Subtracting All the Rappers Who Lack, Over Premier's Tracks

More

Jody Rosen on the majesty of Guru:


If there was any jazz in Guru's music, it was in his rapping. He was one of hip-hop's most distinctive and influential vocal stylists, a master of deadpan whose calm, clear voice transmitted many moods at once: ease and insouciance, thuggish sang-froid, hardheaded self-assurance, the unimpressed, uninflected sound of a man who had seen it all, and done it all, before. Before Guru, hip-hop's playas, preachers, and jesters always elevated their pitch. Guru showed that a blowhard could speak soft; in 2010, his legacy is audible in the suave sound of hip-hop radio. In "Moment of Truth" (1998) Guru boasted: "The king of monotone, with my own throne." Pouring scorn on knuckleheads, numbskulls, and just about everyone else, Guru's voice cut to the quick because he never raised it.

It's interesting because, to be honest, I never thought much of Guru as a rapper. When I was younger I had an argument to back this up. But as I get older, I think many of my artistic arguments are little more than justifications for how intuitively feel. So I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything here. 

But I always thought Primo was the star of the group--but not because of the work he did with Gang Starr, which was grand in and of itself. It was the two Jeru albums--especially the second--that really got me. The Group Home record which, on the basis of MCing, had no right to be as good as it was. To me the king of monotone was always Rakim. I think this has to do with how different people listen to hip-hop for different things. I think I listened, mostly, to hear epic poetry over percussion.

Still, who could hate this?

Jump to comments
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Entertainment

From This Author

Just In