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

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?

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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.

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