I wrote a cover story on Gang Starr for URB in 2003, in anticipation for The Ownerz, the group’s first album in five years. I flew out to NYC and interviewed the two men, separately, in Studio B of D&D Studios. People had asked if I wouldn’t mind printing some of it so I went back to my transcripts; unfortunately, much of what I had actually transcribed was specific to the album or my piece. There were long parts of our conversation I taped but didn’t transcribe because I assumed it wasn’t immediately relevant to the story. That includes Guru talking about his father, which I would have liked to hear (maybe I can find the original tape somewhere). However, I culled a few parts that I thought folks might enjoy.
Here is Guru on…RAISING HIS SON
I have a 2.5 year old and I just want to build a good life for him. He likes everything from hip-hop to smooth jazz. It mellows him out because he’s hyper…he’s at the terrible two’s age where he’s taking crayons and writing on walls. That calms him down. He can catch a beat easy. It’s funny, I can’t really tell what he’s going to get into. I think music is important for nurturing a child. Even when it’s bedtime, just to put that lullaby stuff on. When he was an infant, we used to play that earth sounds. Definitely, when it’s just me and him, in the car and we’re grooving? His favorite songs – he knows to the Nas’ song…”I know I can, be what I want to be”, he knows the words but his diction is crazy. He’s very advanced words-wise for a kid his age. A lot of kids his age don’t talk but the spits whole paragraph. He’ll go, put a doo-rag on, throw a hat over it, in his pajamas though and come out and have the mic and go like this to me.
I’m going to tell you what I really am going to monitor – if he wants to be a rapper, that won’t happen until he’s 18. I’m not going to have some child star. I like the way Romeo is and Bow Bow…you can tell their parents really care but that’s just not what I want for my kid. I guess that’s just selfish. If he was really, really good, I’d probably accept it but I ‘d rather him wait until he’s 18. I saw Kriss Kross in the club in Atlanta, in the aftermath of their career and they didn’t look too happy and kind of lost. It was scary to me.
With that beef shit, if you diss us on a record, we’re not going to make a record about it, we’re coming to see you. We’ll come to see you and deal with you like that. There was one person that did diss us but we ran him out the rap game. Back in the day, it was YZ. He had a song called “In Control” and it was the same sample as “No More Mr. Nice Guy” and Big Daddy Kane’s “Mr. Welfare” and as a song Lakim Shabazz did. And he named all of us, said we bit his record. Everybody dealt with him in their own different ways. I know Kane stepped to him. We stepped to him, this is before it got so sick, how it is now. We saw him at a party and we were like, “what the fuck is wrong with you?” Whatever, we never saw him again.
When all those dudes were doing good, I hung around them, they were all playing their own music, they were all up on their own dicks. You can’t be like that, you gotta be humble because the shit changes. We’re like fans as well as artists and we forecast the change. We know that the change is going. A lot of these guys, the change will hit them, and they’ll be like “oh shit, what was that?” and the next thing you know, you’re the funny dressed dude. I don’t want to be like that, you got to foresee, you got to evolve and change and roll with the punches and everything.
2PAC AND BIGGIE
You got a cat claiming thug and gangsta and all that but he can’t even read the paper to get an apartment or to get a house. It’s like, it’s a whole hustler/drug dealer culture but what they don’t understand, it’s not 2Pac meant, it’s not what Biggie meant but they think it did. So you got a lot of rappers who wouldn’t even be as successful as they are if those two were still alive either. All that biting shit is wack. But what the thug life was about to Pac, cause I spent a lot of time with him, he used to come to my Jazzmatazz shows and all that. He was cool, he was more laid back then people think. I used to hang with Biggie and I used to hang out with all of them when they were friends. That fucked me up too, to see all that shit happen and unfold? I was depressed for a while after that.
GANG STARR THROUGH THE ERAS
The gift that Gang Starr brings to the game is the ability to absorb all the bullshit and just keep rolling like a rolling stone. We’ve seen the whole parade go by and we still have something to offer. Every one of these eras, from the Afrocentric to the jazz-hip-hop, political rap, we’ve been through and we’re still here. And you know what’s so crazy? All these guys that are on top? They respect me and Primo. So it’s like Nas said, “I’m a man’s man, I’m a rapper’s rapper” that’s what we are. When I ran into Nas, he was doing my lyrics to “Take It Personal”. Fucked me up, I just heard a voice and I looked and was “oh shit”.
HIM AND PREMIER
It’s kind of hard just scheduling. Now, Premier is fully blown as a producer so I gotta try to get him on the phone too. It’s just different. I have a family, we’re not roommates so I don’t see him all the time. We’ve grown up.
In terms of the experience just talking to him…Guru was affable and seemed to genuinely enjoy the conversation. I was lucky because I was able to catch him before the album had been completed – this was “pre-junket” and therefore, before he would have had to answer the same 20 questions over and over. And I don’t know how to write what I’m about to without sounding self-serving, but Guru seemed genuinely pleased and surprised that I knew as much about the group as I did. I just figured that any rap journalist worth their salt would already be huge fans of the group and would jump at a chance to interview them but Guru made it sound as if he was used to people who knew nothing about them.
The funniest part of the interview is that Guru’s cell was blowing up the whole time but the reception was terrible in D&D and even though he kept trying to pick up calls, apparently no one could hear him so half the time he’d be yelling, “hello? hello?” and then just have to put down the phone in exasperation. Meanwhile, Primo had two phones so that when one rang, he’d have to pull out both of them and figure out which was ringing. Guru clowned him at one point: ““You got two phones? Damn, I hope I can be as large as you when I blow up.”
Bonus beats – I asked Premier what 5 songs he wished he had produced:
Eric B For President
One 4 All
I Got It Made