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Guru

Depending on how you look at it, Guru is either the rare hip-hop icon with the courage to follow his convictions beyond the commercial spotlight or a mainstream hero sliding into indie irrelevance. Version 7.0, the first release on his own label, 7 Grand, suggests the former, though not always for the reason you'd figure -- namely, the laid-back but pugnacious vocal style that animated Gang Starr's street hardness and Jazzmatazz's smooth sophistication.

"If I'd have sold out, I'd have sold millions," Guru reminds everyone still listening, and this disc is, with minor digressions, one long demand that his sacrifice be respected. Of course, the Boston-bred MC's legendary past gives him the right to ask for his props -- and several of these hard-edged new songs earn them on their own merits -- but his unimaginatively direct appeal for inclusion into hip-hop's "hall of fame" is discouraging, both as art and as a reminder of the game's short memory. The surprise is Guru's new production partner, Solar, who steps into DJ Premier's impossibly huge shoes with a solid mix of the familiar ("Live and Let Die"), the funky, and "Talk to Me," a breeze straight from soul heaven.

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Dan Leroy

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