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New Gang Starr album out

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The Owner’s message not all violence, says rapper Guru

Who: Gang Starr

Where: Garfinkel’s

When: Sept. 22

Rap can be misunderstood.

So says New York City’s Guru (a.k.a. Keith Elam) one half of Gang Starr (Moment of Truth, Full Clip), a band finishing the last stages of a new album, The Owner , on Virgin Records.

"Hip hop and rap are a tool," he says.

Guru believes the biggest misconception about rap, is that it’s all about violence.

"We live in violence, so really all we’re doing is speaking out. Right now, we’re still manipulated in some ways by the powers that be, and certain stuff is being pushed the most (on radio).

"There’s a lot of good wholesome rap music as well," he says.

It’s been three years since Gang Starr released their last album, but Guru adds "the older we get, the more records we sell – not only are we fans of the music but we eat all the stereotypes."

DJ Premier, who was born in Brooklyn and spend many years in Texas, is the other half of the band.

The two are taking their time to plan the stages of the release, owing to recent staff changes at Virgin’s NYC office.

The album, due out in February, 2003, has "less violence" in its message.

The Whistler show "will be a collage, including classic Gang Starr songs, Jazzmatazz selections, as well as some solo stuff."

As a musician who considers hip hop a valid form of jazz, Guru approaches music mixing from different genres and angles, like the remix of Medeski, Martin and Wood as well as guest drumming from Max Roach.

Chaka Khan and M’Shell N’degeocello appeared on 1995’s Jazzmatazz II.

For the time being, the Jazzmatazz project is on hold as Guru focuses on the rap recordings.

"Some of the older crowd feel rap is all the same, about sex and drugs, and a lot of people are sick of it.

"But at the same time, what gives an artist credibility?" he ponders.

"You need a style that’s all about bringing a message out," says the artist, who was born in Roxbury, Mass.

In an interview with ATN magazine several years ago, he elaborated.

"Lots of guys are faking moves and selling records, but they’re not really all that, what they say they are."

Guru says at times Gang Starr feels misplaced in the hub of rap industry.

"We get overlooked and under-promoted (even though) we are the most legendary and relevant hip hop band today."

But the respect of his peers seems to satisfy that irritation.

"We’re still the most respected by our fellow artists," he says proudly.

Perhaps that’s what matters most as a musician, to be recognized by colleagues.

Krumbsnatcha, who releases a new album produced by Guru on Oct. 8, and Bless, an 18-year-old he calls "the best new white rapper" this year are two guest artists on The Owner .

"Although Eminem has really stepped up the criteria for white rappers," he adds.

Black Jesus from Harlem, N.Y. and Medoughza from Brooklyn are also on the album.

Guru received critical acclaim and made additional jazz fans with the Jazzmatazz, a series of albums featuring guests like Herbie Hancock and Isaac Hayes.

In the past Guru has worked with Fat Joe (Jealous Ones Still Envy compilation), MOP, and Busta Rhymes (Anarchy), recording early "reality rap."

"We combined street knowledge with spirituality, the message in our music is so much deeper.

"Rap is a strong way to get a message out. We might be talking about the poor education in the cities," says the former caseworker for maximum detention kids.

"Teachers are paid so little – you can’t live off those salaries – and people get frustrated in those jobs.

"They’ll spend more on prisons than good facilities."

Getting back to survivable salaries, Guru says touring is the main way artists can see money directly, but he says 2002 has been "a worse financial year" owing to more time spent with his two-year-old son.

And happily so.

Meanwhile he pursues film rolls. He has appeared in Substitute II and 3 A.M.

"You look at all you’ve accomplished at the end of the day and you evaluate it and you say, ‘Damn, that shit is fly. I want to do this for a long time’," Guru said in a 1999 interview.

To hear Gang Starr’s new sounds and Guru’s old faves check out the show one week from Sunday.

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