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HipHopDX Review: Guru – ‘Jazzmatazz Vol. 4: Back To The Future’

By Daniel B. Honigman
Rating: 3 (out of 5)

There are very few acts in hip-hop today that are really a throwback to its “Golden Age” of 1988-1992 (or even 93/94). While I wasn’t the biggest hip-hop head at the time (I was about five years old) I did a bit of catching up in my more formative years. But when I think of what was on the airwaves – and on The Box – those days, I think of Rakim, Tribe, De La, KRS-One and the early years of a duo comprised of a DJ named Premier and an emcee named Guru.

Hailing from Boston and Houston, Guru (Keith Elam) and DJ Premier (Chris Martin) each brought something special to the table: Guru brought his smooth, if not monotonic, lyrical approach to hip-hop, while Premier was a top-notch producer and DJ who incorporated a lot of funk, jazz and soul samples into his beats.

In its heyday, Gang Starr was one of the most influential and important duos and helped create the New York sound. The two inspired each other, pushing the genre to new heights.

On the side, Guru was keeping busy with his real passion, it seemed: finding a way to fuse hip-hop and jazz, a perfect supplement for Gang Starr fans. His first Jazzmatazz release in 1993 featured Branford Marsalis, Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd and Lonnie Smith.

Much like previous albums in the series, Guru’s guestlist for Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 4: Back to the Future (7 Grand/Koch), stays top-shelf. Hip-hop’s Common, Blackalicious and Slum Village rub shoulders with jazz and R&B VIPs like David Sanborn, Ronnie Laws and Vivian Green. On the first Jazzmatazz album, Guru held his own with the jazz greats. Unfortunately, the quality cameos this time around overshadow Guru, who barely skates by.

His partner in crime, the New York-based DJ Solar, is charged, along with Guru with the difficult task of finding a way to combine hip-hop and jazz. Unfortunately, they fall flat on most of the album, giving plenty of “matazz,” but not too much jazz. (Hardy har-har.) In fact, Guru and Solar fail to really connect the two until the last track, Living Legend, which features a turbo-charged alto sax performance from Sanborn. And instead of closing the album on a high note, it makes one wonder about what could have been.

Case and point, State of Clarity, which features Common and Bob James. Guru is clearly outshined on this track, and Common is more Guru than it seems Guru can be: “My mind blows decisions/at times indecisive/you think about the paradox that life is/keep my head to the sky/and understand where Christ is/turn off the news/’cause every day is a crisis/lifeless, on the couch weeded out/ a certain type of n***a in my life I weeded out/I believe in the route of soul before paper/no gold before labor/truth told with no blazers.”

This album doesn’t feature the hard-hitting rhymes (You Know My Steez, Take It Personal) or the adroit storytelling (Soliloquy of Chaos) we’re used to from Guru. But he’s all business on Fly Magnetic, the album’s best track, as he nonchalantly explains what would happen – check that, will happen – once your girl takes one look at him. This may be the best we’ve seen from Guru in a while: “Loving my charming wit/don’t want no part of this/no time for tricks/I’m in the mix like Spartacus/More like Hannibal/With thoughts like Confucius/sending her home to you/but I seen how it’s useless/I told her to back away/Left now she’s back today/thought you had her in check/Got my own chicks on deck.”

If you haven’t checked out any of the Jazzmatazz series before, you would be better served by starting from the beginning. Picking up this album now would be like tuning into “The Sopranos” just as Meadow walks into the diner in the series finale. This album’s worth checking out, at least given Guru’s track record. There’s enough here to groove to, but just don’t expect to be blown away.

(This review originally appeared on

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Prosecutors rally commissioners for pay hike (Times of Northwest Indiana)

Times Correspondent

Cook County Board President Todd Stroger may have hoped for a quieter return Tuesday, his first County Board meeting since he underwent surgery for prostate cancer.

But in the sweltering fifth floor of the Cook County building, about 200 county prosecutors staged a rally in and outside of the board meeting.

Holding signs that read “12.75 percent,” the prosecutors protested their latest salary offer. The number represented the raise Cook County public defenders received in a cost-of-living adjustment retroactive to 2004.

County prosecutors, on the other hand, were offered a 3 percent raise and a lump-sum payment of $1,000.

En route to the meeting, Cook County State’s Attorney Dick Devine received thunderous applause from the lawyers, who played hooky — albeit legally — to help sway the commissioners inside.

About two-thirds of the 520 prosecutors staffing Cook County’s felony courtrooms were expected to attend.

Dolton resident Dianne McCollough, one of the assistant state’s attorneys lined up outside Stroger’s office, remained “cautiously optimistic” that a deal could be reached.

“We’re just hoping to achieve parity with the Cook County public defenders,” she said.

The county would need about $8.7 million to pay the prosecutors and has identified several ways to pay for the raises, said 13th District County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston. One option includes the sale of a 300-acre parcel of land at Oak Forest Hospital, he said.

Fifth District County Commissioner Deborah Sims, D-Chicago, pointed out that vigilance and creativity will be needed if and when the money is found.

“Nobody wants to hear the three-letter word: tax,” Sims said, adding the situation is potentially a sticky one. “Money doesn’t fall out of the sky. We’re going to have to find ways to raise revenue.”

While some commissioners raised questions about how the full total would be raised, but 16th District County Commissioner Anthony Peraica, R-Westchester, stressed the importance of reaching an agreement.

“Just because the public defender’s office happens to be under the jurisdiction of (President Stroger) doesn’t mean they should get more money for comparable work than the state’s attorneys who prosecute these cases who are not under the president’s jurisdiction,” he said.

(NOTE: I contributed this to the Times of Northwest Indiana. You can check out the story on their Web site as well.)

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HipHopDX Review: Big City – ‘The City Never Sleeps’

By Daniel B. Honigman
Rating 2 (out of 5)

Beatnuts founding members Psycho Les and Al Tariq, along with Missin’ Linx member Problemz must enjoy each other’s company. It’s been almost 15 years since “Intoxicated Demons” was released and almost a decade since the three have worked under the same banner. Still, they comprise Big City and they’re embarking on something of a reunion tour.

Thing is – is anyone listening?

“The City Never Sleeps” (Nature Sounds), is Big City’s first album together. If you already like the ‘Nuts, you may be happy with this latest offering. Then again, it may just make you sad. If you’re not a fan, maybe you should check out Intoxicated Demons or “Street Level” first. Don’t get me wrong; the Beatnuts’ old swagger is still there. Les’ production skills are there, in theory. But it’s clear there’s some old dust they need to shake off, cause it is basically a shell of their former sound.

The album has a couple of redeeming joints, though. Stickem Up is an energetic track featuring an equally strong hook from the always reliable Greg Nice. In D.J. Famalam, Problemz’ lyrics catch fire in what is one of the nicest verses I’ve heard in a minute; “Act like you know the name/Caught a flat on the road to fame/Now back hitting switches/Made a detour to get some digits/On the road to the riches.” One of the album’s high points, this track is in stark contrast to the next song, Milf, which is about…well, you know. “You know I can’t wife ya/but I really like ya/and I want to pipe ya”. (‘Nuff said.)

Big horns and cowbells give Chedda a bouncy feel, making it a fairly decent club track. But there are a few missteps on this album. On Boy and Running Around, Les uses two flute loops that, instead of giving the songs momentum, make them sound stagnant. Lick Balls features a Houston-influenced, screwed-up beat. (Why they bothered with this, I have no idea.)

Junkyard JuJu was an integral part of the group’s original sound. Sorry, folks, but to leave him off “The City Never Sleeps” should make you wonder what Big City wants to accomplish – other than releasing mediocre hip-hop albums.

Personally, I would have released “The City Never Sleeps EP”, cutting the tracklist in half, saving everyone half of their money – or half of their download time. Part of me likes this album, don’t get me wrong. Maybe I like the fact that the original ‘Nuts are still at it, nice to have Les and Fashion rocking together again.

You may like the album after giving it a few listens. But after a good dozen or so spins, don’t be surprised if you find yourself reaching for the “Eject” button.

(This review originally appeared on

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Chicago Epicurean: Beer of the Day: Harborside Lager guru Jim Kosin

Harborside Lager

About six weeks ago, I was at Binny’s picking up some beer when I met Jim Kosin, owner and founder of Harborside Beverage Group LLC, makers of Harborside Lager. Jim convinced me to try a 6-pack of the lager and – lo and behold – the stuff was tasty. It was clean, crisp, unassuming and, best of all, had no aftertaste. None.

After a bit of e-mail tag, I finally caught up with the 34-year-old Glenview native to ask him some questions about his beer and his company.

So how’d you get into microbrewing? I think it’s a dream lots of people have.

I worked with a beer distributor, Skokie Valley Beverage Company, for about 8 ½ years. I was fascinated with the business and really enjoyed it, and while I was there, I came up with the idea of making my own product. I was able to learn the ins and outs [of beer] distribution. I don’t have my own brewery – I contract brew it, but the big hurdle after creating a beer you want is understanding the beer market and how to sell it. I have that expertise, so that really helped me.

What’s your day job, or are you doing this full-time now?

Making beer is something I try to do full-time, but I do take some part-time work here and there. This last winter, I substitute-taught. I taught everything from Kindergarten to military school to last-chance-before-we throw you out on the street. It was amusing – I haven’t been in a high school in 15 years. You remember what you did to substitutes and now they’re doing it to me.

I look for jobs that are so flexible, I can do things on the side for Harborside. It’s always my primary concern, but as it grows, you try to make ends meet.

How many people work at Harborside, then, or is it just you?

Just me.

What was the first beer you tried, and did your beer experiences influence you when you set out to create Harborside Lager?

I’m getting a little old, but I can’t say what it was. It was a long time ago, and I was probably underage, but I found a Mickey’s Bigmouth under my buddy’s bed. (NOTE: Jim added that Mickey’s wasn’t the beer Harborside Lager was based on.)

During my years at Skokie Valley, I was subject to a vast majority of beer. I saw new samples come onto the market – the blueberries, the cherries – I distinctly remember drinking Old Style by choice and I went on a Guinness wave and drank myself through it.

After drinking these beers, I knew I wanted something that, while it wouldn’t fill me up, would be more satisfying than a mass-produced domestic. From a strictly beer perspective, the gamut of beers was expanding between microbrews and commercial beers, so I wanted to fill the void.

With that said, how would you describe the flavor of Harborside Lager?

I wanted to do something that was better-bodied than mass-produced domestics without using berries, cherries, lemons and limes. I didn’t want it to have the complexity where you’d have three and already be full. It’s extremely simple, extremely smooth. It has the traditional characteristics of an American-style lager. Just a clean, quality beer.

Because Harborside Lager is somewhere between a commercial beer and a microbrew, is it easy to get overshadowed by other beer companies?

Anyone can be overshadowed, but if I think I’ll be the next Sam Adams, the next Miller Lite, I’ll be in over my head. Anyone who enters the market will be one in a million guys out there. You just have to get a following, to do tastings, get featured locally. It’s not something radically different, so I’m not marketing to the blueberry beer drinkers. It’s just a passion of mine, but it can be tough to convey that to people, so I just [sell the beer based on its merits].

But through tastings, I know people really enjoy it. I’m building my own community of Harborside drinkers through word-of-mouth. I don’t worry about being overshadowed.

You’ve recently expanded into Indiana and parts of Wisconsin. What’s next?

It’s funny you ask. I expanded there and Michigan, and I equate it to being the QB of a football team. On the first play, I threw a bomb for a touchdown, but didn’t score it. I expanded into far north Michigan down around the lake into the Door County Peninsula in Wisconsin, but [freight costs] forced me to reevaluate. I’ve pulled back from some of those far-reaching markets and trying to concentrate more on a smaller area, including Indiana, Illinois and southwest Michigan. It was something I just did, and it hurt a lot personally, but they’re just smaller markets. I didn’t start selling beer because it’s a million-dollar idea – I’m just happy doing it. I do business where I enjoy being, which is by Lake Michigan.

So where are you doing most of your sales from?

Most of my sales are from Chicago, but I like to keep it meshed through the suburbs where it still sells. You’ll find it at Binny’s Beverage Depot, Sam’s Wine and Spirits, West Lakeview Liquors, Uncork-It, Addison Liquors, Vas Formost and the Lincoln Park Supermarket. With awareness of Harborside where it is, it doesn’t behoove me to go to every corner store, but it’s growing by demand into other outlets.

Draught beer is proving harder to be than I originally intended, but I’m going to start concentrating on bars and taverns in the coming months. Right now, it’s at Hackney’s on Printer’s Row, the Dock Street Café out on Navy Pier, and the Valley Lodge in Glenview.

Last year, I sold just about 4,000 cases and I’ve grown between 15 and 20 percent each year. I’d like to do it again this year, but it’ll be tougher.

(Harborside Lager can be purchased at any of the aforementioned stores.)

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The Chicago Epicurean restaurant review: Vinnie’s Sub Shop

Chicago Epicurean
Vinnie's Sub Shop

Vinnie’s Italian Sub (above), along with a Filbert’s soda are two of my new Chicago favorites (Photos copyright Daniel B. Honigman)

Vinnie’s Sub Shop
1204 W. Grand Avenue
(312) 738-2985
9:00 am – 6:00 pm
9:00 am – 5:00 pm
Closed Sundays
Get directions

Verdict: If you like subs, check this place out. STAT.

It figures that I’d write my first review of a sub shop, right? But after visiting Vinnie’s Sub Shop this past weekend with Mollie, I realized that there would be no better way to start off this feature.

After hitting up the Intelligentsia Coffee tour on Saturday, we walked along Grand Avenue looking for a place to eat. We decided to stop off at Vinnie’s Sub Shop in the River West neighborhood of Chicago.

Vinnie’s is a charming, family-run, standing-room-only establishment. Festooned with historic photos of Chicago, I was hit immediately with an old-school vibe when I entered.

And then there were the sandwiches.

The Italian sub was outstanding. It may, hands-down, be the best sub I’ve had in Chicago. Piled high with capicola, genoa salami, mortadella, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, a mix of hot and sweet peppers, homemade basil oil and balsamic vinegar, on a fresh French bread, this sub was a steal at less than $6. Mollie ate the Vinnie Special, which featured a mix of ham, salami and provolone (no tomatoes for Mollie!)

Vinnie’s bubbly proprietor, Darlene, directed us to try their homemade tuna salad. I don’t usually like tuna fish – at all. But, with Mollie nudging me, I gave it a try.

Now, I still won’t eat tuna salad. But I’ll make an exception for Vinnie’s.

“We make three big party bowls every day, and every night it’s gone,” she said. Darlene wouldn’t give us the secret recipe, but it was seasoned with basil, tomatoes and onions. It’s absolutely to die for.

Vinnie’s features soda from Filbert’s of Chicago, a family-run beverage company in the city’s Bridgeport neighborhood. The sodas are quite tasty, by the way.

Here are the ratings:

Food: 4 of 5
Decor: 1.5 of 5
Cost: 4.5 of 5
Bathroom: N/A
Total: 4 of 5

Vinnies Sub Shop on Urbanspoon