|Original Boston Phoenix
Interviewer - acclaimed investigative reporter Chris Faraone wrote the
following on the Boston Phoenix Blog on Sept 29, 2010 [ see the Original
FuckSolar.com Publishes The Complete Boston Phoenix-Brownman Interview About Guru and Solar
A few months ago, in reporting on the strange life and death of hip-hop deity Guru, I was fortunate to get an incredibly candid interview with Brownman, the acclaimed Canadian trumpeter who toured with Jazzmatazz toward the end of Guru's life and career.
Today, with permission from me and Brownman, FuckSolar.com posted the entire interview that fueled the latter part of my Phoenix cover story. There's a lot to digest, but it's a must-read for all Gang Starr fans.
Some time has passed since the initial hysteria surrounding Guru's departure, but, to their credit, FuckSolar.com is still marching forward in its mission to "Document Solar's Downfall. For Guru." Last month they had a particularly entertaining post about how the so-called "super producer" tried to screw the foster care system.
Nobody's invincible. No plan is fool-proof. We all must meet our Moment of Truth.
Rest In Peace Guru.
- Chris Faraone
mysteriously disappeared in mid-2011, likely under
(The complete 3000 word original interview - unedited, unabridged)
Brownman: Before I begin... let me first just say... that I hate this.
I hate that my friend... a hero of mine... an iconic figure in hip-hop.... has now had his life reduced to a soap opera, thanks to Solar's megalomania. It hurts me to speak of Guru like this. It shatters me to know his legacy will be marred by this tale of domination. And it's very very hard to talk about. But the truth needs to ring out.
Chris Faraone: When exactly did you begin to work with GURU? In what capacity? When was the first time you went on tour with Guru and Solar? And how long did your relationship with 7 Grand last?
Brownman: My publicist, Andrew McIntosh, put up a Guru & Brownman tribute page, with pics and vids of us together on tour... he wrote the story of how we met and how I came to play in Jazzmatazz in the right column of http://guru.brownman.com. I've included it below for ease of reference. Feel free to include it in the interview,space permitting.
Guru & Brownman
- a brief history -
(by Andrew McIntosh)
2006 ended for Brownman with the explosive "Jazz By Genre" presentation of legendary rapper of Jazzmatazz and Gangstarr fame - GURU, held in Toronto's revered Mod Club. This could have been just another 'backing band for out-of-town act' session for the often called Trinidadian trumpeter, but the chemistry between Brown and Guru was evident even back then on their first meeting. During that show Guru would push him out of his regular horn position to the front of the stage to solo while the hip-hop legend held a mic in front of his horn's bell. This single performance would lead to an email from Guru himself a month later asking Brown if he was available to make an appearance on the upcoming 2007 release of 'Jazzmatazz Vol. 4', replacing the luminious Donald Byrd as the featured trumpet soloist. Brown, accepting immediately, would write a special horn arrangement of "Universal Struggle" and solo throughout the tune. In early Feb '07 he was again contacted by Guru's people, impressed by Brown's work on the track, to ask him to tour America for the release of JAZZMATAZZ VOL. 4.
Since then Brownman has been toured the world (from 2006 to 2010) as the featured soloist with GURU's JAZZMATAZZ (occupying the chair formerly held by Donald Byrd) as they brought their unique breed of jazz-hip-hop through The United States, Canada, Europe, Japan & South America.
See extensive YouTube archive of tour footage.
On Apr 19th, 2010 Keith "Guru" Elam died after a long battle with cancer.
Brownman, and millions of hip-hop fans
around the world continue to mourn his passing.
(The complete 3000 word original interview - unedited, unabridged)
Chris Faraone: When was the first time you noticed that something was strange about Solar's behavior?
day 1, I always thought he was controlling... domineering... egotistical.
He spoke of himself as a "god" and insisted all those around him refer
to him as "lord". Guru always called him this. And how he handled
the band - he would bark orders like a general and often liked to express
himself in military terminology - which I found completely out of place
in art - which is what I considered Guru's music. The thing with
his instructions were that they rarely made any musical sense. Drummer
Richard Spaven (highly acclaimed UK session drummer) and I, during full
band rehearsals in Switzerland in '07, would often glance at each other
with that "what is this guy talking about?" kind of look. For example:
Solar would ask me to improvise over sections ("do your thing over this
part Brown"), but then decide he didn't like certain things, ("Nah, nah
- I don't like that - do something else there"). Which is normal
to me, as producers need to hear different approaches, and then decide
what they like best. BUT when I would ask him to specify exactly
what he didn't like, so I would know what NOT to do, and thus be better
equipped to generate something more suitable - he couldn't. I would
ask "do you mean that 2 bar section over the E minor 7 - you want me to
do something else there?", and he would become enraged at these kinds of
questions and end up walking away telling Guru "to handle it". Though
not musically trained, Guru has a sense of all of this stuff, and COULD
answer my questions. But I'd later get into all kinds of trouble
for that too -> "Brown, stop asking Guru damn it - *I'm* the producer of
the show - you ask ME!" Eventually I stopped asking anyone anything,
and ignored all of Solar's vague, ethereal, nonsensical instructions
in the rare times we'd rehearse - and then delivered what *I* thought the
tune needed on stage, based on my knowledge of the first 2 Jazzmatazz records,
which I considered to be Guru's most primordial expressions of hip-hop-jazz,
and the yard-stick against which all our efforts should be measured.
Guru was a man who - like Miles Davis - seemed to respect the past, while
trying to move forward - so I tried to embody that ethos with my own playing
(and yes, I simply dismiss all that garbage talk of Premier and Gangstarr
not being relevant as Guru parroting Solar's agenda to be perceived as
greater than Premo... I don't believe Guru believed it deep down - so I
dismiss it). This approach I took to playing in Jazzmatazz seemed
to work best, and garner the most musical results in the end. It
was just sad to me that Solar couldn't actually musically direct this group,
though LOVED tell everyone he was a Superproducer. It wasn't until
later that I realized he just lacked ANY musical education at all.
I was used to dealing - as a session musician - with high end producers...
guys with musical training who know the language, who are literate and
who can articulate clearly what they want done. Solar - from the
1st rehearsal in Switzerland in '07 - couldn't do any of that. And
it confused me. Solar talks a good game when it came to vague ideologies...
you can hear this in just about any interview he gives, and he often sounds
plausible and articulate, a lot of what he says seeming to make good sense.
But sadly, one quickly discovers it's all double-talk. Before I realized
what was really going on - in the early days I, in fact, thought that maybe
Solar was a figurehead. Some old friend that Guru labeled Superproducer
and elevated publicly while Guru himself ran everything behind the scenes.
I've heard of humble great men doing this - letting others take credit
for some of their genius... sharing their spotlight as such... and such
an act seemed in character with what I'd seen of Guru's ethics so far -
kind, generous, caring, gregarious. THAT scenario would have made
some kind of sense to me at least... but what would be revealed over time
was exactly the opposite -> that Solar was being given increasingly enormous
amounts of power & control BY GURU, who believed deeply and genuinely
in the 7 Grand label, treating it as his artistic freedom, and Solar as
his savior... but I would come to see it as his artistic death over time...
and Solar as a paranoid, delusional sociopath, as Guru continued to slowly
hemorrhage his decision making processes to a meglomanic.
Chris Faraone: Did things get incrementally worse until you finally left?
Guru continued to relinquish more and more musical and financial control
to Solar over the years I was with Jazzmatazz, until finally DooWop and
I quit together in Jan 2010. And it wasn't for any one reason.
By the time we left, the reasons were piled so high that leaving was the
only thing left to do. Solar had created so toxic a work environment
for us... he screwed with our money... threatened us... belittled us...
demeaned us... marginalized us... all the while treating Guru like a child.
Berating, belittling and chastising him... and later physically abusing
him. I'd never seen a man disrespect another man like that.
I'm disturbed now when I read accounts of Solar claiming Guru as a best
friend and brother. Solar, THAT'S how you treat your best friend
Chris Faraone: My understanding is that you were in fear of Solar for some time. What sort of occurrences happened to put you in that position? Was his behavior directed at everyone around him, or just certain people? Did Guru catch the grunt of it?
be honest, I didn't feel any fear about Solar until I actually saw him
punch Guru in the face. Solar didn't know I had seen this go down.
It happened in a back alley behind a club after a gig in Europe.
I was heading back to the hotel post-gig, cutting through the backalley
of the club as a shortcut. After a gig Guru and Solar often stayed
behind, and the rest of the group would head back to the hotel. So
I'm walking down the alley heading to the hotel, and suddenly the back
door of the club flies open and Guru comes stumbling out like he had been
shoved, Solar right on his heels yelling at him like a little boy.
By now, this was a fairly common occurrence for me to see, but what happened
next left me paralyzed. Guru seemed to be quietly arguing back.
Clearly he felt that whatever had happened didn't merit such a response
from Solar, and it seemed like he was trying to explain himself.
Solar - who was already knee-deep into the habit of cutting off Guru and
not letting him complete full sentences - asked him:
Solar swung on him... hit him in the mouth. And then again in the head. I was frozen. Far enough away that they couldn't see me, but frozen in my tracks. I took a step forward, but I didn't know what to do. And then Guru seemed to sort of shrug it off. Until that last year of his life, he was a tough, well-built guy, but I did think it was weird he didn't fight back. And I'm pretty much a peace-loving pacifist... not a fighter... and none of this was my business. I was hired as the Jazzmatazz trumpet player, not as the Jazzmatazz judge and jury - so I swallowed hard and left, disturbed by what I'd seen. The next day, in a moment when Guru and I were alone, I quietly asked him, "hey G... what happened to your mouth man?"... just to see what he'd say. He looked me right in the eye and said "aw, I dropped some weights in the gym. I gotta be more careful, right son?"... and he smiled and gently poked me in the ribs saying "skinny bookworm like you don't know nuffin 'bout the gym, right?" (I was always reading while on tour, and read about 3 books a week on average). He then winked at me and walked away... and if I hadn't seen what I'd seen, that charming response would have made perfect sense. But instead I felt sick. Sick that this man - one of my heros - had been abused... and now felt the need to lie to me about it... to cover-up the incident and protect his attacker. It was awful.
It was then that I started feeling fear... this was around mid-way through 2009. Because I knew that if push came to shove, Solar was capable of much greater violence. I started recognizing it in his eyes. In the early days I would express my opinions freely... try and have logical discussions about what he wanted... try and refute some of the nonsense I often heard... and this would always end with my being yelled at without fail. But when the violence started coming out from behind closed doors, that's when I started getting fearful... and wasn't so quick to express my opinions anymore. While on tour in Brazil, after some girl he'd decided was "his" started talking to me for "too long" post-show, he shoved me screaming how I was "disrespectful". It was the first time he ever put his hands on me. I have no doubt in my mind that if Marcelo (the promoter) didn't come to see what all the ruckus was all about, I would've been hospitalized. That promoter and I still talk about that incident to this day, and I consider him a real friend for having put me in a separate vehicle, away from Solar and taking care of me that night... I was so shook by the whole incident. The next day was our return to the US -> Solar yelled at the whole band saying they weren't allowed to talk to me for the plane ride back to New York... and then, while boarding, he whispered threats in my ear every chance he got. I later spoke to Guru about it by email saying "look man, I'm not a violent guy - and if you guys wanna solve your disputes with fists & threats of violence - then cool - that's your business... but I don't work like that, and I can't, nor want to work for an organization that endorses such behavior". Guru called me, apologized (which he rarely does), and said he'd talk to Solar about it. He calmed me... made me feel listened to. Told me he "needed me there", and that I was an "important part of Guru's Jazzmatazz". So I stayed... of course I stayed! Guru tells you he needs you - of course you stay. But, in retrospect, I don't think he ever did talk to Solar. Later on, as I continued to defy Solar's insipid military style "rules and regulations" (they were such an afront to every fiber of my artistic being), he would continue to threaten me... whisper shit like "don't think I don't have people in Toronto, Brown... people who know where you live". It was dark. No one has EVER threatened me before, not even when I was living in Brooklyn! I didn't know what to do with that kind of information... didn't know how to process it.. so I ignored it, sometimes smiling at him when he'd threaten my life. "You think that's funny Brown?!", he'd yell at my head. I would just stay silent and wonder how far he was willing to go.
Coming home from tour dates with them was always rough. Would take me weeks to decompress & re-balance. And when I'd write Guru about my concerns... he would address them all in a reasonable manner and always make me feel like I was being heard and understood... but - as I look back at it all - I think everything he felt and said would go out the window the second it was in defiance of Solar's wishes. I was convinced Solar hated me, and wondered why I hadn't been fired long ago, considering how much he was always upset with me. In speaking about it with DooWop, he once said to me "Brown, who else is this psycho Solar going to get? Do you think Roy (Hargrove) or Randy (Brecker) is gonna put up with his crap? And they can't call someone who can't play - cuz you've already established the trumpet soloist HAS to be strong... and do you think Guru wants yet another trumpet player seeing how Solar treats him?". By then Solar was threatening to fire me almost DAILY (to the point it became a joke with me and Wop... "Brown, you get fired yet today?"... "Nah man"... "Don't worry son - the day's young!"... having DooWop at my side saved me so many times... he's my brother now).
Finally though, saturation was reached for me in Jan '10, and I had to leave the band I was then calling Spazzmatazz behind closed doors... and be rid of Solar for good. Wop and I left together. The ONLY reason I stayed for as long as I did, was because (a) I was the Guru's Jazzmatazz trumpet player... no small thing in my world... and (b) because I adored Guru and standing next to him on stages around the world was nothing less than electrifyingly inspiring. But finally the cost was too high... and when Wop and I left, we knew we'd never hear from him again... leaving Guru behind broke our hearts. He should NOT have even been on that last tour in Nov - he looked so haggard and decrepit. He should have been in a hospital bed in America, not running around on stages in Europe, exacerbating whatever was compromising his health (which the world would find out later was cancer). But Solar made him... and he did it.
When Wop and I left, to us, we were leaving
Solar - not Guru... both of us would have embraced any contact from G...
but we knew it would never come. When we left, it was for our own
sanity & safety. And when I left, I was still owed $2,000!
But it mattered more to be rid of this man, than to try and collect that
dough (not for lack of trying). Solar, had taken over ALL the finances
by that point, and withheld Wop's and my money after that final tour (Nov'09).
To this day, both Wop and I have yet to be paid in full for that last tour.
Up until mid-2009 I had always dealt with Guru one-on-one for finances.
As SOON as tour dates were over, he'd wire cash directly into my bank account.
Wop also tells a similar story - that Guru always took care of him.
And I NEVER had a problem with G in this regard... ever... he was a man
of his word... that same guy who wrote lyrics that would make you wince
with their brilliance - always dealt with me straight. Thus I never
felt I needed a contract. But the second Solar took over the books
- that's when the problems started. The last tour I did with them
was in Nov '09. 3 weeks after the tour ended, I still hadn't been
paid. I start emailing them once every 3 days... then 2 days... then
finally Asia - Solar's wife - emails me saying "I'm not authorized to release
those funds to you Brown". I was like "what the hell are you talking
about???", and proceeded to send her copies of emails where finances had
been discussed, to verify that I was OWED that dough. It was all I could
do since I had no contract. No response. I cc'ed Solar on it.
No response. Then Guru. No response. It was now late
Dec and she, nor Solar, nor Guru ever wrote me again. And on Jan
1st, 2010 I sent an official resignation letter to all 3 of them officially
stating I was resigning from the band, and that any institute that behaves
as maliciously, brutally and underhandedly as 7 Grand isn't a company I
want to be employed by. I also mentioned what a laughing hypocrisy
Solar's long speeches about "my word is bond" and "i take care of my own"
was. All double-talk garbage. I never heard from any of them
again. On Feb 28th, 2010, I heard on the news that Guru had a heart
attack and was in a coma, and on Apr 19th, Guru was announced as having
died... and as I watch as more and more come forward with tales of domination
of Guru by Solar, I continue to mourn the loss of my friend and hero.
Chris Faraone: I have read rumors that Solar would get jealous when you performed, and one in particular that he put you in a cab after a show once because you killed it with a solo. Can you recall any such experiences?
Brownman: Listen, I dunno if Solar would get "jealous". I'm not sure that's the right word for it. But let me explain what happened slowly, and what started happening over time: Guru - in the early days, because he's a gracious, honourable and magnanimous human being - would walk around to each band member at the end of the show, say a line or two biographically about them and then say their name. For example, he'd go over to the drummer and yell in the mic, "From London, UK... the backbone of Ninjatune records... simply killin' it on the drums - Mr. Richard Spaven!" And people would hoot and holla, and we'd feel appreciated. Guru, in the early days, would go round the whole band doing this - and do me second last... which made sense since I was the featured soloist... then Solar last. Guru was always VERY generous with his praise, and there's a YouTube vid of him shouting me out where he says so many kind things you can see me visibly humbled by his words, as I would be every night. When he finished reciting his introduction of me and conclude with, "... our trumpet soloist - Mr. Brownman!" - the crowd would erupt... and I was grateful, and appreciative. And impressed that he - as a bandleader - was so unselfish with his stage. Jazz musicians, even in the highest ends of the industry, are all like this. We (jazz musicians) all know that we're part of a collective - so every part of that group consciousness deserves to be acknowledged... so everyone gets an introduction... the Jazz mentality being that we hope the crowd leaves having remembered the names of the men behind the music. And to see Guru doing this, made him even more impressive to me - he behaved like a great jazz musician! But here's the thing - he would always intro Solar last... and he would make a bigger deal about "the superproducer" than anyone else on stage... calling him a "visionary" and "the greatest producer in new york right now" and "the CEO of 7 grand records" and on and on and on... and when he was done... the response was ok. I've seen it described in a review as "... a lukewarm crowd reaction at best to the superproducer; the band, and Brownman in particular, garnering more appreciation at night's end". What did he expect? On stage he just ran around, a bad hype-man, often shoving Guru out of his way, and then telling him afterwards "Guru - you're getting in my way on stage, you have to open your eyes son"... seeing that used to nauseate me. How's this clown gonna shove THE STAR out of his way??? Wack.
As I became more integrated into the show, I was working very hard to deliver strong solos - I mean THAT'S what I was hired to do... THAT was my role in Jazzmatazz - the soloist. So I worked hard to bang out bigger and better solos... and the European crowds in particular just loved to see Guru's horn player banging out strong solos. So at the end of the night, sometimes my applause was second loudest, only to Guru's - the man himself. And this INFURIATED Solar. He wouldn't say anything - but he clearly felt that his own applause should be greater than everyone's. So look what he did after that: he instructed Guru to "fall back" on the introductions (again with the military style terminology). ie - Don't make the band intros so big. "but mention these other things about me - you know, for context". Context my ass! It was about drawing further attention to himself. So, slowly - over months - the band intros got smaller and smaller, and Solar's intro got bigger and longer... yet, I was STILL getting strong applause. The smaller my intro got, the more determined I was to play my ass off and incite a crowd. After a particularly good gig at Club Planetarium, in Vienna - it's reported that the applause following one of my solos was so loud you couldn't hear Guru rapping. As soon as that gig ended, Solar told the promoter to put me in a cab and get me back to the hotel immediately. I was confused... what was going on that we had to leave immediately? Did I miss something in the schedule? Solar told me that we had a super early flight and we had to leave quickly to pack and get to the airport. Ohhh... that made sense... "so who else is coming in this cab with me? Shouldn't I take some gear too?", I offered. But he was intent on packing me in a cab and getting me out of there. So I left - having had no contact with anyone except the promoter. Later that night I called Wop to ask how early WAS this flight that we all had to leave the club so fast, Wop told me it was all bullshit & there was no early flight, and the only one that got sent out in a cab - was me! He said that Solar just wanted me out of there cuz the crowd was making too much noise for me. After that, Solar continued to slowly marginalize all of us while getting Guru to beef up his own introduction, pushing the band farther back in the stage setup, eliminating all my solos from happening at the front of the stage (you'll see tons of YouTube footage from '07 and '08 from around the world, with me soloing at the front of the stage... check at the 2:30 mark in this video, you can see Guru, as he often did in "Loungin" saying to me "Brown - show Geneva how to lounge!", which was my cue to come forward to solo). This marginalization of the band by Solar continued until finally, on this final tour in Nov (and part of the reason I left), he had Guru wave in one grand sweeping gesture at the 3 of us and say, "the 7 Grand Players!" with me taking solos from a dark spot in the back... we had been reduced to nameless, faceless nobodies... while Solar's introduction went on for 5 minutes.
This also became a source of comedy for DooWop and I during soundcheck. When Solar wasn't around Wop would go in the front of the stage and pretend to be Solar and go "yeah Brown, stand right there... beside the DJ table. No, a little farther to the right. Good good... now go back farther... yes, a little farther... yep, a little farther still... yes, I know you're behind Wop now - but don't argue with me, I'm the Superproducer... now keep going... good... now just step to the right... yes, behind that curtain... excellent - now do you see those stairs behind you? Yes, those. Go down those. What's that? I can barely hear you, speak up with you talk to the God! Yes - there's a door at the bottom of the stairs, exactly. Ok, now go through that door, down the hall, and take that service elevator to the basement. Yes, perfect. You'll be soloing from there". In the last few weeks of my last tour with Jazzmatazz, we learned to just laugh at this ego-driven marginalization, and just do our jobs with our heads down. We had already resolved to leave the band as soon as we were paid (which we never were), so it didn't matter what Solar did or said. We were just so ready to leave by then.
Ironic that Miles Davis, in his electric
period, used to walk around on stage with the names of his musicians on
big cards for the audience to see when they finished solos - yet Solar
felt that marginalizing the men that make the music would some how elevate
his own status. What Guru always knew was that if you have a true
team, and you acknowledge all your members, you TOGETHER create music as
a single cohesive unit. Solar never understood this in his ultimate
quest for control and power, thinking that his key to fame would be to
indoctrinate audiences the same way he did Guru (I'll talk more about this
later). But audiences weren't buying it, and his lack of vision is
Chris Faraone: What was Guru's attitude through all of this? What indications did you have that he was frightened by Solar?
I dunno if that's the right word. He was being controlled by Solar,
absolutely - but it was more of an indoctrination. And Solar's manipulation
of Guru was so deep that Guru would just parrot whatever Solar wanted the
world to hear. I'll talk about this more in the next question.
Chris Faraone: What if anything did Guru ever say to you about why he had broken off so many relationships with former friends and family members?
Brownman: Guru generally didn't talk about that. But what he did do, was parrot what Solar continually told him. "DJ Premier is trying to ruin me", Guru said to me once. Except I had heard Solar whispering that shit in his ear for the last month. Solar had Guru convinced that Premier was running a "covert internet campaign to discredit Solar, and thus disrespected Guru". He had Guru convinced that all those bad reviews were as a byproduct of Premo's campaign. Look - Solar's a master manipulator - and if you want to control someone and feed them a set of ideas - what's the first thing you do? ISOLATE them (the NYPD, in their more thugish days used these same techniques to coerce confessions out of innocent men for decades). You isolate them from their friends... their family... their fans - and give them a whole new set of beliefs. It's cult mentality - applied to one person. And Solar did this slowly and methodically over years.
Isolate him from his family:
Isolate him from his friends:
Isolate him from his fans:
Isolation was key to Solar's power over
Chris Faraone: Were Solar and Guru gay lovers?
Brownman: The isolation is also why less intelligent men mistakenly have thought that they were gay. Because they would go EVERYWHERE together... even to the bathroom. They sat together on planes, cars, vans, trains... would go to the gym together... would often get hotel rooms across from each other... eat together... they were never apart. But it's not cuz they were gay - it's cuz Solar was methodically ISOLATING Guru from the rest of the universe... so he could continue his quiet indoctrination. He will claim that these are the actions of friends... brothers... but friends and brothers don't beat bloodily and belittle each other... abusers do that to their victims.
Solar successfully isolated Guru from everyone
around him, limiting his friendships... his relationships... his professional
associations... and this is why these no-nothing speculative fools think
they were gay lovers. They weren't. I was there. Guru
loved women. I've seen that smooth talking brother roll up on lots
of girls... and I know a few girls who G slept with personally - so all
that gay talk is people's lack of understanding. I guess it's easier
to think of someone as iconic as Guru, as gay... rather than controlled.
But man.... he was a victim... not a punk. And there's a big
difference. You don't fault an abused and battered wife for what
they endured? Let's not fault G. He was a victim of evil.
Chris Faraone: How could Guru end up so controlled?
Brownman: One thing I want to talk about - is HOW. It's what everyone is asking... HOW could Guru have allowed this to happen? How could Solar have gotten his claws in so deep? My theory is this - Guru kicked the alcohol all by himself... he's that kind of man... when he decided to stop - he just stopped. Flat out stopped, through pure force of will. Ironic that on the road, Solar spends the ENTIRE show drinking Corona beer on stage, and is quite belligerently drunk by show's end. Solar often threatening promoters that we wouldn't go on if he didn't get a special place off to the side of the stage where he could drink his Coronas between tunes. Most of the time, when we arrived for soundcheck - the FIRST thing he would ask about was his damn coronas... not the gear... not the stageplot... not the room capacity... not Guru's needs... HIS Coronas... and it HAD to be Coronas, or we didn't go on.... yet more examples of his monomaniacal, hypocritical and paradoxical behavior. So - my theory is this: once Guru quit, it just meant he wasn't drinking... but the addiction was still there. That addiction hadn't been dealt with, nor had that need to do or be or respond to something (or someone) addictively. Alcoholics often just substitute addictions... they stop drinking, but then pop pills instead... or gamble... or get fat... or SOMETHING to fill that addictive void... and I think that's where Solar stepped in... right into that hole... right into that need... just when G was most vulnerable. Guru was LOOKING for someone to tell him what to do. Premier speaks of this a little in his Vibe magazine interview - how G was often VERY upset with their record label, but once Premo handled it - he would get happy. In a different circumstance - with a different sort of person at the helm of 7 Grand - Guru might have been ok... there are lots of examples of artists who give up total control to a manager whom they trust... and that manager then, in turn, helps them build an empire... look at what Dre did for Em... but Solar wasn't that guy. He shouldn't have been trusted... and his own personal agenda and ego always outstripped his need to "help his friend". If Guru's guilty of anything, it's putting faith and belief in the wrong person - and you CAN'T fault him for that. At least, I can't. Because that very faith - as misplaced as it was - is an extension of his kind heart.
You know, Solar & Guru's relationship may have BEGUN as a friend of Guru's helping him get sober and launch a record label and attain his own freedom... but over time that relationship became perverted into something dark & twisted as Solar started to perceive Guru as his meal ticket to fame and fortune. I believe that Solar thought 'if Guru says I'm a superproducer often enough to enough people - they'll HAVE to believe it!'... and that sums up how Solar thinks - no finesse... no subtlety... no nuance... just blunt deception. There are reports now surfacing of how he instructed publicists to create fake IDs at Amazon.com and write good things about the new CD, because there were so many bad reviews... one particular publicist straight-up quit rather than do something so unethical... but deception has been a tactic of Solar's for a long time. He lies about 7 Grand sales figures. He had access to Guru's email account and would often impersonate him. He lied all around the world about having a platinum plaque for his re-mix of that Gym Class Heroes tune "Cupid's Chokehold" - ask him to produce that plaque! He can't, because it doesn't exist. Look - I know Bravado is part of hip-hop - I get that. But flat out deception on a scale like this? It's just slimey.
The problem with Guru constantly repeating
Solar was a superproduer to the world was that Solar didn't have the goods
to back it up. His production is average at best and the world was
recognizing it as such. And there was backlash. Suddenly Solar
found himself NOT being viewed as the genius he was so very convinced he
is - but instead as the "man that put Guru onto autotune". I think,
he resented Guru for that. I think he blamed Guru for not being able
to make him the star he wanted to be... and I think that's probably right
around when the physical abuse began. This whole theory is speculation
on my part... but it's based on real-world observation and scrutiny of
Solar's behavior from the inside of the organization for the last 3 years.
Hopefully it won't take me 3 years of showers to wash the 7 Grand stench
Chris Faraone: Much has come out about Solar's background. What if anything do you know to be true? Also any information that you have about his past could be helpful.
Brownman: I know nothing of John Mosher's past. I only know what I saw first-hand while on tour with Jazzmatazz. I've HEARD lots of stories from Solar's mouth about his past - and all of which is suspect, given his pathological lies. He continually paints himself in a self-serving light of almost god-like proportions. Claiming to have beaten cancer with only the power of his mind (I've seen him take away Guru's asthma inhaler calling him "weak" for being dependent on it, and citing his own abilities to control his health as superior), claiming to have assaulted several men simultaneously & how he's a master fighter (you get a real sense of this self-inflated tough guy routine in that UK Conspiracy Radio interview [starts at 1:03:58], when he's asked "are you scared to leave your house?"... his answer is dripping with posturing bravado). He claiming to have helped the homeless in New York (except I've seen him treat other human beings as garbage all over the world on several occasions, so that claim isn't consistent to me - unless he has something to gain from that action... like MTV filming him helping the homeless).
What I know is that he's a sociopath, in the truest sense. He's paranoid... has delusions of grandeur (I've often seen him rant on about his godliness)... is violent... lies so easily that it's pathological (that MTV interview with Sway is so full of lies it makes me laugh... what's that he says on there? -> "I'm a man of peace and brotherhood" (please check that and find the exact quote), and that's why he wants to reach out to Premier for a music tribute. He's talking out of the other side of his mouth now... he bad-mouthed Premier the WHOLE time I've known him... and now he wants to do a tribute show with him? That's about trying to align himself with the top producer in the game NOT about mending fences. Does he really think Premo will want anything to do with him? Maybe Premo wouldn't mind giving him some free sleep, but other than that - to think Premier's gonna join forces? Pure delusion.. You see - Solar always has an agenda at work. He's a manipulative, controlling, abusive, neurotic, pathological sociopath. And he really believes what he says. Listen to that Conspiracy Radio interview carefully - he truly feels like he's done nothing wrong. He flat out denies hitting G, and tries to pass off Tasha Denham's detailed accounts as the rantings of a disgruntled ex... except what she's seen and what I've seen and what MANY others have seen and are now talking about - are all corroborating the same picture of an abusive controlling sociopath. I'm sure Solar will try and discredit me too.... I've seen his people post comments after interviews calling me a "nobody without Guru" and a "social climber" and "one of those musicians who can never just shut the fuck up"... except I'm award-winning, respected in my community and my body of work speaks for itself... and yep... I was most definitely social... very... and forged relationships behind Solar's back simply because I would hang back and APOLOGIZE for what I felt was DEPLORABLE behavior on the part of the "superproducer". I was often so embarrassed by the way he conducted himself, I felt the need to leave the club last and say I was so sorry for how they were treated. And, ironically, we (the band) were all instructed to NEVER speak to a promoter or organizer. Why? For fear that they might book one of us... and Solar couldn't have that. Solar screamed at me once when I gave one of my business cards to a fan who wanted to know more about me and where else they could hear me, "those are GURU's fans NOT yours!". I wasn't soliciting people - I was responding to direct questions as to my own work! But Solar wouldn't hear any of that. So I would chat with them anyway, carefully, quietly... on the DL - often with DooWop as my lookout - and continue to defy Solar's little madhouse of rules, forging relationships with good people who liked good music and REASONABLE human beings.
Here's a story Solar has no idea about: A few months before our March 2009 Wroclaw Jazz Festival gig in Poland, I was asked to be a special guest with a fantastic collection of Polish all-stars for a Tower of Power Tribute - as the featured soloist. What an exciting prospect! So I emailed Guru and asked him if I could do it - the gig was the next night, on our day off, so it didn't interfere with anything going on with Jazzmatazz scheduling, and Guru said he say no problem with it... to "go ahead, and have some extra fun". I adore Tower Of Power's music, and I was excited to be playing with some of Poland's best as they paid tribute to them. But when the day of the show came and Guru brought it up to Solar - he simply said "absolutely not - we didn't bring you out here to play with other bands". And when I tried to tell him that Guru, months earlier had said it was ok, he came back with "I don't care what Guru said *I'm* the producer of this show - and I say no! Keep arguing with me and you're fired Brown!". (same old threat as always). I was in a tough position because my name was actually IN the program - which the festival directors, now in on it, had removed from Solar's room. The whole festival programming team was in on trying to figure out a way to make this still happen. In the end, DooWop was my lookout, while I quickly snuck out, took a cab - sent by the festival - to take me to the venue. I played the gig, and rushed back. Solar never knew I was gone. The festival was so thankful I snuck out to keep my commitment, and all those Polish musicians & programming directors I now count amongst my friends and we're all still in touch to this day.
You know, I used to think that part of
Solar's problem was simple over-compensation for his intense insecurity
of having to step into Premo's giant shoes (I once saw him tear up a magazine
left on the tour bus, because it had Premier's picture on the cover...
our barely english speaking Belgium bass player had bought it and couldn't
understand why Solar had shredded his newly bought magazine so angrily)...
but I don't think it's insecurity anymore... not after hearing his interviews
in the aftermath of Guru's death... he's very secure in his psychosis.
I just hope the world can enact some kind of justice on this man - the
closest thing I've ever seen to true evil - and I pray that Guru... my
friend... one of my heros... a legendary figure in the history of hip-hop...
can then finally get some peace, now finally free of Solar's tyranny.
Chris Faraone: Will there be other music from Guru?
I have a sickeningly sneaking suspicion that Solar had Guru dropping lyrics
right up to the moment he was hospitalized. And I bet he squeezed
enough out of that poor man that he could release a record. That
would be consistent with Solar's agenda so far. I am disgusted by
the idea that Solar might be making money on Guru's back after he's gone...
disgusted, but I would not be surprised. It's so sad that all the
evidence and allegations against Solar are purely circumstantial... and
he knows this. Listen to him on that Conspiracy Radio interview ranting
about "where's the police report? where's the video?". He's
evil, but not dumb, and I don't think there will be any official justice
for this man. I just hope that Guru fans and the whole music industry
boycott all he music he generates and run him out of the business.
Hell - I'm *on* Jazzmatazz Vol. 4 - and I encourage people to NOT buy it.
The price is just too high.
Chris Faraone: You wanted to say a few words about Doowop?
know I said it before - but let me say it again - thank god for DJ DooWop.
We clung to each other out there, to stay sane, and I now consider him
one of my closest friends. I've seen it up close as DooWop tried
to talk sense into Guru... trying to use his 15 year relationship with
him to make him see that Solar was no good for him. But Guru wouldn't
listen to him despite those 15 years. He was too forgone. One
day Wop will speak of this, and it'll be heartbreaking. He - like
Guru - is a legend in his own right... and one of the kindest, gentlest
souls I've ever met... calls his mother every night... and has a dog that
fits into a purse that he adores. He looks rough and tumble... pure
Bronx...but he's all soft on the inside. We spent many an hour late
into the night after gigs laughing together huddled around my laptop watching
episodes of the Office, or It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, or just speaking
of family and friends. He's one of the best greatest examples of
what real hip-hop is about... honour, nobility, courage, truth... that's
Wop right there... and Guru. It was such an honour to stand by them
for 3 years.
Conclusion.... Brownman's final words to Guru.
Rest in peace bald-headed slick.
I was called to stand next to you for 3 years, and I will forever be honoured
to have been your last Jazzmatazz trumpet player. Everything I am
and will do from now on will always be inspired and influenced by my time
with you. Regardless of the evil surrounding you in your final days
& Solar's attempts to re-write history we're all now witnessing - your
legacy remains. History will remember... and so will I. I miss
from around the world, on tour with Guru's Jazzmatazz
(by publicist Andrew McIntosh)
Born on the small Caribbean island of Trinidad, schooled in New York City under Randy Brecker's watchful eye and now heralded as "Canada's preeminent jazz trumpeter" by New York City's Village Voice magazine, the ever dynamic Brownman tirelessly leading no less than 7 highly respected ensembles of his own spanning genres from be-bop to hip-hop. He is best known for his work as the leader of Canada's premiere latin-jazz ensemble CRUZAO (winners of the 2001 Montreal Jazz Fest's "Grand Prix du Jazz award" & 5-time nominee at the National Jazz Awards for "Electric Group of the Year") and his electrified Miles Davis' influenced BROWNMAN ELECTRYC TRIO (2007 National Jazz Award winner for "Electric Jazz Group of the Year" are amongst the many other accolades the group has received). He has garnered 11 nominations over the years at the National Jazz Awards (including 2 wins); Toronto's leading independent weekly NOW Magazine featured him as the cover story in 2003, naming him "Toronto's Best Jazz Musician" in 2006 and "Toronto's Jazz Trumpet Player of the Year" in 2007. Despite the demands of leading 7 ensembles & international touring he is still one of the most called upon trumpet players in the studio scene; his long list of recording credits, more than 300 to date over a staggering range of styles, make him "one of the most recorded trumpet players in Canadian history", according to CBC Radio Canada.
From 2006 to 2010, Brownman was the featured soloist with the legendary New York City jazz-hip-hop artist Guru (of Gangstarr fame) for his Jazzmatazz ensemble (replacing Donald Byrd in that group) and catalyzing his appearing on the cover of CODA magazine, Canada's most acclaimed jazz publication. In December 2009 Brownman launched his own independent record label Browntasauras Records, with Brownman Electryc Trio's debut recording of Juggernaut as its flagship release, along with re-issues of his entire back-catalog from other groups he leads.
Known for his incredibly hectic schedule and diversity in addition to his playing prowess, Brownman leads a variety of other ensembles besides Brownman Electryc Trio including: Cruzao (Canada's premiere latin-jazz ensemble, Cruzao Grupo Monstruoso (15-man latin-jazz urban orchestra), Gruvasylum (hip-hop quartet with a jazz ideology), Marron Matizado (12-man salsa band) and the Brownman Akoustic Trio (mainstream jazz a la Miles, Coltrane, Duke & Basie).
He is also called upon frequently to serve as musical director with international touring bands including Chiva (Colombian latin-jazz), Permutacaos (Brazilian-jazz), Hendrik Muerkens (Brazilian-jazz), Strange Attractors (all-star collective of award-winning jazz composers) and Ali Bros (jazz-funk group co-led by Brownman's brother Marcus Ali). Additionally, Brownman has been mounting several large scale productions in recent years including his much lauded Five Weeks For Miles Tribute Show (now in it's 7th year) - a month-long extravaganza whereby Brownman, over 5 fridays, leads 5 different bands through 5 different eras of Miles Davis luminous career.
As evidenced by almost 700,000 visits to his website, Brownman has evolved from Canadian jazz icon to worldwide phenomenon -- catapulted by 3.5 years of touring the globe as the featured soloist with the legendary rapper Guru and his seminal jazz-hiphop band Jazzmatazz (until the great mans tragic passing in April 2010). Driven by the desire to push and expand the boundaries of jazz composition and musicianship -- and the perceptions people have of what jazz music is and can be -- Brownman is a proud torchbearer to the tradition of fearless exploration represented by immortals such as Miles Davis, Freddie Hubbard, his own mentor Randy Brecker, John Coltrane, and Wayne Shorter.
Brownman also holds a degree in physics and a minor in philosophy, writes the brass column for Canadian Musician Magazine and is an often called upon lecturer and clinician internationally on such topics as Advanced Jazz Harmony, Hip-hop and the Modern Jazz Improviser & Latin Rhythms for the Jazz Improviser.
Please visit http://www.Brownman.com for more information on this critically acclaimed artist.
"... the most versatile hornman
"... virtuostic, energized
and in the spirit of Miles Davis"
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in the new generation of jazz improvisers"
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and burning energy"
"... a truly gifted improviser
with an original creative voice..."
uniquely creative and fearless - like a young Miles Davis"
"Brownman & CRUZAO...
deliciously quirky & invigorating... seethes with energy, particularly
showing off the skills of trumpeter Brownman Ali and his brother Marcus
on alto sax".
"Brownman & CRUZAO...
the finest latin-jazz group Canada's ever produced"
"Brownman & CRUZAO breaks
down the boundaries between latin, jazz and urban music in the most innovative
way I've seen yet. We may be looking at the evolution of latin-jazz
"Brownman Ali... a warm,
personable soloist displaying an engaging mix of quirks and lyricism."
"Brownman... Ali... Marrón...
this young trumpet player has as many names as he has skills"
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Videos of Guru & Brownman
Guru clowning with Brown
on the tourbus:
Brownman tearing it up with
Guru's Jazzmatazz on tour in Europe:
to: Brownman's Big Ass Mailing List <firstname.lastname@example.org>
date: Mon, Apr 26, 2010 at 4:40 PM
subject: GURU... My DAD... Moments of Truth...
It's been a while, I know.
And this isn't the way I had planned to re-emerge from our recent Big Ass Mailing List email silence (precipitated from the rigors of touring, running my new record label, and dealing with multiple personal losses, which I'll talk about below) - but if you are on this list, you have been a supporter of my artistry, and there are some things I feel obligated to tell you all... my friends, fans & family.
I recently changed my Facebook account's status message to:
Brownman is devastated. Cancer took GURU on Apr 19th, 2010. My father's own cancer was recently pronounced terminal. Everywhere I turn men of greatness are falling to this disease. To Guru I say thank you for your artistry, it was an honor to stand next to you. Your legacy will live on. To my Dad I say I can't imagine a moment without your wisdom guiding my path. Our time here is finite, so hug your loved ones people!
I am humbled by mortality.
GURU (July 17, 1961 April 19, 2010)
On Apr 19th, 2010 - it was announced that GURU, one of the greatest hip-hop voices of all time, has died. I have had the honor and privilege of having been the featured soloist for GURU's JAZZMATAZZ for the last 3 years, and standing next to him on stages around the world was nothing short of inspiring. All that time on the road with him, witnessing the profound talent he brought to the mic nightly, influenced me deeply and I will forever be grateful for the time I had with him. I grew up with Gangstarr and the early volumes of Jazzmatazz, and when I got the call to join the ranks of Jazzmatazz as the trumpet player and appear on Vol. 4 - I was honored and humbled beyond words. To stand next to that primordial voice in hip-hop and be part of a series that I adored... was like a dream. I was occupying the position in Jazzmatazz formerly held by the legendary Donald Byrd and thus had BIG shoes to fill. But Guru was always encouraging and supportive, and his friendship and grace willalways be remembered.
This video below, which now tears me up to watch, has him shouting me out. At the end of a long Jazzmatazz tour, I had asked him if he could do a 5 second lil ad for Brownman.com - instead he said a ton of very kind & gracious things he didn't have to and you can see me clearly humbled by his words. In addition to being a lyrical genius, he was a funny, poignant, carefree man. You can see that spirit clearly in this video:
And here's a video of the GURU I remember best - the man that danced beside my bed and made fun of my shoes (omg did he ever love to make fun of my kicks! lol)... here's a lil tribute of my own:
Rest in peace bald-headed slick. Many of us know the truth behind your demise, and regardless of the evil surrounding you in your final days & the attempts to re-write history we're all now witnessing - your legacy remains. History will remember... and so will I.
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