealth’s  shared history, to understand the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War, and to recognize how our history has led to our present; and

WHEREAS, Confederate historical sites such as the White House of the Confederacy are open for people to visit in Richmond today, and

WHEREAS, all Virginians can appreciate the fact that when ultimately overwhelmed by the insurmountable numbers and resources of the Union Army, the surviving, imprisoned and injured Confederate soldiers gave their word and allegiance to the United States of America, and returned to their homes and families to rebuild their communities in peace, following the instruction of General Robert E. Lee of Virginia, who wrote that, “…all should unite in honest efforts to obliterate the effects of war and to restore the blessings of peace.”; and

WHEREAS,   this defining chapter in Virginia’s history should not be forgotten, but instead should be studied, understood and remembered by all Virginians, both in the context of the time in which it took place, but also in the context of the time in which we live, and this study and remembrance takes on particular importance as the Commonwealth prepares to welcome the nation and the world to visit Virginia for the Sesquicentennial Anniversary of the Civil War, a four-year period in which the exploration of our history can benefit all;

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Robert McDonnell, do hereby recognize April 2010 as CONFEDERATE HISTORY MONTH in our COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, and I call this observance to the attention of all our citizens.”

I wanted you to read this declaration in it’s entirety. Virginia Governor Robert McDonald open up Pandora’s Box last week in what has been the latest move by the G.O.P to further divide and open up racial wounds. By publicly acknowledging history’s black eye on what has been hailed as one of America’s worst wars; and yet leave out one of the most important and critical attributes of why it was fought; has many upset and still agitated a week later. A war that was purely based on the south’s decision to secede from the United States due their defiance of President Lincoln’s order to end slavery.

Before I elaborate on Governor McDonald’s ignorant and divisive proclamation, lets have a brief history refresher course. In 1861, the Confederate States of America was founded and lead by Jefferson Davis, a Mississippi congressman and noted decorated war veteran who fought in the Mexican-American War. He lead eleven states in the south who refused to acknowledge President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. So, the Confederacy was formed to support and keep slavery against the United States known as “the Union.”(Northern States) These eleven slave states were responsible for one of the bloodiest wars’ in history in which over 600,000 soldiers lost their lives. The southern states based slavery under President Thomas Jefferson’s Kentucky Resolutions to defend slavery under the constitution stating slaves are “three-fifths of a man.”

Throughout history, even in the last 20 years, people continue to boycott and protest anything that’s remotely connected to the Confederacy. Whether it be flags, war re-enactments, or

Governor McDonald’s proclamation; not acknowledging slavery as part of the war is outrageous. For the governor to issue this was both immature and pretty inconsiderate.

All week McDonald was attacked and ridiculed in the press until he broke down Thursday and acknowledged that he was “utterly sorry.” Also, he added: “the failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed. The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War,” according to his apology statement.  He even went as far as to say “slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation.”

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a possible GOP presidential candidate for 2012, was interviewed on CNN’s “State of the Nation” by commentator Candy Crowley on Sunday. Barbour defended Governor McDonald when asked about if proclamation offended anyone he said: “well, I don’t think so! My state legislature has made a legislatively enacted holiday, Confederate Memorial Day, and done it for years under Republican governors, Democratic governors. And for seven years as governor, I have issued a proclamation because of what the legislature has done. My Democratic predecessors did so as well.” As for the subject of slavery, Barbour adds: “I don’t know what you would say about slavery,” he continued, “but anybody that thinks that you have to explain to people that slavery is a bad thing, I think that goes without saying.”

It’s one thing to understand history, but to bring back and acknowledge the confederacy in 2010 is a bit backwards. For me, I think Confederate States of America represents the “old south” that still represents how they wanted this country to be, divided. And why the GOP, the Tea Baggers, and some extreme groups like the Hutaree have made it their mission to use this rhetoric to continue to set this country back. When those seven suspects were arraigned in Detroit a couple of weeks ago, visions of the Confederacy were vivid in 2010. The Hutaree stated on their website “Jesus wanted us to be ready to defend ourselves using the sword and stay alive using equipment.”  It later adds: “we, the Hutaree, are prepared to defend all those who belong to Christ and save those who aren’t. We will still spread the word, and fight to keep it, up to the time of the great coming.” Their site also featured links to many conservative Christian news outlets along with photos and videos of their combat training sessions.

If the Hutaree were willing to kill law enforcement agents to promote their agenda, then the GOP used the same tactic by acknowledging one of America’s most horrific wars and arrogance that divided this country during slavery. Even after the war; the south used Jim Crow and Segregation as another divisive measure to keep blacks out of the educational, political, and cultural existence in American history. Its time for the public to wake up to this juvenile and ignorant mind state that the GOP and some of these groups are using to divide this country. Haley Barbour and Robert McDonald still represent a portion of this country that appeals to the backwards mind state of racism and dangerous divisiveness that the Confederates failed to realize during the Civil War.

The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report

Erykah Badu’s New PR Press Machine

As of Friday, April 2nd, 2010, the Dallas Police Department has plans to file a disorderly conduct charge against Soul singer Erykah Badu for walking nude in public while shooting her latest video “Window Seat.” The video, which was shot in one take a couple of weeks ago in Dallas’ Dealy Plaza where President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, has been the subject of controversy due to the artist’s openness and candid views on her work and politics. The song is from Badu’s latest disc “New Amerykah Part Two: Return of the Ankh,” the highly anticipated follow-up from her 2007 release.

Over the last week, critics and people have blasted sista Badu’s character and thought the video was both childish and in poor taste. What I have a hard time digesting is how those who’ve shunned her; fail to realize Erykah continues to showcase her genius in both her music and growth as an artist. When she came out the gate in 1997 with her debut disc “Baduizm,” Badu brought her sophisticated “jazzy-like” vocal-style to soul music reviving the neo-soul genre that was blossoming during the late 1990’s. She was compared to vocalists Billie Holiday and Esther Phillips, something the music industry hadn’t seen and heard in quite a while. Her striking looks and her towering afro also sent waves in the music industry. Yet, her music is still thought provoking while constantly pushing the envelope. Miss. Badu has been creating and producing music that’s continued to touch a nerve with music fans throughout her career.

The new CD is short of a work of art, but it’s a great recording showcasing Erykah’s maturity as both a singer and songwriter. On the disc’s opening track “20 Feet Tall,” she sings about a former lost lover as she describes in the lyric acknowledging she has “selective memory” reminding after her experience she’s still “20 Feet Tall.” It’s a bit bleak for an opening track, but it sets the mood for the entire disc. Other standout cuts on the disc include “Gone Baby Don’t Be Long,” in which she goes both futuristic and psychedelic. Or, the Junior M.A.F.I.A throwback “Turn Me Away (Get MuMMY),” which used the group’s old beat, is both retro and funky as Badu adds a new take to it. She even gets personal with “Fall In Love (Your Funeral)” in which she admits she causes havoc in her relationships. There’s a line where she states “there’s gonna be some slow singing and flower-bringing if my burglar alarm starts ringing!” Overall, all Erykah Badu fans will love this disc and it’ll grow on you by the second time you listen to it completely.

The “Window Seat” music video is no different than when James Brown grew his afro during the late 1960’s and began his ‘pro-black” period producing monumental hits like “Say It Loud, Say It Proud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” or “King Heroin.” Or, when John Lennon and Yoko Ono laid in their hotel room stark naked under the covers when they held their famous anti-war press conference. Sinead O’Connor even turned heads back in 1992 when she performed on Saturday Night Live and tore a picture of the Pope in protest of the Catholic Church turning their eye on the blatant child abuse and molestation cases they refused to address. In 2010, O’Connor has been on all of the major television and radio shows addressing this issue, despite that her performance hurt her career here in the states and abroad for well over a decade.

Badu defended herself last night on the Wanda Sykes Show and adds: “My point was grossly misunderstood all over America.” She claims she had no intent of intending to insult President John F. Kennedy. “J.F.K. is one of my heroes, one of the nation’s heroes,” Badu explains. She later lamented: “John F Kennedy was a revolutionary; he was not afraid to butt heads with America, and I was not afraid to show America my butt-naked truth.”

Here’s another tidbit the press and the nay-sayers tend to not discuss among all the hype. Erykah’s video cost $2,000 to produce and was shot in one take over a span of 3 hours. Whereas, a normal high-scale and big budget video will now run you in access of close to over a million dollars. Two, she posted the video on social networking sites before the major video channels got wind of it. The constant free word-of-mouth of her video made it one of the most requested views on You Tube making her new CD debuting at the number # 3 spot on Billboard’s top CD’s of last week.

All of this hype has made Erykah a pretty penny over the last week. Many tended to focus on the negative aspect of the video that those missed the bigger picture. She took Kennedy’s legacy and brought it to contemporary and relevant issues that have hit the news. Issues like President Obama’s health care debacle or the war in the Middle East. Kennedy, like Obama, is taking a stand to move the country forward. But, the Kennedys’ fell short of completing their dreams due to people’s ignorance and willing to give their ideas a chance. It’s the same with Obama as he tries to push his new program. Badu clearly expresses this in the video especially at the end where she’s been assassinated and blue paint seeps from her head as she lays on the ground. The blue paint represents the official color of the Democratic Party. Again, Erykah raises issues that are so in your face that all the hype was focused on her nudity. What a pity!It’s a shame only a handful of people got the message and are hailing her genius, while the majority are crying “foul!” Badu had you fall into her trap and you bought right into it! Free press is the best press.

The Revolution Will Be Televised,

Brian Pace

The Pace Report