Classics: Gang Starr – Mass Appeal (Chrysalis)
“Money’s growin’ like grass with the mass appeal…” As many words sayin’ it all for a whole generation of newcomers taken into the commercial success of Rap. With many of them selling their souls in their will to get the mass appeal.
As a music lover, and by that I mean lookin’ for the relevant rhyme over the good beat, I’ve ended up takin’ my distance from the genre. This because of the too many bad stereotypes it has conveyed. But also the attitude of so many of its protagonists.
C’mon folks. I’m an ol’ school boy at the end, and I fully assume. I mostly got into music because of its social/political content. From Rock to Blues then Soul at the time. With my “earos” being Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield or Gil Scott-Heron. Not to mention Fela Anikulapo Ransome Kuti. It is to say how excited I got at the perspective of meeting Gang Starr MC Guru for an interview back in 1993.
The only white guy writing for that French publication named Black News, my boss had warned me. Advising me to be careful in the choice of my words. This in front of an artist who, to him, was Afrocentric. Something he might well have been at the end, then so what? Even though it’s not something which I particularly felt, neither at first nor at further sight as a matter of fact. With both of us meeting once again a few months later in Köln (Germany). This as a part of a gig he had, sharing the bill with Us3 in a local club.
Guru was a man apart. Miles away from the portrait I’d been given of him. I instantly had the feeling of conversing with an educated man. He was certainly not narrow minded. But he couldn’t stand concessions of any sort in his art. And I suppose his huge background has been much of a help on this. As for the writing of standards such as ‘Mass Appeal’, bringin’ us back to Gang Starr‘s 1994 ‘Hard To Earn’ album…
Guru (an acronym for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal) first made himself a name as the MC of Gang Starr along with DJ Premier.
A Boston, MA native, Guru (real name: Keith Edward Elam) managed to create quite of an impressive background for himself. With his dad who happened to be a judge. And his mom who became the co-director of libraries in the Boston public school system. He graduated with a degree in business administration from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. Then took graduate classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan.
Elam started his music career as MC Keithy E but later changed his name to Guru, eventually givin’ birth to Gang Starr back in 1987. He first shared the duties with DJ 1, 2 B-Down (also known as Mike Dee). And together they released 3 tracks including ‘Believe Dat’ and ‘Movin’ On’ with production work courtesy of DJ Mark The 45 King. Gang Starr went to split then, leavin’ Guru gettin’ him to join’ forces with beatmaker DJ Premier.
Gang Starr pretty much set up the standards for the New York City hardcore Hip-Hop sound. This via albums such as ‘Step In The Arena’ and ‘Daily Operation’. But also ‘Hard To Earn’ featuring the memorable ‘Mass Appeal’ and ‘Moment Of Truth’. And how to not think of their ‘Jazz Thing’ track which appeared on the OST of Spike Lee‘s ‘Mo’ Better Blues’ back in 1990?
Still a member of Gang Starr, Guru released the first installment in a series of four solo albums. Featuring collaborations with Donald Byrd, N’Dea Davenport, MC Solaar, and Roy Ayers, ‘Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1’ received positive reviews. And so did its follow-up, featuring Chaka Khan, Ramsey Lewis, Branford Marsalis, and Jamiroquai. Meanwhile including gems such as ‘Feel The Music’.
The third installment, which saw the light in 2000, generated a smaller following in comparison though. With Guru‘s aim being to like “create a new genre”. This “by getting the actual dudes we were sampling into the studio to jam over Hip-Hop beats with some of the top vocalists of the time…”
DJ Premier left Europe back to the United States by the end of 2002. Therefore putting Guru in the position to continue alone and eventually recruit an alternate DJ the uear after.
Elam went into cardiac arrest on Feb. 28, 2010 and, following surgery, fell into a coma. It was claimed that he had briefly awakened from his coma, but he sadly passed on Apr. 19, 2010, at the age of 48, from cancer.
DJ Premier explained there was a “posthumous Gang Starr CD/DVD project in the works” that should have seen the light back in 2014. But nothing has been released. Premier confirming elsewhere by the end of 2015 that he was working on a Gang Starr biopic with the cooperation of Guru‘s sister, Patricia Elam.