I have to start this post off by saying rest in peace to Earl “Dark Man X” Simmons. Thank you for your contributions to the culture and your presence will surely be missed.
The late great Guru will always be remember as the elite emcee with the monotone voice from the legendary duo, Gang Starr. For over a decade, Gang Starr gave the hip-hop world quality output, stringing together an impressive catalog that would cement the duo’s legacy as hip-hop royalty. But in between Gang Starr albums, both Premo and Guru would dabble with their solo side projects. While Premo was busy lacing all of your favorite emcees with brilliant boom-bap beats, Guru was collabing with jazz legends, fusing hip-hop vibes with jazz instrumentation, which would culminate into his Jazzmatazz series, releasing Volume 1 in ’93 and Volume 2 in ’95. 1995 would also see Guru getting into his entrepreneurial bag, as he would launch his independent label, Illkid Records, kicking things off with the compilation album: Guru Presents Illkid Records.
Guru Presents Illkid Records would showcase a bunch of inspiring and up and coming emcees with Guru stepping up to the mic a few times, but mostly playing the background, handling the production with a little help from a few friends. I don’t believe anything ever materialized from Illkid Records (other than an Illkid Records sampler), as even this project was released on the Payday/FFRR label, home to both Gang Starr Foundation artists, Group Home and Jeru The Damaja.
About a year ago, I came across a used cd copy of the album in the dollar bin at one of my favorite record stores, so you know I had to grab it. This post marks my first time listening to.
I can’t believe it’s been over ten years since the late great Guru passed away. Time is truly, illmatic. Continue to rest easy, Keith “Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal” Elam.
Illkid Intro – This album intro features Guru going under his alter-ego, Bald Head Slick, who raps a bit more aggresive than the laidback monotone style we’re accustom to hearing from Guru. Our host builds his instrumental around the same piano loop Dr. Butcher used for G. Rap’s “4, 5, 6”, and gets off two quick verses over it. Unfortunately,
Guru’s Bald Head Slick’s rhymes sound a bit forced and sloppy, and the instrumental sounds empty and hollow.
Wordplay – We were first introduced to Bahamadia on the phenomenal “Respect The Architect” off of Guru’s Jazzmatazz Vol.2. What better way to promote her forthcoming debut album, Kollage, than with putting one of the album cuts on this compilation album? Guru hooks up a dope mid-tempo banger with a bodaciously bouncy bass line that Bahamadia uses to showcase her more than capable emcee abilities. This is a great track, and we’ll definitely be digging into her album in the very near future.
Life – Guru constructs a semi-somber, fully mellow backdrop for himself, M.O.P. and the three man crew, Stikken Moov, to take turns rhyming about the struggles and challenges that come with living the street life. If you’re a liner note junkie like myself, you may recognize the name Stikken Moov from the Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 insert, which gives credit to one-third of the group: “Gus Da Vigilante of Stikken Moov” for his verse on “Choice Of Weapons”, but I digress. Guru’s production work is decent and all of the emcees involved turn in adequate verses (even though Guru, who sounds like he’s still in “Bald Head Slick” mode, gets a little sloppy during his verse), but they don’t add anything new or unique to a subject that has been overly treaded through hip-hop’s history, rendering this song average at best.
Do What Pays Ya – Big Shug (not to be confused with Suge Knight) gets a solo joint, as he builds the song’s concept and hook around a part of his verse from Hard To Earn’s “F.A.L.A.”. Carlos Bess (who also contributed to a lot of the production on Jazzmatazz Vol. 2) provides Shug with a soulful mid-tempo instrumental that he uses to celebrate the never ending pursuit of C.R.E.A.M. Shug is not a great lyricist, but he has a knack for assembling simple, but sound bars delivered in his signature deadpan straightforward approach that more often than not amuses and entertains, and he does just that over this dope backdrop. And that’s word to Joe Frazier.
Victim Of Society – Baybe is another artist I first became familiar with from her cameos on Jazzmatazz Vol.2, where she sang the hook and adlibs on “Lifesaver” and “Feel The Music”. Guru rewards her efforts on his previous project by giving her her own song on this compilation. C. Bess (who co-produced “Lifesaver”) slides her an emotional instrumental that sounds reminiscent of the backdrop used for “Lifesaver”, and ironically, Baybe’s theme and content sounds a lot like that of “Lifesaver”. Hmm…maybe she should have titled this one “Lifesaver Part 2”.
Come Clean – Guru sticks Jeru The Damaja’s classic record onto this compilation, which I found extremely weird, considering the song was released as a single two years prior to this project. I guess since Jeru was also signed to Payday Records and a part of the Gang Starr Foundation, the label thought it’s inclusion on this album might help sell a few more units for both projects (that’s all speculation, folks). Regardless, hearing Jeru’s combat ready rhymes over Premo’s ridiculously brilliant instrumental never gets old.
Who’s The Truest – Guru reunites with Wu-Tang affiliate/producer, True Master, who produced a couple of joints on Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 and delivered quality bars on the sultry ode to marijuana: “Medicine”. He wears dual hats on this one as well, as he serves himself up a dusty, but slick backdrop to spew solid scientific bars with his underappreciated flow for one chiseled verse. My only issue with this song is it’s too short and left me wanting to hear more.
Rotten Apple – Guru officially introduces the duo, Operation Ratification to the world on this one (I say “officially” because half of the group, Panchi Da Wild Commachi, added some background vocals to Jazzmatazz Vol. 2‘s “Choice Of Weapon”). Our host slides OR a solid instrumental that they use to share their perspective on life in the streets of New York aka the Rotten Apple. This wasn’t bad, and the more you listen to it the better it sounds.
Hi Energy – I’m assuming Fabidden Fruit was a duo made up of the lead emcee Bu and Mik Rone, who must be the group’s deejay/producer or the B mic that rarely rhymes, as I’ve seen the group name credited on two songs before this (“Revelation” from Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 and “From Within Out” off The D&D Project) and Bu is the only one I’ve heard rhyme. Once again, Bu goes dolo on this one, as he bullies True Master’s rugged backdrop (his partner Mik Rone gets a co-production credit) with his gully bars and tough guy baritone. This one was really good, and I love The D.O.C. vocal snippet on the hook.
Momentum – Guru and Big Shug tag team the mic, slapping emcees and talking their shit over Guru’s simplistic, but slippery slick backdrop. This is a tough record and entertaining as hell.
Attack – Stikken Moov shared the mic with Guru and M.O.P. earlier in the evening (see “Life”), but this time they get their own joint, which finds the threesome in battle mode and a lot more energized than they were their first go round. Someone named Kendu is credited for the solid instrumental (that includes a vocal snippet from Method Man on the hook, adding another cameo credit to his impressive year), as the trio deliver passable verses.
So Called Friends – Guru invites Gang Starr Foundation members, Group Home, to close out this Illkid party. Our host serves them up a decent instrumental, and as usual, Melachi and Dap’s rhymes don’t have much to do with the song title, which also happens to be the hook. I didn’t love or hate this one.
Illkid Records is a far departure from what Guru served up on his first two installments of the Jazzmatazz series, as he, True Master and Carlos Bess replace the experimental jazz soundscapes with more traditional dusty boom-bap east coast beats for this go round. Illkid Records is not spectacular by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a solid project that displays flashes of the potential Guru’s crew holds, and amongst the flashes are buried a few hidden gems, and one “what the fuck is this song doing on this album?” moment (see “Come Clean”). Guru will always be remembered for his unique vocal tone, quality rhymes and certified emcee abilities, and while no one will confuse his production work with the phenomenal output of his former Gang Starr partner, DJ Premier, he was no slouch behind the boards, either.