"The true gentleman is friendly, but not familiar." - CONFUCIUS

Thursday, April 29, 2010


BACK IN THE DAY, I COULD NEVER UNDERSTAND WHY GURU WAS FAMOUS. When I first heard Gang Starr in 1994, I said "dope beats, but is that guy really rapping on the whole record?" His famed 'monotone style' sounded like talking. Half his rhymes made me laugh out loud. Fifteen years later, the "who can recite the funniest Guru line' game is still a house party hit. It's not that I didn't like him to an extent, I just couldn't understand what he was doing in a group with DJ f^&king Premier. Bone-Thugs-N-Harmony was rapping in triple-time. Redman was rapping on the moon. Guru was rapping about going to the bookstore.

But if you wanted to hear Primo, you had to hear Guru. So I listened. And as time went by, I started putting together the pieces of a man. Here was a guy who sat on a stoop for his album cover. The back cover was a close-up of his hands. Here was a rapper who never raised his voice, used no vocal overdubs, no loud hooks. Here was a rapper who talked about being his own worst enemy. About how to survive, how to strive. About grace under pressure. As we grew, Guru became indispensable. Plenty of rappers were better technically, but there was no replacement for Guru, no substitute. There isn't a lyric from any Gang Starr album since Hard To Earn that I don't know by heart. And they make a whole lot more sense to the man I am now than they did to the boy I was then.

As teenagers, we obviously had no idea what ‘keep it real’ meant. Ask us to explain it and we'd normally take it upon ourselves to fill a blank that wasn't there: real 'tough', real 'hardcore', and on. A lot of murders went down in the name of that phrase, and it might have killed hip-hop as we knew it too. ‘Real’ is a concept that escapes adults, never mind a bunch of insecure street kids who suddenly became the center of the pop world. Too many of us thought “keeping it real” meant nothing more than owning up to the evil in us, giving in to the evil in the world. Too few of us understood that it also means pushing to be the best person we can be, and improving the world in the process. Life is a struggle between the way things are and the way things should be, and too many of us stopped struggling. Guru never did. Even then he was older than most of his listeners, so we were too young to understand what he was saying, or how it was molding us all. Guru talked about being grown, and, well, being grown is corny sometimes. 'Keep it real' is the value that defines my generation. It’s a value I live by. It’s a value Guru taught me, and he embodied it. Guru will forever have a place in my heart as a shining example of the virtue of life’s twin pillars: honesty and good intentions.

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