The Dominant One, The Prominent One

What can I say… I’m speechless, at a loss for words. My favorite hip-hop MC of all time passed away Monday. Guru, of Gang Starr, Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal, succumbed to cancer after what was reportedly a very intense battle and ended in a month long coma and then a heart attack. He was 43 (47 according to the New York Times). There’s a lot of drama surrounding his passing, but it’s family business and should be left out of the media.

It was about 1989 and I used to stay up late to catch Pump It Up on Fox, which I think came on around 1am eastern time. I was just a kid, and I’d sneak out of bed to watch it. I was hooked on hip-hop long before I had a license to drive or even kissed a girl – the only one among my friends who embraced hip-hop long before it became mainstream. It was on Pump It Up that I first heard of Gang Starr and I was immediately hooked – like a lightning rod struck me right on my head. Hip-hop spoke to me like nothing else – certainly not the hairbands of the time, the heavy metal, the wack and cheesy R&B, or anything else of the time. Gang Starr had the video for Just to Get a Rep played on Pump It Up that at the same time as Boogie Down Productions, Brand Nubian, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, so many other pioneers of the time. Hip-hop was real – and GangStarr embodied what I wanted from music in the days of my youth.

In the years that followed, through some very tumultuous teenage years (and then some), it was among others but namely Gang Starr that were always on my headphones. Guru’s philosophy, lyrical genius, social messages, messages of knowledge of Self, about workin hard, and DJ Premier’s cuts, scratches, blends of jazz, horns, and melodies kept my feet on the ground and kept me tough and strong-minded when I had little else to hold on to. Gang Starr gave me power, strength; Gang Starr was a fixture in my life and to this today remains that way.

The news hit me yesterday when my friend DJ GarfDigga tweeted:

Back home in Brooklyn passin thru East New York listenin 2radio – hearin the love for #Guru #Gangstarr – Love is Love

I had no idea what he was talking about but I instantly got the chills. Moments later I saw the news and we tweeted back and forth.

Now, I don’t usually get upset about celebrities passing, with rare exceptions like Michael Jackson, Joe Strummer, Kurt Cobain, and a small handful of others. But Guru, Gang Starr, Jazzmatazz, was like a teacher to me. With Guru gone now I can’t help but feel like a part of myself was just lost as well. I know that the music and the philosophy will live on, but it’s little comfort right now.

Finding a way is important
Map out a plan, take a stand, you can work it
The future’s all in your hands and
So of yourself, yea, you should be demanding
We’re all responsible for whatever outcome
That’s why I speak over beats for my income
Knowledge is key and if you ask what it is, g
It’s just a form of my style of street ministry
Street ministry…

And, one of my favorite’s of all time, that just gets me ready for daily battle every time I hear it:

Aiyyo I’m gonna be on ti dop that’s all my eyes can see
Victory is mine yeah surprisingly
I’ve been laying waiting for your next mistake
I put in work and watch my status escalate
Now I’ma start collectin props connectin plots
networkin like a conference cause the nonsense is yet to stop
Jakes shake me down, haters wanna take me down
Break me down, CLAP all they heard was the sound

When Guru released Jazzmatazz in the early 90s, I jumped on board and found myself hooked again. It wasn’t long after that I became a jazz freak – just took the plunge, started exploring jazz of all kinds, of all flavors.

In my early 20s when I was going through more crap, had lost some friends to reckless living, crime, prison, and others were just going down a path I didn’t want to take, it was Moment of Truth that I put on my headphones when I’d bike around the city just thinking and meditating on life. Empowered by the lyrics, the confidence, the wisdom, I sorted my shit out and never looked back.

Alright – ’nuff said. Keith (a.k.a. Guru) Elam – thank you for your gift to me and to so many others and for leaving such an imprint behind. Rest in peace.

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Project 365: As it Happens

If you’re following along with my Project 365, I’m including the pics below. I upload each picture every day when possible. Here’s an update on the project after my first month at it.

You can see the all photos of the project below. If you click on the pics they’ll open up in a lightbox and you can browse the gallery one at a time. These pics are all stored up on my flickr page in the Project 365 set.

I’m having a ton of fun and finding new ways of challenging myself and creating more interesting photos(I should say photos that I find interesting). Some are lame and mundane too, but hey, what can you take a picture of when you in bed with the flu? Don’t answer that.

[flickr-gallery mode=”photoset” photoset=”72157623117114636″ flickr size=”medium”]

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Project 365: Lessons Learned

I’m one month into Project 365, where I take a picture every single day this year. At the bottom of this post are the pics from all 31 pictures taken in January 2010. Most I like, some I hate, a few I love. But I’ve learned a few lessons learned thus far in Project 365, and here they are…

  1. Taking a picture every day is hard. No shocker there. It can lead to mundain photos of just daily life, things that are quite boring. And when I’m inconvenienced by something that takes my attention away from taking a photo, or keeping my eyes peeled for something photo worthy, I find myself struggling at the end of the day to take a photo and that usually leads to something really lame or boring. Lesson learned: No matter how hard it is, I must strive to take a photo either earlier in the day or if I can’t I must take a photo that is not as boring as convenience might lend.
  2. It’s hard to be creative when you’re not feelin’ it. Forcing creativity usually results in really lame pictures, forced. However, I do find myself spotting moments of humanity’s sadness in daily life, in the world around me, moments of humanity that I want to capture, someone pushing a shopping cart of cans up a hill, and I want to take a photo of that, but there are so many reasons why I don’t, mainly that it seems degrading to the subject. Lesson learned: Find something beautiful, no matter my own definition of beauty. What I think is beautiful could be something quite sad, quite cold, but yet beautiful. Like that stupid plastic bag dancing in the breeze in American Beauty. Sorry for the lame example, but it makes the point.
  3. The iPhone camera is simply not good enough for this project, not even close. I’ve been using the free Adobe Photoshop app to tweak the photos, but the original photo leaves much to be desired. Lesson learned: bring my point-and-shoot with me wherever I go, at the minimum. If I can, bring my Canon EOS 40D.
  4. I’ve been doing Project 365 with Ali and that helps a lot. Doing it together really helps each of us remember, and it’s a lot fun too. We’re experimenting a bit, and challenging each other and having a lot of fun. I’m helping her learn her Nikon D40 and learn more about digital photography, and doing this project together everyday helps both of learn from each other and inspire each other.
  5. Be spontaneous. I’m just getting the grasp on this now. Wednesday evening I got home from a doctor appointment around 8pm and there was a possum in my driveway. Most people would say “big deal.” But I immediately reached for the camera. Why? Well it’s a quick pic for my daily quota, but also it’s something different and unique – something I don’t experience every day. Taking pictures of my dog Elmer, while he’s cute and all that, is just kinda routine, expected. A possum in my driveway, a little different. Lesson: have a camera with me and be ready to take a picture of those moments that pass as quickly as the come. Be quick, be spontaneous, be confident.
  6. Raise the bar. Over the last few days of January I’ve been trying to take pictures that I’ve always wanted to take. A picture of a droplet, intervals of the moon (or sun), star trails. There are many more pictures I just want to take to cut notches in my belt, if you will, and to prove to myself that I can do it. It’s easier to take these kinds of photos that take a lot of time when, well, when I have the time. But the more I cut my teeth on these kinds of challenging pictures, the easier it becomes to take them. Key lesson here to just keep raising the bar for myself, don’t be afraid to take pictures I may think I’m not good enough for; I just may surprise myself.

So far what I’m really enjoying about this project is how it demands my attention and a commitment. I love that I must dedicate a little time every day to being creative, and taking a break from everything else. I love that the pictures also show me where I’ve been, or what was on my mind, or a mood I may been in, or a circumstance, the weather and seasons, or even a new idea I’m toying with. I’m using a variety of lenses, from my Canon EF-S 70-200 f/2.8 to my 60mm macro lens or 15mm Tokina fisheye. I’m using them to help guide me as much as I’m choosing them for certain subjects. That’s a cool record of daily life that I can look back on. Also, the pictures that I’m choosing for Project 365 each day are just one photo among many others. I am taking other photos of other things, or of the same subject. So I have a record of that in Adobe Lightroom too, and all tagged properly so I can look back at my library. Very cool indeed.

I’m looking forward to more! I think getting through the first month was the toughest, making it a habit and routine is the hardest part. Now it’s part of my daily routine.

OK, onto February!

[flickr-gallery mode=”tag” tags=”project365,january,2010″ tag_mode=”all”]

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Resolution: Project 365

(Click here or scroll to the bottom of this page to see the latest pictures from my Project 365)

One of my new years resolutions for 2010 is to have more fun. Some people might think this’s funny or imply that I already have a lot of fun, as I discovered yesterday! And if that’s the perception among some people, well, that’s fantastic! I’d rather have that be the perception than others.

One of the ways I’m going to have more fun is to focus more on the things I truly enjoy and am passionate, like music (listening and creating), photography (studying and creating), and other things like more outdoors activities and travel. For the sake of this post though, I’ll stick to photography.

For 2010 I’m going to try my absolute hardest to take at least one picture every day. That’s 365 pictures this year, at minimum. This is going to be a challenge because it’ll force me to be more aesthetically aware each day, but the ultimate goal is to make aesthetic awareness more engrained into my daily awareness. This is not some new concept that I whipped up, mind you. Check out what popular photo site Photojojo has to say about Project 365:


Taking a photo a day is a big undertaking with big payoffs. Here are just a few reasons why you should consider doing it:

  • Imagine being able to look back at any day of your year and recall what you did, who you met, what you learned… (Often we find it hard to remember what we did just yesterday or even last night, let alone a whole year ago!)
  • Your year-long photo album will be an amazing way to document your travels and accomplishments, your haircuts and relationships. Time moves surprisingly fast.
  • Taking a photo a day will make you a better photographer. Using your camera every day will help you learn its limits. You will get better at composing your shots, you’ll start to care about lighting, and you’ll become more creative with your photography when you’re forced to come up with something new every single day.

I will use any imaging device that I have around me. In most cases that will be my iPhone 3GS because it’s with me 24 hours a day and there’s some nice iPhone apps for photography that I can use. I may also use my Canon SD750 point-and-shoot, and in some cases my Canon EOS 40D.

Yesterday, Jan 1, 2010 I took my first picture. Today, January 2nd, I’ve yet to take one and have no idea what it will be. This is the fun part, always being aesthetically aware and in my own personal way. All my pictures can be found here on Flickr under the set titled “365 in 2010.” I will also try to include a widget up here on this blog that shows my daily photos, and will also keep a blog entry on showing the progress, as well as below…

Latest from Project 365

Click a pic to see it a bit larger. You can also see larger versions of them on my Project 365 Flickr set.

I’m trying to take pictures that capture the theme of the day, or a mood. So far, so good. What do you think?
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Who I Am

I was speaking with a friend last night about existentialism. I had quite a bit of whiskey in me so I admittedly had a problem pronouncing existentialism. Ironic timing though, because I’d just started the first piece of a large installation I’m working on. I’ve crafted a draft of the idea, and there’s a lot of work ahead. I think it’ll take a few months to get it done and done right, maybe longer. Anyhow, I figured I’d start putting the home-grown pieces of it up here on my blog. It’ll be a variety of media, so it seems. Here’s the first one, an audio file created this weekend on my Zoom H4n, it’s stereo mics plus a Shure SM-58. I edited it with Ableton Live. It’s not much at all, but it’s just one small puzzle piece in a large puzzle.

Jerry, Stuck on a Kite

Wise men are dying
and developing bubbles on their stomachs.

Fools bleed
and laugh a confident cry.

Birds sleep while flowers grow
and a walk through intimidation
tells all a tale of ego.

Chuggin’ through a day
finding ourselves in idle again, the next.

Open a window, but never one off the street,
I wanna sleep.

(originally written summer of 1994 ?)