Exclusive: The Made Men front-man speaks about the legacy of his Boston brother, and helping Jay Electronica five years ago.
Along with Ed O.G. & Da Bulldogs, both Ray Benzino and Guru's Gang Starr Foundation were true pioneers in Boston Hip Hop. Although the two never released music together, Benzino recently spoke to HipHopDX about the impact of Guru's (né Keith Elam) April death, and his legacy. "[Guru] is definitely one of the greatest to ever do it out of Boston. I've known Keith for a long time [along with] his family. It hit hard, because [of] his accomplishments, and what he's done in Hip Hop since day one. Him and [DJ] Premier changed the game when [Gang Starr] came out, as far as how their music [sounded]. It was the first time I can remember, that New York wholeheartedly accepted a Boston emcee. At that time, New York was on top as far as [lyrical content]." After acknowledging Guru's pioneer role for Beantown, Benzino added, "I think Keith epitomizes the words 'rapper' and 'emcee.' I think it's a major loss. But that's what great about music: music means that his legacy, his words will always live on."
Continuing, Ray particularly acknowledged Guru's role in bridging the gap between two genres. "I don't know about the last moments of his life, as far as [Guru's business and musical partner] Solar. I never met him or whatever, so I really can't pass judgement. But what I do know is that from day one, [Guru] has been instrumental as far as merging Jazz [and Hip Hop]. When Keith grabbed onto it and started doing those Jazzmatazz albums, it really kind of opened up new doors and new light, for artists as well as fans. I just think that he's one of the greatest to ever do it; he might be one of the most underrated. I just believe that his legacy will live on."
In the last year, video has surfaced online, featuring a curious interview with Benzino, conducted by none other than New Orleans emcee sensation Jay Electronica. Ray revealed that the footage is from his 2004 Arch Nemesis DVD, released in conjunction with the album of the same name. "I had met Jay Electronica when we [were still running] The Source. Dave [Mays] had introduced me to him. At that time, when were doing the whole Eminem [exposé], [Jay Electronica] was kind of agreeing with a lot of my views." Four years prior to his true burst onto the national Hip Hop scene, Benzino recalled being intrigued by Jay's qualities. "I was kind of blown away by his character. He was very smart, very disciplined and at that time, if I could compare him to anybody, it might be a Nas."
Benzino acknowledged that while the DVD was released in October of 2004, it did not reach the masses, due to the then-issues at hand. "We made the DVD. The DVD kind of got lost in the matrix, I guess. Nobody really [saw] it. It's only until now, where Jay Electronica is blowin', that people are lookin' at it [with interest]. I'm sure some people that still have that bad taste in their mouth about 'Zino, I think it might even change [their perceptions of me], considering that he really is a major voice on the underground circuit in blog sites and [online Hip Hop magazines]. I know it's kind of surprising to see these guys who have been kind of goin' against what I've been sayin' to see one of their own agree with me, but that's just life."
Six years later, Ray applauds the man who went from interviewer to an emcee/producer running in the same circles as Nas, Diddy and Reflection Eternal. "Big up to Jay Electronica. I haven't spoken to him [since those days]. I would hope that he would reach out, or that we could sit down again, but it was a great interview that we did," Ray said. He spoke to the merits of fans looking at the film for more than just seeing Jay however. "We touched on everything, from The Source magazine, to Eminem situation, to Paul Pierce, to the situation with the Ruff Ryders, and we basically talked about my whole career from Boston to up to 2003." To Ray, Arch Nemesis is essential to understanding an ofted muted viewpoint. "It's just history. It's my [Vh1] Behind The Music kind of thing, where I get to tell my side of the story."