Solar, co-owner of 7 Grand Records, as well as Guru's (Keith Edward Elem) right hand man, has been met with intense criticism through the years, following the rapper’s death.
Though, Guru passed away due to complications from terminal cancer, fans and family members felt that Solar contributed to the rapper’s ultimately quietus.
The controversy surrounding Guru’s expiry is long and brazen. There were public accusations about his sexuality and intimate relationship with Solar, which he (Solar) says the rumors are untrue.
Brief History: Guru founded Gang Starr sometime in the late 80’s. He later recruited the funky vibes of DJ Premier. The duo quickly became a popular vortex for the hip hop genre. They used jazz and instrumentals to get their messages across, mobilizing the hip hop culture with their records, by delivering stanzas about life in Brooklyn.
Gang Starr released 6 albums before splitting in 2004. The Moment of Truth was the 5th album and no doubt, the dubbing of Solar’s newest manuscript.
Gang Starrs Greatest Hits
Interestingly, Guru embarked on the Jazzmatazz series before the group diminished. He released Jazzmatazz Vol 1 (1993), Jazzmatazz Volume 2: The New Reality (1995), Jazzmatazz Volume 3 Streetsoul (2000).
Guru met label exec, Solar, during a time where his career had defaulted. It declined quickly after the split from Gang Starr.
Guru begat 7 Grand Records, later linking it with Solar. Together, the two creatives would work vehemently to revive Guru’s career through the independent label.
Photo Credit: Getty Images, Guru of Gang Starr, Cherry Martinez and Solar during Beck's Presents Shyne's Album Release at Strata in New York City, New York, United States.
In 2005, they released Version 7.0: The Street Scriptures. The album ranked at number 54 on the Billboard Charts. Guru released an imaginative endowment for the Jazzmatazz series, called The Hip Hop Jazz Messenger: Back to the Future.
In 2009, he liberated Guru 8.0: Lost and Found—It would be the last piece of art from the optimistic rapper.
“I’m a hip hop producer who’s done 20-years in the game, since the golden era, which was the 90’s when I started. I had my best success or largest success during the 2000’s when I worked with artist like Common, Angie Stone, Talib Kweli, Blakalicious, Raheem Devaughn, Cyrprus Hill, and the list goes on really.”
Solar is in the process of releasing new music and signing new artist under a major record and media deal.
Furthermore, Solar finished Moment of Truth, a memoir surrounding the partnership and friendship between him and Guru.
“This is a book was long in the making,” he said. “My partner [peace be upon him] was Guru, who demised in 2010 from a yearlong battle with cancer, which he lost obviously.
He was a great artist that had so much impact with Gang Starr and the Jazzmatazz series in the 90’s, and then again with myself in the 2000’s with the 7 Grand legacy; which was basically a revamping of the brands Gang Starr, Jazzmatazz and 7 Grand. We brought it all together under one umbrella for touring, videos, and different various projects, which was very successful. We had one of the most successful label ventures, which was 7 Grand. At that time, labels [from the 80’s] were going under. He [Guru] had a very illustrious career and a rich catalog that included 4 Jazzmatazz albums and 5 Gang Starr albums. When he demised, it turned into a full-blown mess for all sorts of crazy reasons.
I kind of got caught in the middle. We weren’t just musical partners or musical collaborators, we were like brothers in life. We were tight for 10-years. A lot of people that had friends who were that close, [and] they’ve been closer with friends than family members. That was the situation with him. We were very tight. We ended up fighting cancer together. I was there with him for the battle, and he lost it, which was a terrible thing; but there were enemies and bad business associates that asked to ride with him, and ride with me for the success that we had. They turned on him after he passed, and made some of the craziest and off the wall rumors. They started accusations that were the most cowardly that could be done to his stature and myself included, when he wasn’t alive to defend himself. This is something that was said after he died—he didn’t do anything. It didn’t matter how scarlet, disgusting and flagrant, they threw it out there. The so-called people who wanted his money and wanted to oversee his legacy, they stood by and said nothing. In fact, when people read the book, I think they’ll be able to see that they were the ones behind all of this.
Solar said times were extremely difficult; but he still published the book, though it took 8 years, and many court proceedings, to finally see its completion.
“In the end, I get to tell this story, an accurate story—and willfully, people like yourself and other good people out there, once they hear the story and read the book, history will correct itself. If they take the nonsense and push it to the side, and embrace the catalogue, and embrace the work he’s done, and see me in a better light moving forward."
Solar is bias when talking about his prized collaborations. He prefers State of Clarity, with Guru, Common and Bob James. That was his favorite piece of work.
“That was the epitome of Guru’s whole career. It had elements of everything like Gang Starr, Jazzmatazz, and our vision for the future. The fans that followed his career from the 90’s, that was their dream collaboration of underground hip hop artist or the real conscious hip hop artist, which included Common, Guru, and myself as the producer.”
Jazzmatazz Volume 4 is still doing numbers in streaming on Apple iTunes, Spotify, Google and Tidal.
“In a way, it’s a redemption. It’s odd when nasty, ugly and despicable people do despicable things, sometimes that’s the positive benefit to it.
People wanted to get a look and listen [after hearing the negatives]. They heard the music, and they are still listening to the music. They are loving it and can’t get enough of it."
Guru’s family tried to sue Solar, behind “Moment of Truth.” Once the court proceedings were over, Solar felt relief tugging at his heartstrings. After being ostracized and persecuted throughout the years, he could finally tell his side of the story. There is always more than one side when dealing with truth and convictions. Always. It’s difficult trying to vindicate yourself when the public and social media has already found you guilty.
Moment of True from Gang Starr
“We had a six judge, unanimous, decision. Anytime that a court rules in your favor after something has dragged on, it’s a feeling of relief. I felt good. I felt relieved. I felt that there was a lot of work that I needed to do, still. You can never really take away the negative things that people said, the lies and the garbage, but you can make sure that people see the truth of it. That’s the best I can do, and certainly given this book, if readers take the time to examine it or listen to it on audible, they’ll get a real understanding of what went on here.
When people are in the spotlight for music… that’s what we are in the spotlight for, people don’t understand how close you were behind the scene. They certainly didn’t understand how much dysfunction and animosity was going on behind the scenes between Guru and his other situation with DJ Premier of Gang Starr, and why he ended up leaving the group to start his own situation. That’s not always for negative reasons. Even people on our side that seen him start 7 Grand, they wouldn’t necessarily think that there was bad things that happened, that led him to that.
People start their new ventures all the time, and they just want to do it, because they want to do it. I can’t fault the fans for not knowing things that weren’t there. I can only say to the fans now, the question to ask yourself is, “Why would his family and these people, want to stop me from telling the truth?” You put all these lies out there, and didn’t defend him or try to take the lies away. Then, [you] tried to stop me from putting this book out, to try and correct those lies, and [you] go out and stop this from being part of his legacy. He had a son that had to live with this for 8 years. It’s about time for him also, to be able to hold his head up high and say, “Nah, none of this is true. My father was nothing like that.”
Solar said that everybody who knew and loved Guru, gave him blessings on the completion of the book. He did confirm that there are many comical things in the manuscript. There are also critical things as well, that elaborates on Guru’s experiences in the music industry.
“If people are interested in hip hop, being a producer or interested in a career in rap, they can consider the lives and what went into making people like us. They can see what life was like at the top, to be at that level of the game, to have done the things we’ve done. There are so many things in there that fans can consider, and the ones who felt outraged and disgusted about the garbage they had to hear when this man passed. Obviously, it’s an excellent read that they can see it wasn’t bull s**t. It’s something there for any interested party. If you’re interested in music, I think it’s a good read. Certainly, if you’re a Gang Starr fan, a Guru fan or Solar fan, then it’s a must read.”
Solar is consumed with closure since the passing of his friend. Finally, he feels that the book is a necessary tribute, that will keep Guru’s legacy intact.
“I definitely feel that I’ve honored him. This book, for anybody that has any doubts about his life, career, and what kind of man he was, this book answers those questions. I’m very proud of that. I did the best I could to write a great book, and I believe I achieved that.”
Solar confirmed that there are a couple of deals and biopics in the works, but he can’t divulge all the juice.
He talked about the death of XXXtentacion and how violence has hit the roof through the years with young artist being either the victim or the suspect.
“Guru, Common, Talib Kweli, and Blakalicious, all those people we were working with at that time, were really conscious voices of hip hop. A lot of the violence calmed down during the golden era of the 90’s, and going into the 2000’s, after the Big and Pac situation. That pretty much evaporated, you didn’t hear about much of that at all. In 2010, after Guru’s death, it seemed that the violence did a 360. Now, we’re there. All you hear now is beef and gunfire. It’s all back to where it was before. When you have a situation, when somebody is powerful and as righteous as Guru, who was dragged through the mud after he died, I’ve never seen them do that to another person. Not in hip hop, but in fame, where a person died. Instead of celebrating their legacy, they decide to remix and decepticon the whole situation. I believe that this isn’t an end-result but a natural result of something like that happening. Things will go bad, because how can things go good after something like that?
I’ve always gone after the purity of what hip hop is about, and I go into that in the book. It was an expression of culture. It was pure and varied elements of culture. It wasn’t just about rapping, but rapping about what you lived, and literally keeping it real. You couldn’t keep it any other way, because this is coming from the lives of the people who created the culture. It wasn’t just music, but it was also clothes and a lifestyle of how to interact, how to emerge in a society where things weren’t as open as they are now, even though things are changing with the new so-called leadership we have coming out of Washington. Besides that, it was a whole subculture of hip hop and that also had great benefits. These elements are lost right now. They’ve been tossed to the side. When you look at the new hip hop that’s out there—Yes, these are very talented young people, and they are definitely making great music, but how close is it to what hip hop really was when it came out? I’d say that it’s not even close at all. It’s as far away as music could possibly get.”
Wow, and that’s coming from a vet who’s thrived in both periods of music. Solar agrees that Kendrick Lamar and Jay Cole are as good as it’s going to get, and even they are lackluster compared to the Pete Rock and CL Smooth’s of the world. However, he would like to see changes within the content and ethos of music.
“There is so much that can be said on that topic alone, especially when you find yourself in times like these. There’s a real possibility of a rollback of civil rights, rights that came about over the last 30 years or 40 years, and progress over that period. It seems like we’re almost in a situation where it’s an ostrich scenario, where the head is being stuck in the sand and you’re ignoring the threats that’s out there. Listen to the music, the artist and the sports stars, and look. It seems that this isn’t happening right now. It seems like this type of crisis doesn’t even exist, when this is really the situation where you have factions of people arming themselves and really preparing for civil war, while we are sitting here. I don’t know exactly what we’re doing anymore. I don’t see any leadership, direction, the outrage or the use of social media in that way. I’m baffled as to what we are looking at right now in terms of the response.”
If Solar could go back in time as a political affiliate, he’d take it all the way back to the civil rights movement, and preserve many things, and then move forward.
“I think people jumped to where we are right now without acknowledging what it took to get those rights in place. That’s how I think things are being lost. The perfect example is when we are talking about putting kids in these concentration camps. This was done before in American history. It was done to the Japanese in World War II. There were other circumstances with Mexicans in different periods of American history. Not to mention, if we go all the way back to Indians, when they were put in reservation. Once again, these situations are not adhered to or agreed to, and you are [forced] in a homeless situation. I don’t see any leadership out there that’s addressing these situations at the right frequency, at the right level.
When I look at music, and I look at sports and the hip hop culture, this is what hip hop is all about. When you had innocent people gunned down or killed in New York, hip hop songs reflected all of that, and the culture reflected all of that. We were there, front and center, and we were expressive of that through the music. It carried over to the hip hop in Compton, coming out of the West Coast like "F*k Da Police," that went into that whole situation of police brutality and killing of unarmed black people. It wasn’t just symbolic to a song. This was really what the culture was upset about. When I say upset, I mean addressed. It was being looked at, absorbed and reflected throughout. Now, it’s almost as if it’s accepted. I’m baffled to see what we’re looking at in terms of the response. There seems to be no response that I can ascertain.
Solar wants fans to remember he and Guru when they were in their prime, when there was accountability, and hip hop meant something. He hopes that the book is a concise step in the right direction.
Jazzmatazz Volume 4
Advice for up and coming rappers: It’s an age-old story, when you become successful in your craft, and you’re touring and enjoying your success, it becomes easy for people to take advantage. That can be in either aspects of life and not just music. My advice to any young artist, is to first follow your dreams. Don’t let anybody take you away from what you want to be rather it’s a rapper, singer, producer or an actor. Whatever it is, follow your dreams. It could take you where you got to go. Once you get there, you got to understand that it is a business. No matter how much people may seem like they like you, and they have your best interest at heart, you always got to try and keep an eye on your bottom line.
The book will be available for purchase on June 30, 2018
Solar official Instagram and Facebook.