I just had the opportunity to watch Spike Lee's documentary When the Levees Broke, about Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, and I feel like it should be required viewing of all Americans. Lee leaves no stone unturned and the film is enlightening, disturbing and incendiary. I can't recommend it enough.
Exactly one week ago today Keith "Guru" Elam (aka G.U.R.U.) of legendary hip-hop duo Gang Starr tragically died at the age 43, a month after the cancer-stricken emcee collapsed and went into a coma. His passing hit all hip-hop fans hard, including myself, since I have been a die-hard fan of Guru and his production partner, the ever talented DJ Premier, from day one and had had the honor of meeting and interviewing them several times over the years. Earlier today, after digging, I discovered one of these old interviews. It's from mid 1991, when the duo were out visiting the Bay Area for a show at the DNA (which was off the hook!) and visiting local retail and radio, including KALX, where I conducted the interview that follows below.
At this stage in their career the Brooklyn based (Boston formed) duo was riding high off the reception to their January 1991 released second album Step In The Arena. In hip-hop it was a time many when rap acts were jumping on the jazz fused musical tip, something that Gang Starr had pioneered -- melding jazzy grooves (rather than the standard James Brown and other funk breaks) into their hip-hop sound. In fact, it was Gang Starr's track "Jazz Music" off their 1989 debut album No More Mr Nice Guy (Wild Pitch) that caught the attention of director Spike Lee, resulting in his inviting Gang Starr to contribute "Jazz Thing" (with saxophonist Branford Marsalis and featuring Kenny Kirkland and Robert Hurst) to the soundtrack of Lee's 1990 film Mo' Better Blues starring Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Samuel L Jackson, and Lee himself.
Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing ("Race Rant" scene) (1989)
I invite you to rewind two full decades, back twenty summers ago to the summer of 1989 when the hottest movie with the hottest soundtrack was Spike Lee's film Do The Right Thing featuring Public Enemy's "Fight The Power." It debuted in theaters that summer and caused some controversy at the time for its no- holds-barred portrayal of ethnic and racial tensions in the multi-ethnic (Black, Puerto Rican, Italian, Korean, white) New York borough in which the film was set.
Do The Right Thing (Lee's fourth movie) was written, produced, and directed by the ATL born, Brooklyn raised filmmaker who also acts in the film (he plays Mookie). The highly recommended film, available on DVD at Amoeba Music, is set on the hottest day of the year (kind of like the weather in NYC this week, with humid highs in the mid 90's) on a street in the Bedford-Stuyvesant (aka Bed-Stuy) section of Brooklyn. That day, the flames of everyone's emotions and prejudices are fanned and fanned until they finally explode into violence. The film makes the strong point that violence -- no matter how tempting to those being oppressed -- really doesn't offer any long term solutions to the problems at hand.
With a solid story line and a strong cast that includes Danny Aiello, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, Richard Edson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Samuel L Jackson (he plays the DJ at end of the "race rant" scene in clip above), Robin Harris, Martin Lawrence, and Rosie Perez (the latter two making their big screen debuts), the film struck a nerve with both critics and film-goers. It was a box office success and remains one of Lee's best movies to date. Ten years ago the United States Library of Congress deemed the film to be "culturally significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.