GangStarr’s Guru Doesn’t Need Hits

GURU with KRUMB SNATCHA and BLESS at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Friday (September 13). $24.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNNOn.

GURU with KRUMB SNATCHA and BLESS at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Friday (September 13). $24.50. 416-870-8000.

Rating: NNNNN

On his way back from the neighbourhood Home Depot with a bit of smooth jazz playing on the car stereo, Guru sounds nothing like your typical hiphop legend.

There’s no speakerphone, no booming thug beats and no asinine talk of “taking it to the next level” — all characteristics you’d naturally associate with one of the music’s most respected names. In a way it’s fitting. Even by the often unpredictable logic of the hiphop world, the career of Guru and his GangStarr group makes no sense.

GangStarr is strictly a two-man operation, split between DJ Premier’s jazz-inspired, whiplash-inducing beats and Guru’s smooth rhymes. Like the commercial says, you can’t have one without the other.

They’ve never had a hit, yet have earned unqualified respect from hiphop fans. And between outside projects — Premier remains one of the music’s top producers, and Guru is one of the voices on the insanely violent, incredibly popular PlayStation 2 game Grand Theft Auto: III — they’re wrapping up work on The Owners, GangStarr’s seventh album.

“Premier and I are like a two-man Wu Tang,” Guru laughs prior to Friday’s Premier-free solo gig at the Opera House. “We always think of the big picture, even when we have our own thing going on.

“A lot of times in this industry the wisdom is that as an artist gets older he’s going to sell fewer records. Our last two records were our biggest sellers of our career. And being that we come from an underground foundation, we have to do a lot of things to keep our heads above water. It’s a struggle, but all that comes out in the music.”

Given that Gangstarr could keep making Check The Technique over and over again, the duo’s willingness to rework their sound — and to recognize that in this era of disorienting Neptunes beats, jazz breaks aren’t going to cut it — goes a long way toward explaining their longevity.

“We have a trademark sound, but it’s updated,” he reasons. “We’re on a different kind of bounce these days, from Premier’s beats to my flow. You can’t sound like it’s still 1989 .

“We’re also fans of the music, so when we get together the first thing we do is talk about the hot records. Of course, we’re not out in the clubs all the time now — I’ve got a kid now, so I skip tours to be a father. I missed the money from the road, but I was there to see my son grow. That comes out in the music, too. I’m just more focused and intense about it now.”

That attention to the scene is reflected in GangStarr’s constant promotion of the Canadian scene, whether it’s sticking an early Choclair track on a mix tape or signing Canadian acts to their GangStarr Foundation.

“Part of that was just being on the road and staying open to what was happening where we were playing,” Guru explains. “We’d always check the Rascalz or Kardinal when we came through town, and it built from there.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is how diverse the Canadian scene is. We’re putting out a single by Bless, who’s from Montreal, and when you talk to cats there they feel like they’ve got their own thing going on and are separate from the T-dot. It’s not just one Canadian scene.”

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