Like love and spirit, trying to neatly define the nature of soul is hard. Its very essence has perplexed and plagued philosophers, poets and b-boys, and giving a concise answer to the question "what is soul?" has proven to be daunting. Perhaps, because like love and spirit, soul is nuanced and felt. Perhaps, because soul is many things to many people. Ask Guru how he would define soul and he responds, "It's from the heart. The heart and the soul are connected, so soul is from within. Soul is an eternal force."
Strictly speaking, Guru, the vocal half of the acclaimed hip-hop machine that is Gang Starr, is not a soul artist. At least not in the time tested notion of the term. Yet over the course of his career, both with his partner DJ Premier and on his genre expanding Jazzmatazz projects, Guru has injected everything he does, from bebop to hip-hop and all that lies between, with something meaningful. You could call it soul. Guru does.
On his third Jazzmatazz project, Guru's definition of soul is unleashed and displayed and allowed to seep into your consciousness. Making your hips sway. Making your pulse race. Making your head nod. Ask the CD's guiding
force what he thinks about his latest collaborative effort and Guru offers: "It's a laid back record ? I want people to make love to this. I want some kids to be born offa this. The mood on this CD is mature, playerlistic, laid back and sophisticated. I wanted to make a record where the older people could be like Damn! This ain't some everyday rap record; this is some real nice stuff,? and I wanted the thugged out cats to be like Damn! That's some pimp shit I can listen to with my girl,?" Guru laughs hoarsely. "You know, something for everybody."
There are numerous sonic shadings to be heard on STREETSOUL. Not surprising considering the array of artists who participated and Guru's notoriously catholic taste and expansive ears (remember, this is the cat who all but solidified the notion of the hip hop / Jazz collabo), but ? STREETSOUL is fundamentally a hip-hop CD with attitude. You can hear that attitude when Guru is in full out mack mode, e.g. the thumping rugged manifesto "Hustlin' Daze" featuring Donell Jones with production by Premier, or the prophetic militant anthem "Lift Your Fist," featuring the Roots. You can feel that attitude on Guru's bridging of the soul generational gap as he joins forces with Herbie Hancock on "Timeless" and Isaac Hayes on the moody and cinematic "Night Vision," or when he connects up with new jack Bilal on the sex-alicious jam "Certified." Tough uncompromising music that reflects Guru's sense of purpose, street knowledge and love for his people, whoever they may be. But it's not just with the fellows that Guru goes for his and lets his thug light shine. When he allows the feminine energy of singers like Amel Larrieux, Erykah Badu, Kelis, Les Nubians or Angie Stone (whose smoky vocals drive the finger poppin' first single "Keep Your Worries") to weaken his knees a bit, at the core is the same stance. The same street sensibility that fuels Gang Starr and laced through out the first two Jazzmatazz records. Guru will claim, proudly, that "I ain?t gonna be on any joint that has no hip-hop," and he will also claim, correctly, that in theory hip-hop has become the common language of pop music. On STREETSOUL, Guru and his co-conspirators take hip-hop to another level, by linking it, fusing it and enhancing it with R&B, soul, jazz and reggae rhythms.
Part of the cohesive vibe and vision comes because all of the participants on STREETSOUL are longtime friends, musical allies, sharers of a common creative dream. So the process in putting together this CD was simple enough. Go to those who have your back. As Guru puts it, "I go to the producers that I always wanted to work with, put them with the vocalist that I always wanted to work with, and I knew something was bound to happen. It's like damn! I'm going to a tailor to get a fitted suit ? People gave me more (on this record) than they do when you just get hired to work. They all really put their souls into this."
Guru has been able to get fellow artists to give their souls and put their genius down on wax since he first kicked off his solo career. The first chapter in the saga was 1993's Jazzmatazz Vol.1, featuring such stalwarts of the neo-soul and jazz scene as N 'Dea Davenport, Lonnie Liston Smith, Ronny Jordan, Roy Ayers and others. Jazzmatazz Vol. I put on wax something that hip-hop heads and beat junkies had known for a while: that there was a commonality between hip-hop and jazz. Along with being a groundbreaking CD, Jazzmatazz Vol .I also became one of those records that helped to sum up a time in music. It was a soundtrack for bohemia and laid back cool and proved that hip-hop was not only a vital and legitimate cultural force, but that musically, it knew few limits.
The experimentation and exploration of new frontiers continued in 1995 when Guru released Jazzmatazz II. The New Reality. Boasting collaborations with Ramsey Lewis, Chaka Khan, M'Shell N'degeocello and Jamiroquai, Guru once again pushed the foundation, AKA hip-hop, beyond expectations.
Five years later Guru is back, armed with a renewed sense of purpose and determination to once again challenge the preconceptions of what hip-hop is and can be. "I felt a void in hip-hop," he explains. "I felt a void in music in general and I was like, let me fill this gap up right here. I longed to do another Jazzmatazz record and frankly, I think the first two were ahead of their time and that now, I felt like it was a perfect time for me to add on."
Certain things are hard to pin down and define. Music may be the most indefinable of them all. But like love, and spirit, and soul, sometimes music doesn't have to be categorized. Sometimes it can just be experienced. Ask Guru about his latest installment in the Jazzmatazz saga and he offers: "What I have really done (over the past few years) is create a certain type of music. So the way I see it, Jazzmatazz actually means street soul, and now it's defined. It's street soul."
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