Keith Edward Elam is known to many as Guru of the formidable American MC and DJ duo Gang Starr. But a few may also know that he is the originator of the Jazzmatazz series, a chain of compilations that fuse hip-hop and jazz.
With a career that spans two decades, this year the rap icon drew back from Gang Starr to form a new label called 7Grand Records with partner Super-producer Solar (not to be confused with French rapper MC Solaar).
Under their new label they released the fourth edition of his compilations, which he titled Jazzmatazz, Vol 4: The Hip-Hop Jazz Messenger – Back to the Future.
Last week, Tonight caught up with Mr Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal (Guru) and Solar himself to talk about his new offering, South Africa and the N-word …
TONIGHT: Explain the title of the new album?
GURU: The title points to the fact that while our music is very futuristic, we also open up to important historic hip-hop principles that have been kicked to the curb a little.
TONIGHT: And surely one of the principles includes airing your views, even if they are political. Tell me a little about the song Kissed the World, written about George Bush…
SOLAR: It was a heavy topic, so for it to come off the way that it did, I have to admit that it’s one of my favourite songs.
TONIGHT: But it hasn’t put Bush in a positive light…
SOLAR: Well we put him in an accurate light then. We’re not trying to be disrespectful, so we put it in a sarcastic and humorous way. Guru talks about the different characters that degrade the American life; the cowboy that comes through with guns blazing. We’re trying to show how serious the war we’re in is. A lot of young Americans are sent to war and they don’t come back.
GURU: But this is a positive album too, it doesn’t only have two great tracks and then the rest are just album fillers.
TONIGHT: So you’re trying to teach the kids the politics of life and hip-hop. Especially in songs like Infinite you say: “I can’t believe we haven’t learned from martyrs like (Tupac) Shakur.”
GURU: That’s because now beef is still the order of the day. When you start seeing, like here in America, that Rosie O’ Donnell is beefing with Donald Trump, then you know that beef has gotten to the point of absurdity – it’s just stupid now. I want to leave behind a legacy of positivity, strength and leadership.
TONIGHT: Your views on South Africa?
GURU: Coming to the Hip-Hop Summit in Johannesburg was an honour and one of the most enjoyable, interesting and intriguing experiences of my career. I enjoyed that there were so many African rappers who spit in the many different dialects. One of the highlights was having dinner at Constitution Hill – the feeling that I got from just being in that place meant a lot to me. I can’t even explain it.
TONIGHT: What is your secret to career longevity?
GURU: Finding Solar. Solar had the perfect sound for the future of Guru. No, seriously, though: you have to be a visionary and where you want to go with your art. I love this art form, I love this culture and I’d still be doing it even if there wasn’t monetary value involved.
SOLAR: And that’s how you achieve greatness, by struggling then overcoming and by showing improvement. Not because some corporation gives you $10-million – that doesn’t make you great, it just makes you rich.
This article appeared in Tonight on 16 May 2007.