Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rap Legend Guru Dies

MTV UK is reporting that Guru, one half of the legendary rap duo Gangstarr, died yesterday. The channel's web site says that the rapper suffered with cancer secretly for several years.

After Guru slipped into a coma on March 2, knowledge of his condition became public. Information about his health was hard to obtain as family and friends fought over access to the 43-year-old rap vet. It was a unfortunate public battle, waged with over twitter, youtube, press releases and radio interviews. It is also one that will also likely continue, given that his producer has him writing a letter from the grave, but that's not where my focus is right now.

Gangstarr was one of the most consistent rap groups of all time. They maintained a formula for their music over the course of six albums, but never fell victim to the law of diminishing returns that plague other acts. While some artists see their careers as a sprint, Guru & Premier were long-distance runners, building endurance with each journey. The left behind a track record that is untouchable.

Gangstarr appeared on the failed video show that inspired this blog twice. You can read about there first appearance here and here. Watch the second here.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Defari Focused Daily in '99

Even in 1999, a former high school teacher seemed out of place in a the hip hop world. Now that the industry has tilted sharply toward ignorance and indulgence, it's hard to fathom a rapper who would confess to having an education ( Defari has his master's from Columbia) and teaching experience. But then again, some people think being a former corrections officer is no big deal.

Defari was promoting his first album ("Focus Daily") when we met him in 1999 on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. I remember enjoying album and regretting that I gave it away to one my associate producers. He would release two more albums, the last one, "Street Music." in 2006.

Not sure what he's up to these days. We could use someone like him right now. Dumb rappers need teachin'.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

David Mills 1961-2010

I met David Mills in 1997. He was working on a book about Parliament Funkadelic and I had just graduated college. We were both in Cleveland for the band's induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Once David found out I wasn't just a funk fan, but a writer as well, we exchanged information. We kept in touch via a funk newsgroup that was popular at the time, but once that fizzled, we rarely touched base. I found him again a few years ago on his blog, undercoverblackman.

Since Dave's death a few days ago in New Orleans, much has been written about him and his writing. He wrote scripts for E/R, Homicide: Life On The Street, The Wire as well as news and music articles for The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. One article he wrote changed the course of popular culture. While working for The Washington Times, Mills interviewed Public Enemy's Professor Griff and reported some anti-Semitic comments the group's "minister of information" made. The fallout from the article gave weight to the band's critics and Griff was ultimately booted from the group. Bitter PE fans still refer to this as "Enemygate."

Back then, as a die hard PE fan, I often wondered what kind of brother would let Professor Griff hang himself like that, considering the incredible impact the group had on black popular music. One day I realized that the David Mills I knew was the David Mills. As readers of his blog will remember, David's politics were a tad right of center and he viewed black nationalism as failed ideology. He posted on white supremacy web sites and they sometimes commented on his. One commenter on his blog charged that they shared some of the same views.

David's blog was one of the few that I frequented that didn't reinforce my own opinions and notions. His writing challenged me to think and rethink my positions. I rarely budged but sometimes he could sway me just a little. I'll miss that.