When speaking of East Coast hip-hop of the '90s, Gang Starr is likely to come up as one of the preeminent duos from that era. Comprised of the late Guru and DJ Premier, the pair would help cultivate the sound that was prevalent throughout the second golden era of New York rap.
Guru founded the group in 1985 with his original partner DJ 1,2 B-Down, but joined forces with DJ Premier in 1989, after 1,2 B-Down's departure. From there, the revamped Gang Starr released their 1989 debut, No More Mr. Nice Guy, on Wild Pitch Records. While the album was a marginal success, their switch to Chrysalis Records proved to be a fruitful one as their 1991 sophomore album, Step in the Arena, would be the beginning of one of the best streaks of rap releases in hip-hop history.
Guru was always a capable MC, but much of the credit for the group's success would often go to DJ Premier, which led to him being one of the most sought-after producers in hip-hop during the mid-'90s. While Premier began to expand his production clientele, Guru decided to take a step out on his own as well in 1993, releasing the first of a trilogy of Jazzmatazz albums.
A longtime jazz aficionado, Guru enlisted some of the genre's most accomplished musicians including Lonnie Liston Smith, Branford Marsalis, Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers, among others, to craft the opus. Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1 was very well-received and proved that Guru could in fact hold his own and was no means being carried by anyone.
The success of the first volume prompted a sequel, Guru's Jazzmatazz, Vol. 2: The New Reality. Released on June 18, 1995, this album's lineup wasn't as star-studded as the first, but stylistically was up to snuff and actually outperformed its predecessor in the marketplace, peaking at No. 16 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart.
Featuring appearances from the likes Kool Keith, Jamiroqaui and Patra, Jazzmatazz, Vol. 2: The New Reality is definitely an underrated gem that more people should be up on and The Boombox is here to make sure that happens. Check out five best songs from the album for your listening pleasure.
"For You" Featuring Meshell Ndegeocello
"For You" is a number that sees Guru giving reverence to his parents and friends for their loyalty and guidance. Featuring Meshell Ndegeocello, who handles hook duties on this outing, "For You" plays as a rap ditty, but could pass as a beefed up jazz composition with its crisp instrumentation. One of the more serious selections on the album, the Brooklyn transplant lays down his rhyme attack over a horn-heavy soundbed complimented by murky drums, all of which equal a pleasant listen without compromising your boom-bap fetish.
"Choice Of Weapons" Featuing Gus Da Vigilante and Dee C. Free
While Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 is primarily a jazzy affair, the album gets a jolt of boom-bap with the enticing offering, "Choice Of Weapons." Featuring Gus Da Vigilante, Guru and Gus pummel the beat with bruising bars, like "Yo, the question remains, kid, why you flexing like a bicep / Heat on ya' hip just to get a rep it ain't worth it / Just because you pack a biscuit / Doesn't mean you can't become another statistic / You figure..." and other hard-boiled takes over dusty drum kicks, keys, and wailing saxophones. Vocalist Dee C. Lee turns in an impressive performance on the chorus and completes the cipher with her soulful adlibs, making "Choice Of Weapons" one of Jazzmatazz Vol. 2's finer moments.
"Respect The Architect" Featuring Bahamadia
Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 gets a boost when Philadelphia native Bahamadia makes her presence known on the album cut, "Respect The Architect." Produced by Guru himself, the beat features synths and piano keys, courtesy of jazz musician Ramsey Lewis, as well as timely scratches by DJ Scratch, causing for a plush soundbed for Bald-head Slick and Bahamadia to volley their rhymes over. Bahamadia takes the bulls by horn with a stellar opening stanza, while Guru adds reinforcement before flipping the order on the second verse, causing for "Respect The Architect" to play as a true collaboration rather than a Guru track with a guest for show.
"Skit B (A Lot On My Mind)/Revelations" Featuring Bu
Guru gets contemplative on the Jazzmatazz finale, "Revelation," a thoughtful cut that sees the lyrical half of Gang Starr dropping gems alongside guest MC Bu. The is preceded by "Skit B (A Lot On My Mind), which features Guru being comforted by a female attempting to relieve his stress, setting the tone effectively for the rest of the track. Touching on the despair that plagues the inner-city with the lines, "Constant, all of our lives, all of our dreams / It seems we can never accomplish a thing," Guru serves up a healthy dosage of reality rap with his bars. Despite being a relative unknown, Bu manages to steal the show with impressive rhymes and an undeniable presence, rapping "I do with what I got to get what I need / Speed and greed only adds up to body-bags / I'm just glad I got breath to breathe / Too many dropping like leaves off trees," serving as the most valuable rapping costar on Ja.zzmatazz Vol. 2
"Skit A (Interview)/Watch What You Say"
Guru warns rappers and other entertainers to be leery of their words on the Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 heater, "Watch What You Say." Beginning the song with a brief skit speaking on his feelings of art influencing life, the King of Monotone then delivers two steady verses over a beat containing a sample of Quincy Jones' "The Midnight Sun Will Never Set." Listeners also get a special treat in the form an appearance from legendary songstress Chaka Khan, who provides the hook and a verse of her own, lending her distinct vocals to the track, which serve as the cherry on top for this classic jam.
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