This Week in Hip-Hop and R&B History: Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1

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On May 19th, 1993, Guru of Gang Starr released his cult-classic debut solo album, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1, to kick off his 4-volume Jazzmatazz album series.

Guru (A.K.A Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal) is best known as the lyrical half of the hip-hop duo, Gang Starr, along with DJ/producer DJ Premier. Growing up in a socially conscious and well-educated 2-parent household allowed him to form knowledgeable views about important issues at a young age – which shows in his music. However, after forming Gang Starr back in 1987 and releasing 3 albums with the group, Guru released his first solo album and showcased his deep passion for jazz music even more than he’d done on previous projects.

On this day back in 1993, Guru solidified his place as an early pioneer in the “Jazz Rap” genre when he dropped his debut solo album, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1. This album was one of the first to mesh hip-hop production and rapping with a live jazz band. It was also the first album that featured such established rappers and jazz musicians – many of which Guru idolized as a youngster thanks to his grandparents’ influence. The live backing is provided by a band that includes trumpeter Donald Byrd, vibraphonist Roy Ayers, guitarist Ronny Jordan, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, and keyboardist Lonnie Liston Smith. The album also includes vocal collaborations with Carleen Anderson, N’Dea Davenport (of the Brand New Heavies), Dee C. Lee, and French rapper MC Solaar.

Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1 peaked at #24 and #91 on Billboard’s “Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums” and “Top 200 Albums” charts respectively. And, although sales were lackluster in American markets, the album was a huge hit in Europe where jazz music was significantly more prominent in the 1990s. However, even with more positive reviews coming from overseas initially, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol.1 has since been praised for its groundbreaking techniques and influence on hip-hop culture.

The album is undoubtedly a timeless work of art as it bridges two genres of music that are extremely significant to Black American culture. Furthermore, it bridges a generational gap by taking the more mature jazz genre and introducing it to the newer and fresher hip-hop genre. The assortment of profound artists on each track gave the album a dynamic and eclectic vibe resulting in a project that felt very much like a jazz album.

So, despite its relative obscurity to mainstream hip-hop lovers, Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol.1 deserves supreme recognition for the simple fact that it has inspired so many of today’s most talented artists (even if it was done indirectly).

R.I.P Guru

Written by DJ Robinson

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