Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Local Deejays Reflect on Rap Icon Guru's Career
I was never a hardcore hip-hop fan, but when it came to the likes of A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots, Common and Gang Starr, I always felt right at home.
There was something about how they all combined the best elements of hip-hop with jazz rhythms and unbelievably strong vocals. While Tribe's Q-Tip, The Roots' Black Thought and Common spat out some seriously tight rhymes, Gang Starr's Guru was simply a lyrical genius.
His untimely death from cancer Monday was a shock to the music world, including some of Chicago's top deejays specializing in hip-hop.
Veteran deejay Jesse de la Peña, who spins Sundays at Crocodile, actually opened for Guru's Jazzmatazz show at the now defunct China Club in the mid-1990s.
During that time, de la Peña was known for specializing in the hip-hop jazz genre, and he says he was highly influenced by Guru.
"Guru was one of those guys who just stood out; it was like nothing else," he says. "The production was always top notch and the lyrics were great till the very end."
de la Peña hosts a live weekly show on smoothbeats.com (2-4pm CST Wednesdays) and blogs about local deejay culture at ChicagoDJTalk, which is certain to be abuzz with his memories of Guru.
"That was one of my favorite emcees. (Gang Starr's) been a big influence on me as an artist and a fan. He was a big part of hip hop and will always be."
Twenty-seven-year-old DJ Sean Mac was too young to experience Gang Starr when they were at the height of their success in the mid-1990s, but he has embraced their music as part of his repertoire.
"I play 'Full Clip' and 'Mass Appeal' every night," says Mac, who spins at a number of downtown-area clubs, including Sangria (Wednesday), Green Dolphin Street (Thursday) and Victor Hotel (Friday). "They set the bar for deejays who really hit that hardcore mainstream hip-hop; it was dope to see the deejay (spin star DJ Premier) and artist (Guru) come together.
"(Guru) was definitely a legend and icon for the hip-hop community, and I pray other deejays dedicate their sets to him tonight."
"For me, Guru and Gang Starr played a big role in my early days in hip hop," says DJ AMPM, who spins every Thursday at The Shrine in the South Loop.
"Gang Starr inspired me. The beats, the way Guru rhymed. (Their music) pricked my ear, but Guru kept me there. I met him one time, and I expressed how much he changed my life."
And Vince Adams is one deejay who plans to dedicate this week's sets to Gang Starr at his residences at Tantrum and The Vibe (Thursday) as well as The Shrine (Friday).
"To me, he was a cornerstone in being a lyricist," says Adams. "He was a pioneer and I definitely see him as an innovator in bringing jazz to the forefront of hip hop. ... He continued to push the envelope and brought something to the industry that is now lacking. I was definitely a lifelong fan, and I look forward to celebrating his music these next few weeks."
The other half of Gang Starr, DJ Premier, is scheduled to spin a special set Wednesday, June 2 at The Shrine. Club owner Joe Russo says that this performance was scheduled months in advance of Guru's passing.