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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I’m a Happier Person, Thanks to My Mac

mac-pcNo, seriously. I can honestly say that I’m a happier human being because of my MacBook Pro. My entire life I’ve been very into art, music, and especially the digital forms of those things. So I guess in some respects I’ve always been somewhat of a closet artist, but hadn’t really found my medium yet. With a knack for computers and technology those two things (computers and art) never converged for me. Why? Now I know. Because I was stuck in Microsoft land. And let’s face it  – there’s nothing artistic or creative about being a Windows user. Being a Windows user does not inspire creativity. And lets face something else  – something that took me years to admit – doing visual arts or music on a Windows computer is extremely difficult.

Case and point: A good friend of mine, Aaron, is a brilliant musician. He’s not only multi-instrumental, but he’s a brilliant song writer. In the 1990s he and I used to dabble with MIDI instruments, synths and a variety of other music technologies, all at his house or in one of his studios. All the while he had a Windows computer. Yet he’d always complain about how difficult Windows made things for him. He’d frequently ponder getting a Mac, and for some ignorant reason I’d convince him not to bother with a Mac. I look back now and I regret being so stinking ignorant!

There’s so many other stories I could tell similar to that one. One about a friend Liz who was a talented graphic designer. She used a Mac and I used to pick on her for it. Why? Cuz I was an ignorant Windows guy.

For enterprise purposes, a Windows machine is a great machine, always has been. But once Apple stopped building their own processors and finally started using Intel processors, all that changed. That’s when I got myself a Mac, well, a little later.

I got my MacBook Pro after having a fit of rage (a silent one) on a train to/from NY in March of ’08 years ago (read this for the story). I’ve never looked back! I feel like some once-pious Christian missionary who’d preach all about the ways of Christianity, to only find himself miserable and converting to, I don’t know, Buddhism. What I mean by that is, I regret being so ignorant for so long. I’m sorry to all those Mac people who I dissed so many times! I’m sorry to any Windows people who I steared wrong.

Today, I find myself a healthier person – and I mean that. I’m healthier because I have those creative mediums at my fingertips like never before. I have a small home studio that I use to make music. I have a synth (thanks Aaron!), and some killer studio monitors, a crappy little electric guitar, and dual monitors – and I use a bunch of professional grade studio software apps for this. I’m learning, and I’m having a blast. I’m learning to use Final Cut Pro. Holy crap that’s a beast. But I’m lovin it! I’m also a semi-pro photographer using Lightroom and Photoshop and a bunch of plugins. For the first time in a long long time I’m once again a closet artist. I have a bunch of little projects I’m working on and I’ve never felt more inspired and creative. And I would not be doing any of these things if it weren’t for that fateful day on the Acella Express when I finally had enough of Windows and made the switch.

If you’re like I once was, an ignorant Windows jerk who for some stubborn reason would “never” switch to a Mac – well, good luck to you. You don’t have to be ignorant, or a jerk either. But if you are looking to really have fun with technology, fun with a computer, and create and inspired – get yourself a Mac.

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