Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

In memory of Guru


Late last summer, two weeks before the fall semester began, my friend and I traveled to Governor’s Island in New York, to attend the “Rock the Bells” music festival, which is probably the largest hip-hop festival the world over.

There, Slick Rick perused the stage piping his playful prose; pioneer KRS-One cold-rocked the mic with an unconscionable flow that crazed the crowd; and Rakim reeled off rhymes in his rampant rhetoric, revisiting resplendent raps from yesteryear.

Did I mention A Tribe Called Quest, the Wu-Tang Clan, Snoop Dogg and Lauryn Hill were also on the bill?

Still, among the indomitable heavyweights of rap’s past, there was someone missing.

When we first arrived, we got off the ferry at about 12:30 p.m. Performances were slated to begin at that time, and with such a great lineup from start to finish, I knew I would regret missing any of the performances, least of all a special tribute by DJ Premier.

To my surprise, DJ Premier, or Premo, opened the main stage that afternoon as my friend waited in line to gain entry into the venue.

A veritable superstar producer in his own right, Premo commands attention on stage, even when he’s spinning solo. Still, his lone presence was a reminder that his partner wasn’t there to emcee over his beats and that neither I, nor anyone else, would ever get the chance to see the duo of Gang Starr perform live.

Gang Starr, consisting of DJ Premier and emcee Guru, was the greatest rap duo to ever rock the mic.

News of Guru’s death came exactly one year ago on April 20, 2010.

He was an absolute genius. As his name suggests, he had a style that epitomized hip-hop the way it was meant to be.

His stage name was a backronym for the phrase “Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal” and he rhymed out of Brooklyn, NY, in the Mecca of hip-hop, though he had his roots in Roxbury, Mass, where he was born.

With a monotone flow and an incredible talent for constructing rhymes, Guru combined the storytelling of a classic novelist with the craftiness of a poet laureate. He philosophized about urban issues with the integrity and cynicism of a scholar, while imbuing the cleverness and grit that gave him credibility and admiration in the rap community.

Although his mainstream success in the form of album sales and name recognition don’t suggest it, he was easily one of the most influential emcees in hip-hop. His lyrics were sampled in songs by the Notorious B.I.G. (“Gimme the Loot”) and Tupac (“I Get Around”), but it was his conscientious rhyme-style that undoubtedly spurred many an emcee to liken his flow, especially in the golden age of hip-hop he prospered in.

Coupled with the impeccable production of DJ Premier, Guru gave insight into the trappings of relationships in “Ex Girl to Next Girl,” provided commentary on civil rights issues on the song “Conspiracy” and displays his intellect in what might be his most well known track, “Moment of Truth.”

Beginning in 1993 the versatile artist began a series of jazz-infused hip-hop albums, including collaborations with artists like classic jazz and soul artists Isaac Hayes, Chaka Kahn and Herbie Hancock.

Out of all of the incredible artists I looked forward to hearing play at “Rock the Bells,” I couldn’t help but be disappointed by the fact that Guru wasn’t one of them. It pained me more to see the disregard that accompanied fellow concert-goers during Premo’s tribute to the late Guru.

Even though the show was only months after he succumbed to cancer, it was as if his passing and Premo’s commemorative set were just afterthoughts in the lineup of performers.

I can understand that it was early on in the afternoon. Fans didn’t want to dwell on who wasn’t performing, but be excited by those who were. Yet, with the increasing popularity of mainstream hip-hop music by way of dance-anthems, the promotions of materialistic and misogynistic values and an unmistakable fluffiness about rappers nowadays, it’s a shame that Guru’s no longer in the game.

Guru’s form of intellect was beyond comprehension, kicking precisely the right rhymes with mass appeal. The man had skills, gusto, knowledge and positivity. If you’ve never heard of him, check the technique because, well, it was much too much.

For all of you smokers out there, I am well aware of the celebratory nature of today’s date. But on this day, one year since the late-great Guru succumbed to cancer, take two and pass in remembrance of this pioneer of rap.

After all, what’s here today could be gone tomorrow.

Dan Gigliotti is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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