A New Report Details How DJ Premier Rescued Guru’s Lost Recordings
On Friday (November 1), Gang Starr will release its first album in more than 16 years. On One Of The Best Yet, the vocals of Guru are reunited with the producer/mixmaster DJ Premier for a final sendoff from one of Hip-Hop’s most trusted sources of sound and style. Old friends and Gang Starr Foundation affiliates like Jeru The Damaja, Group Home, Big Shug, Freddie Foxxx, and M.O.P. are involved. Peers like Q-Tip, Royce 5’9, and Talib Kweli are also participating. Additionally, Preemo recruited J. Cole and Nitty Scott, MC to carry the torch onward.
In a new feature story with Paul Cantor for The New York Times, DJ Premier opens up about the origin of these Guru vocals. The piece, published today (October 30), includes commentary from Preemo, Guru’s son, K.C., as well as the artist that Guru was working with during the later 2000s, Solar.
Perhaps the story of this album begins in 2010. According to DJ Premier, when he visited Guru in a New York hospital just weeks before his friend and partner died from cancer, he placed a Gang Starr t-shirt on Keith Elam’s chest. Per Preemo, he told Guru, “I love you, man. [If] anything happens to you, I’ll make sure your family’s good. I’ll never let you down. We’re Gang Starr forever.” He says that his band-mate’s eyes were open and fluttering. At the time, it had been nearly seven years since they’d released The Ownerz, book-ending 15 years of work. Whereas the two men (who lived together for much of the 1990s across several New York City residences) regularly took breaks between LPs, this one was different. They never resumed work together.
Big Shug, who previously had what was once thought to be the last-released DJ Premier and Guru material on his debut album (“Counterpunch”), admits that Guru’s alcoholism had become “an issue” in the early 2000s. Meanwhile, Guru reportedly resented his longtime partner over money and album credit, among other problems. Shug, whose roots in Gang Starr date back to 1980s Boston alongside Elam and others, said, “Guru always felt like he discovered Premier,” he said. “He might have felt that [DJ] Premier owed him more.”
As Premier and Guru’s relationship diverged, Solar entered the picture. Having met Guru in Manhattan, Solar appeared in videos from The Ownerz campaign, and reportedly became one of the newest members of the MC/producer’s entourage. Following Gang Starr’s tenure at Virgin/EMI coming to an end, Solar and Gury launched a label together. They eventually released a series of albums, including the fourth volume in Guru’s Jazzmatazz series.
In 2010, tensions worsened in Guru’s final days and after his passing. A controversial deathbed letter distanced Guru from his former partner. In the NYT feature, Solar denies stopping Premier or any members of Guru’s family from visiting. Premier has long maintained that denied rights to see Guru, he had to bribe a hospital employee to see his partner one final time.
Cantor reports what has happened behind the scenes since 2010. “After Guru’s death, Solar and Guru’s family battled over his estate. Guru’s oncologist testified in court that the rapper had never awakened from his coma and would have been incapable of writing the deathbed letter,” reports the NYT. “In 2014, a Rockland County judge ruled against Solar, giving control of the rapper’s estate to Guru’s family, forcing Solar to cease all business pertaining to Guru and Gang Starr, and ordering him to pay back nearly $170,000 in checks, withdrawals, royalties and life insurance payouts that had been misappropriated.”
In addition to the C&D and money, the Elam family wanted Guru’s recordings. “I knew there had to be material out there that [Solar] was sitting on, I could just feel it,” DJ Premier said. “Guru [was] like Tupac. He just records and records and records. I felt like it was a rescue mission.” The report reveals that the recordings for One Of The Best Yet were part of a transaction between the attorneys of Premier and Solar. Although not speaking, the two made a deal while the case was in appeal.
Apart from confirming that 30 songs were in the package, the terms of the deal were not provided. However, Solar is allegedly fighting with Gang Starr’s management and legal team three years later, seeking credit on One Of The Best Yet. The New York native contends that because he produced the original versions of this material, reportedly with a Gang Starr album in mind, credit is owed. Per Cantor’s report, “[Solar] said he plans to take legal action unless his name is added to the album’s credits, and after that, he’d like to reconnect with Guru’s son.”
Meanwhile, DJ Premier’s team is doubling down. “These are baseless and outrageous accusations and they absolutely have no merit. I suggest he reference the legal agreement he signed,” manager Ian Schwartzman said. Notably, The Times reviewed a 2017 notarized agreement whereby Solar states he is not a songwriter, producer, or performer on any of the recordings. Notably, the article suggests that there could potentially be a follow-up to One Of The Best Yet. Friday’s album has 16 songs. Solar sold 30 tracks, which reportedly varied between two-verse cuts, single 16 bar excerpts, and standalone choruses.
For 18 months at Queens, New York’s HeadQCourterz Studios (Preemo’s enclave since the closing of D&D Studios), the Grammy Award-winner worked on the album. At his control board, he kept a photo of Gang Starr and some of Guru’s ashes. In the story (which also includes quotes from Nas and actor Jonah Hill), Preemo reveals that he burnt sage to “clear evil energy.” Since last month, fans have been able to hear “Family and Loyalty,” featuring J. Cole, and “Bad Name.”
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With 16 previously unreleased tracks honoring a rich Hip-Hop legacy, DJ Premier admits this album gives him closure, as Gang Starr gives fans at least one more album.
At AFH TV, DJ Premier provided a 20th-anniversary “Making The Music” in-depth interview regarding Gang Starr’s Moment Of Truth. There are other videos related to Preemo and Nas. We are currently offering free 7-day trials.
“Bad Name” and “Family and Loyalty” are presently included on the official AFH Playlist.