In the early nineties, not only was Guru the emcee for the soon to become legendary duo, Gang Starr, he was also venturing out to pursue his solo music endeavors as well. In ’93 he dropped the first installment of his hip-hop fused jazz experiment, Jazzmatazz Vol. 1. It’s not that hip-hop hadn’t already dabbled with jazz before, as even Premo was using jazz loops for some of his production. Guru’s vision was to merge jazz musicians and singers with hip-hop, and overall, his experiment was successful. Matter of fact, it was so successful that Chrysalis would back Guru for a second dosage, as he would release Jazzmatazz Vol II: The New Reality in the summer of ’95.
Guru would stick to Volume 1‘s formula, inviting a handful of hip-hop producers, a few guest emcees and a host of jazz musicians and singers to help him create the twenty track album. The New Reality received mixed reviews, but charted a little higher than its predecessor.
I remember The New Reality being part of my summer of ’95 soundtrack. I can still vividly recall me in my parent’s conversion van playing this album in my Sony Discman with the old school headphones, while making our annual 23 hour family road trip to Louisiana. The good old days…man I miss my mama.
Intro (Light It Up)/Jazzalude I: New Reality Style – The album starts with a snippet of Guru, and what sounds like Big Shug, performing live at a show. Then the sultry jazz stylings of The Solsonics come in and Guru welcomes the listener to the album, and in a roundabout not so clear way, explains the meaning of the album title. He then goes on to stress the importance of family and talks about a 360 degree mind revolution. Question: If you revolutionize your mind 360 degrees, wouldn’t that bring your mind back to where it started? Thanks to the soothing instrumental, this one never gets old.
Lifesaver – First off, why ya’ll let Guru get away with starting this song off with “Scooby do wah, scooby do wee”? He and Carlos Bass receive co-production credit for the cold and dark, but still infectiously melodic backdrop that Guru uses to denounce violence and advocate for peace: “But let me get to the essence of what I’m sayin’ here, too many blood red streets with bodies layin’ there, the systematic fanatics are at it again, tryna kill me and all of us my friend, but don’t bend to the mental strain, against all odds, we must strive for essential gain”. The French emcee, Lucien (who appeared on and was the inspiration for the Tribe Called Quest record “Luck Of Lucien”…Tribe Degrees of Separation: check) gets off a verse in his native tongue (no pun intended), and even though I have no idea what he’s saying, it still sounds dope over the ill instrumentation. Baybe’s vocals on the hook and bridge are the cherry on top of this somber but yummy treat.
Living In This World – Over a Nikke Nicole (who low-key was puttin’ in work in ’95) instrumental that’s equally melancholic and feel good, Guru gives us a hip-hop version of “What’s Going On”. Sweet Sable sprinkles her pleasant vocals in the right places, while J. Rodriquez adds some pleasant flute and clarinet chords to bring the song to completion. It’s nowhere near as iconic as Marvin’s classic, but it’s still solid in its own right.
Looking Through Darkness – Wu-Tang Clan affiliate, True Master lays down a track dripping with Wu-Tang vibes, and some uncredited soul adds some ill horn chords, providing a dope instrumental for Guru to spit over, and he handles it pretty well. The chorus was trash and Mica Paris over sings the hook, but I enjoyed everything else about this one.
Skit A (Interview)/Watch What You Say – After a short interview skit, Premo gets his only production credit of the evening. He blesses his partner in rhyme with some ole sick boom bap shit that Guru uses to call out all the big mouth trash emcees. Brandford Marsalis adds some soothing saxophone notes to smooth out Prem’s roughness, and the legendary Chaka Khan drops in to sing the hook and even sings a verse sandwiched in between Guru’s. I have no idea what she saying through most of her verse and hook, but it was still nice to hear her work with Gang Starr on a track.
Jazzalude II: Defining Purpose – Another interlude with Guru
babbling talking while the Solsonics play underneath him.
For You – Guru uses his jazzy backdrop to shout out all his peeps, or as he puts it in the song’s closing bars: “Dedicated to my fam that supported, you shall always, I said always be applauded”. Me’Shell N’Degeocello adds vocals to the hook and plays bass, while Kenny Garrett adds some sweet sax chords.
Insert A (Mental Relaxation)/Medicine – A short snippet from Gang Starr’s “The Planet” plays to set up the next song. The album’s energy changes up with this one. Mark Sparks (another producer who went under the radar with an impressive catalog in ’95) hooks Guru up with a monster instrumental (Donald Byrd, who was also a part of Guru’s first Jazzmatazz installment, adds some slick trumpet notes), as he invites True Master to join him in celebrating the herbal medication: “My dialect reflects hip-hop at its best, after a fat burn of cess, and yes, I guess, you could call it habitual, cause everyday it’s a ritual”. Ini “Hotstepper” Kimoze also drops in to add some reggae flavor that makes this record sound even more amazing.
Lost Souls – The English funk/acid jazz band, Jamiroqaui helps Guru and Carlos Bess create an airy backdrop (they also sing on the hook and adlibs) that our host uses to show pity on those poor lost souls moving around with no direction. I like this one.
Insert B (The Real Deal)/Nobody Knows – A short snippet from Gang Starr’s “Mostly Tha Voice” plays to set up the song. Then a somber and emotional backdrop comes in, as Guru recalls the struggles he had to endure to make it in this here rap game. I like the song’s sentiment, but if you’re depressed it might not be the best song to listen to. I could also do without Shara Nelson’s singing on the hook.
Jazzalude III: Hip-hop As A Way Of Life – Over a dope Solsonics jazzy mash up that is definitely suitable for midnight marauding, Guru talks about exactly what the song title suggest.
Respect The Architect – This is definitely The New Reality’s crown jewel. Ramsey Lewis and Guru concoct a certified banger, as Guru and Bahamadia (who makes what might be her official debut on this record) tag team the mic delivering quality bars over the nasty track. Nuff respect to Guru, Bahamadia (I love her voice) and Ramsey Lewis for burning us with this fire.
Feel The Music – Baybe’s cool vocals over the breezy and smooth jazz vibes was very enjoyable. Guru sounds decent as well.
Young Ladies – This is the first real mishap of the night. Guru invites Patra, Big Shug and Kool Keith to join him on this one, as he Shug and Keith take turns spewing unimpressive pick up line to a woman. It’s not clear if they’re all shooting their shot at the same woman (Patra), or if Patra is even the woman their trying to get at. After 25 years, I’m still confused to what exactly her role is on the song. The dull instrumentation, corny rhymes and terrible concept make this one worthy of a toilet flush.
The Traveler – I enjoyed Donald Byrd’s trumpet play, but the song’s concept was kind of corny, as were Guru’s rhymes and hook.
Jazzalude IV: Maintaining Focus – On the album’s fourth and final interlude, I mean Jazzalude, The Solsonics create a spacious atmosphere for Guru, who takes the time to stress the importance of staying focused.
Count Your Blessings – Over an enjoyable but very emotional instrumental, Guru discusses the importance of being thankful, even in the mist of sorrow and bad times. The hook was a little too simple for my taste buds, but I appreciate the sentiment.
Choice Of Weapons – Guru’s joined by Gus Da Vigilante of Sikken Moov, as the two advice the listener to choose their minds over weapons of violence. I’ve never been crazy about this one, but it’s not terrible.
Something In The Past – For the second consecutive post, Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do For Love” is sampled. Guru loops it up to talk about bumping into a woman from his past, who apparently is also his baby mama, as he asks her in the song’s first verse how his “little man” is doing (it’s pretty
pathetic sad to hear a man have to ask the mother of his son about the son’s well-being, as that’s a clear indication he and the kid don’t have a relationship…but that’s a discussion for another day). The hook was poorly mixed, as you can barely hear what Guru is saying on it, but Big Shug sounds dope crooning over the smooth groove.
Skit B (Alot On My Mind)/Revelation – After a sexy female voice of Latino descent asks Guru to let her relax him, the next song begins. Guru invites Bu from Fabidden Fruit (who we first heard on the D&D Project, and I thought went by Fabidden Fruit) to join him, as they pretty much cover the same subject matter as “Choice Of Weapons”. Both emcees deliver solid bars, but Ronny Jordan’s lovely guitar licks are the true star of this one.
The New Reality definitely has a darker more serious feel than its predecessor. A large chunk of the album captures Guru wrestling with societal ills and tapping into his vulnerable side over somber or dimly lit jazz-flavored backdrops, and I enjoyed it. While Guru has always been a high quality emcee, Volume 1 found in depth lyricism taking a backseat to the vibes and the music. He doesn’t give us his best batch of rhymes on The New Reality, but overall they’re definitely stronger than those on the former. The album runs a bit too long and there are a few throw away tracks, but overall Guru and his collective are successful in putting together a quality jazz infused hip-hop experience that has held up well through the years.