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GANG STARR
LOCK 'N LOAD
interview by Meshack Blaq
photos by Lone-Shark

What does 10 years in Hip Hop Manifest? Step Into The Arena with Gang Starr and find out what happens when a Flyweight Rookie goes against the Middleweight Champs. Unlike most groups in the Game that are out Just To Get A Rep, longevity has always been the secret to their Daily Operation. The road to Mass Appeal has been a long and winding Moment Of Truth. Through it all, both Guru and Primo have developed into True Masters of their respective crafts. In the process, they've built a Foundation based on the the Code Of The Streets with lyrical troops that makeup a Hip Hop Militia. Outside accolades aside, when these two entities combine it's bound to be a SONIC EXPLOSION


GURU
SPEAK YA CLOUT
KRON:
Even though we've done this many times before, this time is Real Special for us because we're gonna do a Cover on you Brothas. And right now you guys have this tribute album comin' out. Like a retro of your whole career, when most artists never even make it to that point. And if they do, it seems like their career is over. On the flipside, you guys are just startin' all over again. So where would you like to pick up at?
GURU:
It's like a Rebirth. And that's because we've always been the type of people that could replenish, regenerate, you know, reinvent; to adapt and change with the times, but never to lose our core audience, and never to lose our dedication to the Artform. And to go by the rules; play the Game by the rules. So it's logical that we would be having a rebirth again. It's kinda Dope, but it's logical lookin' at the way in the beginning how we was underrated, undermarketed, underpromoted, etc. But we managed to keep our heads above-water by becoming Businessmen as well. And by expanding and discoverin' our talent. Premier's whole production career exploded. Me goin' on to do Jazzmatazz and things like that. But still again, Jazzmatazz was on the Underground, underrated, underpromoted project. So it's like all of that instead of gettin' frustrated, just gives us the enegry to put out more Dope tracks and have the longevity that some groups never have, and some artists never experience. And I think it's a Bless ing. I look at it as a Blessing.
KRON:
I always wanted to ask you ever since I heard the album with the Mad Rapper; that first skit he did where he's like, "Yo Yo Yo! This is my 4th album..." I wondered, before the last album went Gold and everything, did you ever feel the way that the Mad Rapper felt in that Skit?
GURU:
I was only frustrated at the Record Companies. Or the people involved that were supposed to be... A Record Company is a machine behind the artist. And if the machine is not working well: if the talent and dedication is dealing with the artist, and the machine's not workin' right; then you got a situation where it's like, popularity vs. sales. I mean, we're popular everywhere. I don't go anywhere in this Country; and I be in a lotta places around the world. In a lotta Ghettos and a lotta Executive-level places. And it's like, people Recognize. So I'm like, "Well where's my sales at?" I would never Player Hate or whatever. I congratulate, elevate, innovate, & update. The whole thing is like, I wouldn't want to channel my energy that way. If it was any type of feelin' I had about that, I'd put it in a song. A song speaks for itself. All our songs!
KRON:
So if we take it all the way to the beginning from `Manifest': the lyrics you were dropping then and the lyrics you've always dropped have sort of been ahead-of-the-time; you know, years ahead. What would you say you've Manifested from the very beginning `til now? That you wanted to Manifest?
GURU:
A lotta stuff, I Prophesized about things that were gonna happen in history, in the society, in the world, and also in my own life. So it's Ill. But now the lyrics are even more On Time rather than ahead of its time. Cause now my life and all that in the lyrics; everything has come even closer to the Oneness. And then it's also a Oneness with the Audience too, because it's like BOOM! Right in their face, "This is the Realness!" Like Moment Of Truth speaks for itself. There was some songs on there that was the Illest pain. But everybody feels pain. So why not speak on it? So I put it out there. I can take a personal experience, but make it a Universal experience by the lyrical- poetical gift that I have. That's how I maintain bein' myself. As long as I can do that, I'm happy. If I get frustrated with that, then I wouldn't be happy. And that's why whatever life throws at me, I try to keep focused because Hip Hop is like my Rock. That's the Inner-Soul to the whole everything, Yo!
KRON:
Alright. The cut `Just To Get A Rep' seemed like at that time, you really blew up some Real Shit. You know, Shorty's on the block, and you gotta get Mo Money, Mo Money, Mo Money!
GURU:
Well that's what we was livin'. That's what was goin' on.
KRON:
And what I wanted to ask you was...
GURU:
And it's still goin' on; elevatin' in just different generations.
KRON:
But yea, bein' that you've grown up thru that and now that you've matured, do you still find that you have to face Shorty's around the way that are on that shit?
GURU:
Yea, but you gotta know how to roll cause sometimes Brothas or whatever, could catch you off-guard and just push you right down on the floor. And what it is, sometimes Brothas take kindness for weakness. But it's all Good; you gotta know how to hold ya head up and keep it movin', keep it steppin' and show strength! A lotta times bad things happen to good people. That's part of life. To me that's part of the Game. There's a downside, but there's an upside comin' up. But I've been there. I've been a Shorty doin' that. Just out of peer pressure and the whole 9. Cause you might get some loot: you might do a stick and get some loot. And then it won't be enough to really split it with Niggaz. You might do a stick and get no money. And then it's like, "What the fuck did you do it for?" Just for a Rep! It's fun, Man! If you starvin' you ain't gonna do somethin' like that. If a Niggaz starvin', you gonna do a Stick-stick. If you're intelligent. Cats be just wantin' to do shit... What it is, is that the mentalunity of Urban Youth in some ways is bein' poisoned because Brothas who are into instant gratification feel like you have to pull another down in order to get up: the Crabs-in-the-Bucket Theory. Which is WACK! We can't be havin' that!
KRON:
How do you feel about all of the artists that you helped to introduce to the world of Hip Hop thru the Gang Starr Foundation?
GURU:
Well first of all, all of them is Fam and we had a ball last night at Premier's party [his B-Day]. It was like a big Reunion! Look out for the Group Home album; Tear For The Ghetto. Courtesy of Lil' Dap. Low Budget Environment Productions and Guru Productions Inc. Lookout for that coming soon! The first single is `Oh Sweet America'. A lotta irony in that one. And `Stupid MF's'. and then look out for the Big Shug album; Who's Hard?. Five tracks by Premiere, two by myself.
KRON:
Let's talk about Big Shug for a minute cause he's an interesting mix. I've seen him both witht the Gang Starr Posse with the strai Hip Hop. And then I've seen him with Jazzmatazz where he actually Blows!
GURU:
Shug is versatile like that. And he just needs the right label and right machine behind him. So `99 is like a Rebirth not just for me and Premiere butt it's a birth of career artist's careers. We got a group called forbidden on Tommy Boy. My man Hanniball who spit with me on `It's A Setup'. Look out for him and his DJ Mack Rome. It's a lotta things in the Mix. Freddie Fox. Lookout for him. He got some Hot shit. He got a single out now that Primo did. He does his stuff independently. So everybody's learnin' the Business and everybody's growin' Look out for Jeru's stuff that he's workin' on. Look out for the new M.O.P.! And don't forget Crumb Snatcha. Cause Crumb Snatcha be spittin' the Quotables. He got some Hard shit that he was just playin' for me that we wanna collaborate on more things too.
KRON:
One question that a lotta people including myself, have always wondered is, how have you managed to do so much in a field that was already predetermined that it was a Fad, and that there is no longevity?
GURU:
Now they know that they were wrong! Because they're all tryin' to get involved with it; the main aspects from the major record labels really bugging out over these self-made millionaires that came thru the Game by doing stuff independent of them. They gotta Recognize whern Cats are making 52 Million! They gotta! And then you got the way it keeps evolving. Now you got Eminem that's doin' a whole `nother level.
KRON:
But for you, you were doin' that years ago. There were naysayers talking about how Jazzmatazz would never work! But yet you did I & II and probably working on III, right? So what attribute would you say it was about you that you would go and forge ahead even though there were odds stacked against you?
GURU:
Well I forged ahead because first of all it started with `Jazz Thang' for Spike Lee. And when we switched labels that was like a key point in our career where we got more recognition. And we were actually gettin' some Radio play, and we started to Tour in Europe and Japan for the first time. And people started wantin' us to be called Jazz Rap. See we came at an era where the James Brown sample was gettin' played out. And then BOOM! Premiere comes with the Illest style as far as just usin' Jazz breaks along with some James Brown Funk and all kinds of other stuff. And our first album was like our resume. I don't even count that. Cause that was like, we did that album in a week-and-a-half. We were hungry! Then the next album; Step Into The Arena took a month. Then the next album; Daily Operation took two months. Then Hard To Earn took three. And this one took a year; Moment Of Truth. So we just kept evolvin'. But the longevity and what pushed me to step out and experiment early on was just certain experiences in my life just made me that way. It wasn't like it was premeditated. The artwork, the music comes thru what goes on around me and how I see it. And how I interpret it for myself. So when they tried to label us Jazz Rappers I was like, "We ain't Jazz Rap! This is Reality Rap; this is Real Shit and it's gettin' Realer as it goes along", so let me step out and do something with some of these Cats that we sample. Do something live to Hip Hop tracks. Let me work with some female vocalists who I'd love to collaborate with along with Jazz Cats that I would love to collaborate with. I was just curious. And when I first talked with Donald Byrd, he already knew. For some reason he had a Vision too. And then it was sparked also by Great things like Easy Mo Bee working with Miles. That was ahead of it's time too. Play that album now and everybody likes that shit. I just did somethin' with Mo Bee for his album.
KRON:
Bring us up to date for `99 with the Full Clip LP.
GURU:
This is just to hold you off until a definite `nother Gang Starr album by the Summer of 2000.
KRON:
So what's the meaning behind the Full Clip?
GURU:
Full Clip is just like, it's War out here! And you gotta know what's goin' on. You gotta be prepared! You gotta keep your Click tight. You gotta keep yourself tight. We livin' to exemplify that. And plus, we got enough Jams that we've done that people always ask about. Like, "How can I get it, and boom-boom?" And we wanted to satisfy those Fans who have supported us over the years. And give them a collector's item that they can have and say, "Yo, I got all the joints on a double-cd. 31 joints of my favorite Gang Starr cuts, plus two new songs!".
KRON:
Of which Full Clip is one of the two new cuts and also the title track, right? What's that about?
GURU:
That's the Battle Street stuff on a new-type of level; Intelligent Thug style. You know, Tycoon Old Man Thug! From the records we track, Primo knows I can flip `em. So he'll give me some melodic, or groovin' stuff and it's up to me with like, the Monotone to flow up & over that with the lyrics kinda tight and concise.
DJ PREMIERE
SIGNATURE SOUND

KRON:
Alright Premiere, first thing I wanted to ask is where I left off with Guru. You guys have been doin' this for so long and have so many hardcore fans that'll pick up whatever you do with your name on it or his name on it. When is the actual Documentary Video gonna come out so we can cop that Gang Starr story?
PRIMO:
Movie-wise that'll never be my thing. The only thing I wanna touch on movies is producin' Soundtracks and shit like that. But thru the album on the video that we're puttin' out which is called "Full Clip", I'm Directin' it and it's gonna have ten years worth of footage and eyeethang. From when I used to have a flat-top, chillin' in the crib makin' demos, pre-record deal and all that stuff. I gotta lotta video footage so thru the meat of that right there, it should hopefully get you to go buy the album before we drop the second single. This album has got two new songs on it. So we definitely tryin' to just show people we've been around and for those that missed us, they like gettin' a re-issue of an old book in a new form. That's really what the album and video concept is; takin' all the best chapters out of all our books and makin' it all one. From there, if you really wanna dig deeper, then you can cop all those albums if they're still available. This just shows that we've been puttin' it down forthe love of the artform from Day One. That's what we wanted to remain; that's all we want to continue to do when it comes to makin' Gang Starr records. Me & him ain't gotta do a formula song. Like when we get together, it always comes out right.
KRON:
Over the years, you've built yourself up to the point where you've become the most sought after Producers on the Underground, and for Hip Hop artists who have had the mainstream crossover to them. Yet you're still the same Brotha I met, like 7 years ago. What is it that has kept you level-headed amidst all the gradual successes?
PRIMO:
I think that comes from still bein' a fan. I didn't let the professional part of it take control over what I'm in it for. I'm in it just for the Love, really. But I see that you can actually make a livin' off of it. So it's like, let me combine the two. That's why it's where I'm still stayin' true to what I like to listen to as a fan, but at the same time apply it on a Business level where I can actually make money off of it and not have to seek a regular 9-5. And to pay my bills get all the things that I've always wanted to get in life besides the material things. Of course that too, but the things that'll just make me happy in life.
KRON:
So Primo, with all the changes that have happenned so rapidly in a technological sense, does that put a higher value on your record collection and diggin' further back into the crates?
PRIMO:
Ain't really that much changed for me cause I still got the same equipment. I still don't even own a keyboard. I just started to play with that just last year. And I still didn't own one as of last week. But look how long it took to get to that stage; we were buyin' a keyboard to go to that level of advancin' my style. I've been usin' the same equipment since `92. And I think my styles have changed on every record. And on top of that I think anytime I master a style for that era that I'm in, I always look forward to when I do the next album or next project with an artist. So that he can come different again. But still that style will be known that Premiere did it. But you can't compare it to what I was doin' back in `91-`92. And I think I keep on steppin' up as I go along because I'm just learnin' more and more things. So the only thing as far as diggin' is just tryin' to be a little more sneakier with the samples. Cause everybody's goin' crazy over just the shortest piece of a record now. It's just outta hand. So that alone right there makes me just show `em I can still take his shit and you're just not gonna figure out what it is.
KRON:
Would you say that over the years that you've become more of a layering type of Producer or more of a minimalist?
PRIMO:
Both. It just depends on what type of song I'm tryin' to bring out. It depends on the song, it depends on the artist. It depends on how many songs I'm doin' for that artist. If I'm just doin' one, it's just gotta be that one Hot joint! If I'm doin' three, I always like to do abstract shit because I feel like as an artist, you supposed to be able to go a little to the left field without goin' too far to stray away from what you're doin' as far as creatin' the music for the fans that you want to listen to this shit. I always like to do some abstract shit, which is why I like messin' with Guru. Because I'll give him an abstract track and he can fuck with it. Like "Robin Hood Theory"; that's not a beat I would give to B.I.G.- God Bless the dead, or Jay- Z, or Rakim for that matter. I know I gotta give `em the straight Ghetto shit that Niggaz are gonna be able to kick they shit to. But I can do that with Guru too; give him some Ghetto shit to flip it. But I can also lace him with a track like "Robin Hood Theory" and let him put his mind and the lyrics to that track and it still sounds Dope to y'all. So like, "Next Time"; same thing. He took that track and just put a new style to it. And I liked what he kicked on it. But it does depend on the artist, how many songs I'm doin', and just whatever he's tryin' to get out of it. Like a Hot Single or just a good record to listen to.
KRON:
Do you find that maintaining your status as a DJ helps you to stay on edge when you're creating tracks?
PRIMO:
Most definitely, I try to. But I don't really get down like that when it comes to just DJin' clubs or whatever. I think I've had a few gigs, but not like a Funkmaster Flex or a Kid Capri or a Clue, or somebody like that. I don't really get gigs like that. Usually, the production thing is really what's been accommodatin' my whole career right now. Besides bein' an artist with Gang Starr. Or when we mess around with M.O.P. or somethin' like that. But otherwise, I did a party with Janet Jackson in London which was Phat. And I tried to keep it more on the Soul level. But she had requested to play "Benjamen's" and all that type of stuff. So I was like, alright Cool! Once that happenned I went just straight into the Hip Hop mode and that's what she ended up likin'. When I was just bein' myself, but I was tryin' to basically keep it to the vibe of what I thought the party would appreciate, and keep it well rounded. But all the white Cats in Mother England, it wasn't that many Black Folks there. So I already knew that I had to bring a little bit of everything.
KRON:
We were talkin' to Terror Squad yesterday and Fat Joe mentioned that you were gonna be doin' a Compilation album on his label. Can you speak upon that?
PRIMO:
Yea, Joe and a lotta other people have approached me about doin' a Compilation album and I've been hesitant. Largely because I wanna do it on my own label whenever I launch my own label. I'm still not prepared to do that yet because I know how much time and attention it takes. And with the workload I got right now, I don't wanna clog myself to where my label doesn't jump off the way it should for the reputaion I have. So I'll take a backseat until I'm fully ready. In the meantime, there's a lotta people out there that I feel like deserve to be eatin' in the same vein as me. And I'm lookin' at it as an opportunity on several levels. One- to feed some important people in my life that deserve to be in the Game. Two- Joe is Family from before he had a record deal. And he was always good People from when I used to live in the Bronx. I used to live on 183rd. And I met Joe thru Showbiz and Lord Finesse and everybody. So when it came down to Joe tellin' me he would give me total control of my project and let me completely do my thing. Which is put it through Terror Squad and I get to own my Masters and everythting. So I was like, Cool! Let's roll wit' it. And we know it's a Business even though Joe and I are friends but we've gone through that mill a few times. But that's only right because it's Business. And we just worked it out because it's been on hold for like almost 6-7 months. And we finally got down to gettin' everything the way we wanted it. I'ma pick R&B artists that I like, and I've always wanted to work with... MC's that I've either worked with, or that I wanna work with. Put some of my Cats that are Fam on. Like my Nigga Joe Rockhead met me in college but I still ain't never did a joint for him. Just basically doin' it my way, but it's gonna be well-rounded to where hopefully it'll sell to the masses. I think it'll come out the same way as any other record that I work on, but it's gonna be madd different. But I'ma make sure it's Dope though.
KRON:
Do you have any prior aspirations that you had that you might tend to once you're not-so-busy?
PRIMO:
Well I'd like to do film scores cause I like a lotta music that people put to films before. And then on top of that I like the fact that, just like with me Directin' this video it's like I already have a Vision. And it's like, I've worked with a lotta Directors and they've done decent to half-ass jobs on our videos. It's time to bring out the Vision the way we see it. Just like when Menace came out and Boys In The Hood came out; when the New York movies were done, we was like, "Damn Man, it don't look like the way it's supposed to be". The slang might be old or whatever. Just like I loved New Jack City, but some of the slang they was sayin' was like madd old. But still, we have a Vision that's more realistic when you're out there. So it's the same thing when I'm makin' my music. I try to make it so Real where you can actually visualize everything that you hear. That's why I would love to do a Soundtrack or a whole Score a film. I even wanna get the groups to be on the Soundtrack. Like you know whenthey have features on the artists? I wouldn't just get the Big artist even though I know sometimes you have to have the big artist just to get the name to help sell the record. But there's a lotta unknown artists that are just as talented on the singin' level and the Hip Hop level that I'd like to mess with. I'm into certain things and I have my own styles of what grabs me. And so I'll take a shot at it and if it don't work then I'll shut it down. Music is the number one thing though. I'm tryin' to get down with people who are just part of our Culture; the Hip Hop Culture. If you're not with that, I'm not tryin' to expand to where my shit is hookin' up and goin' with all the models and that type of stuff. I'm not tryin' to go there with clothing. I might evolve like a small Big Business. You can have a small Big Business. I just wanna live comfortable enough to not worry. I don't need no mansion type of lifestyle but I don't wanna be scared when it comes to how I live.
KRON:
Well returning to the point you touched upon with scoring movies, all the shit you make sounds like Soundtrack music and Score music. But it seems like over the years that critics have labeled you guys with the Jazz Hip Hop tag. My opinion is not so much of a Jazz Hip Hop thing, but tapping into that emotion that Jazz brought and still brings.
PRIMO:
Exactly!
KRON:
And so the question would be, on an emotional level how important is Jazz to you?
PRIMO:
It's important for One; because my Grandfather played in a Jazz band and he travelled and Toured. He showed me all the pictures of where he'd been. Kept madd photo albums of all that, so it wasn't even like I planned to follow in his footsteps. It just happenned that he was on that side of the family. And I am just like my mother which is his daughter. She's musical as a fan; she plays no instruments. She doesn't mess with nothin' musical except for when it comes to her record collection. She got the Illest collection. From Jazz to Soul to Opera and all that. And just the stuff that she chose shows that her mind is that wide in the variety of music. And then my sister was into Rock alot. And I used to think she was crazy. She got me into that, and then my Boys that I came up with were into it too. And then once I started to listen to how Rock music was put together... Especially like an AC DC or Rush or somebody like Rage Against The Machine. I like Kiss and all that shit! But to me what they do isthe same thing I do. I just do it in Hip Hop format. Just like you got Rock and you got Heavy Metal. I've seen Heavy Metal fans be like, "Aww that group is soft!" And it'll be a Rock group, but I like it or whatever. And they'll be like (mimicking a whiteboy voice), "Aww, they're soft! They're not Hard like So & So!" Which is the same thing related to Hip Hop. It's like you can have your Mase type of stuff which is all Good for that type of audience. Because I'm sure Mase don't listen to the stuff that he does. He probably listens to the DMX's or M.O.P.'s and all that stuff. That's supposed to be part of your collection too, if you're a True Purist. There's certain records in my library... I have all of Hammer's albums. That doesn't mean I'm a fan but as a DJ I feel like you supposed to be up on him too. I separate that from what I consider my Purist collection. I have my shelves of just records. And then I have my Real records that I consider like Divine Force and shit like that. That's the purist shit!
KRON:
So besides the Turntables, are there any other instruments that you played growin' up?
PRIMO:
I took piano lessons when I was probably like, I don't know. Maybe 7 or 8? Somewhere in that area. You know, once you get into that Jr. High/12-13 age, you gotta play football and all that. You don't wanna be in the band no more. Piano lessons was just a kiddie thang. Then I joined the band and played saxophone for a couple of years. After that I played football so I wasn't into the band thing. Plus when the band played, I was on the field. So I couldn't march with `em during halftime anyway. So I had to quit. Then like I said, you transform into bein' too cool for all of that. And it's Ill because now I see myself tryin' to go back to it now, because I'm so deep into the music thing. So as it comes back to me now, I'm huntin' and peckin' like I know notes. I can't just sit there and start playin' on no piano. But I'm figuring it back out again reteachin' myself, and I'ma be able to start playin' stuff on my own. So obviously that helped. That and just knowin' how to have a good ear. I think I havea very good ear. I guess that's why my ears are so wide. But I hear things, and when I hear `em I put `em down. I usually hear the song before I make it anyway. Now it's just tryin' to find the loop or the sample that sounds like what I'm hearin' in my head. That's how all my records come together. I always hear it in my head first.



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