The line between truth and fiction is often blurred in Hip-Hop. Lyrics that seem deeply personal and autobiographical can actually be fugazi, while lines that seemingly rely on a second or third-person account are actually factual. A good MC/group draws from both pots, cooking up something of a he said/she said gumbo seasoned with everything life has to offer.
Gang Starr served up some of the most memorable storytelling songs during their tenure as a duo from 1989 to 2003. DJ Premier’s sonics paired effortlessly with Guru’s ability to bring the listener onto seedy street corners and into high society. While they often got pigeonholed with groups like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Jungle Brothers, Gang Starr stood apart as they managed to wield a rusty blade that cut between conscious rap and the streets.
In an era before social media, fans could only guess which Gang Starr stories were true and which ones were figments of Guru’s imagination. While many know the true stories behind “Just To Get a Rep” and “Moment of Truth,” involving tales of a carjacking gone bad and Guru’s legal troubles following a gun arrest, “Now You’re Mine” showcases how their in-fighting led to magic on wax.
Premier and Guru had lived together in both Clinton Hill and the Bronx before renting and moving into jazz musician Branford Marsalis’ Brooklyn house for six months in 1993. Premier occupied the upstairs while Guru lived downstairs with his then girlfriend. By that time, they had successfully released three critically acclaimed albums and were seemingly finding their dynamic as a group. However, a two-year absence between formal projects suggested something was amiss.
Those who knew Guru best were aware that he had a problem with alcohol. Premier made efforts to contain any outbursts, but things got physical on many occasions. The DJ didn’t think much of it; he was, after-all, much larger than his partner and could end things in a hurry. However, the worst fight of their career took place on the eve before a recording session for the White Men Can’t Jump soundtrack.
Guru & DJ Premier / Photo By JONATHAN MANNION
Premier was laid up sick with an extreme bout of food poisoning from a fast food joint. He woke up at 4 a.m. to vomit when he heard a commotion coming from downstairs.
“He’s fighting with his old lady, and the argument gets upstairs to my section,” Premier recalls. “I'm just like, ‘Yo, please just take it downstairs.’ The fight now is in my room, where he's yelling, ‘Fuck you, I'll tear this room up.’ I’m like, ‘Dude, not now. Please. Not today,’ because now I’m so weak.”
Premier eventually got him in a bear hug and tried to walk him out of the room. This wasn’t anything he says he hadn’t dealt with 1,000 times before.
“I said, ‘Look, I’m going to let you go. When I let you go do not punch me.’ Guru has a good way of acting like it’s all good. He’s like, ‘I’m cool. I’m cool. I love you man, I love you.’ As soon as you let him go, he’ll punch you or kick you and run. But this time, I was having to bend over. You know how you bend over when you’re playing baseball or even basketball, and you kind of bend over to kind of hold your knees and just catch your breath? I bent over, just to kind of catch my breath. I’m holding him because he’s fighting to get out of my grip. He can’t get out, so I’m still huffing and puffing a little bit. When I bent over to grab my knees and just kind of get my breath, he does an upper cut to my jaw and just gets me good. Thank God I don’t have a glass jaw, because he got me real good.”
Premier saw an iron on the floor next to his left foot. His room was the de facto place for people like Jeru the Damaja and Group Home to put creases in their jeans.
“I just grabbed the iron and started swinging uncontrollably, because now I just snapped,” he says. “I just fucking lost it. By the time I fucking came to my senses, I probably swung it at least five, six, seven times, blood is gushing out of his front, his side, the back of his head. The blood was coming so much all over his face that he looked like the DMX album Flesh of My Flesh.”
The amount of blood scared Premier. They both started applying pressure to the wound and rushed him to the hospital to be patched up. With the tension still palpable, they had to discuss an impending studio session. Both were in agreement that they didn’t want to refund payment for the studio, so they’d both made good on their session the following day.
While most diehard Gang Starr fans viewed “Now You’re Mine” as Guru using basketball metaphors to showcase his skills, Premier insists there is a deeper meaning that references their fight:
“He would talk to me in the booth like, ‘Hey, fix that line, fix that line.’ I just remember after he finished the song, he was like, ‘Yo, is that good now?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He kicked everything over and stormed out of there. He said, ‘I won't fuck with you ever again.’ That part I didn’t believe. And the song is about me. It’s in basketball slang, but all that’s about me. He looked at me right in the booth and stared at me. I stared at him with an evil look, he stared at me with an evil look. I swear, he only had to fix a word or two here and there. But he pretty much did it in one take, give or take a line that we had to tighten up, or he fumbled a word. Lightweight shit. But that whole thing is about everything. ‘I fake left and go right, straight down the lane, here’s one in your eye, you feel pain.’ All that shit’s about me.”
* Banner Image: Guru & DJ Premier / Photo by Jonathan Mannion