Monday, December 26, 2011

How Awesome Is This? Original Guru Demo Tape Release

Man, I can remember a couple years ago, when a rap blogger (damn, I wish I could remember which blog it was!) posted pics of a cassette he found in a shoebox full of old cassettes: A crazy looking, handmade demo tape by Guru, back when he was going by the name of Keithy E. Man, that was the source of some serious online envy! But then it was nearly forgotten, as news broke of Guru's hospitalization, the beef between Solar and Premier and Guru's family, and eventually his tragic passing.

But it wasn't completely forgotten, because The X Label got a hold of it and is releasing replica copies of that original cassette, with the original music and artwork. The X Label is run by Justin Elam, Guru's nephew, who you probably remember from these videos.

Now, I talked before about the early, pre-Premier recordings of Gangstarr on wax, starting in 1987, and the different sounds they had with DJ 12BDown on the boards. Well, this is even before that - this tape dates back to 1986, and it's even further removed from the sounds we know as Gangstarr's. There's no Premier or 45 King, but Beatmaster Jay providing the music (as well as DJ 12BDown on the turntables and Damo D providing some human beatbox).

And I'm not going to front, it's really rudimentary. While those early 12"s showed us a birthing Gangstarr looking for its signature sound, this tape brings us them learning how to make rap records period. I'm not saying it's wack, but it's definitely very amateurish and clumsy, with cheaply recorded vocals over drum machine loops. And sound quality? Well, I think their focus was more on preserving than restoring here. It sounds like the hand-made demo tape they're presenting it as, not original recordings restored from their masters. And while other early demo releases by classic artists we've seen released (i.e. OC's on No Sleep, or Main Source's on DWG) have been as good if not better than most of their classics, this is definitely not the case here. This is a tape to be listened to and appreciated as a piece of history by a classic artist, but not so much for being a gripping musical masterpiece.

But it's still a pretty dang awesome release. It's a six-track EP, with five songs. The opening track is a radio interview with Guru and DJ 12 B Down as guests, which is pretty great to have, too. And one of the songs should sound familiar - it's "The Lesson," the first 12" they released on Wild Pitch. But, this is a completely different mix. The lyrics are the same, but the music is different with lots of keyboards, and in general it's kind of lighter, more pop.

The other four tracks are "Epitome Spree," "Cold World," "Not You" and "People Unite," none of which have ever been released before. Interestingly, in the radio interview, one or two other early Gangstarr songs are discussed that we don't hear here. So that means there's actually even more vintage, unreleased Guru music left to be unearthed (possibly 12 B Down has it?), "So What" and "Fresh Avenue." X Label, maybe that could be your next release. =)

This EP is only available on cassette, a full-on replica of the original tape, including the labels on the tape itself. There is one interesting change however. On the back of the original, it said "COPYRIGHT 1986, K. Elam, J. Johnson," with J. Johnson's name crossed out. In the pic to the right, the original is on top, and the new version underneath. I assume J. Johnson is Beatmaster Jay. Not only did The X Label add their own logo, which you'd expect; they also 'shopped out J. Johnson's credit. A little touch of rewriting history, I guess.

Anyway, these are reasonably priced at $15 - just slightly more than what you'd've paid for a tape release back in the day; and they're available directly from the label's site: Really, I don't know how anybody could look at that picture and not just immediately decide, "I need that!" But seeing it online does bring up some questions, so I hope I answered them all, and if this is your first time hearing about this release... pretty awesome, ain't it?


  1. I didn't notice anything said at their site about how many copies were pressed.. any idea? I just wanna know if i can wait for pay day or not, hah.

  2. Yeah, they don't say... which leads me to think it might be pretty high or not strictly limited to one pressing.

  3. yeah, i was thinking they probably pressed a decent number and will probably put in for more copies if they sell well. Thanks Werner.

  4. Just ordered this. Great price. Hopefully the tracks pop up on YouTube eventually, because I don't plan on opening this.