Even in the midst of a protracted process to finalize his uncle’s estate, Justin Nicholas-Elam Ruff, nephew of the late Gang Starr founder Guru, is continuing to do whatever he can think to do to protect and assist his family.
After taking to YouTube, first on March 3, 2010, to try and protect his uncle from what he revealed to the world to be Guru’s manipulative business partner masquerading as the emcee’s legal caretaker, the son of Guru’s older sister, Trish, is now assisting the young son of his uncle via a line of tribute t-shirts that honor the life and career of Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal.
Speaking to HipHopDX on Monday (April 18th), Justin, a California-based actor and writer, revealed what he is personally doing a year after his uncle succumbed to multiple myeloma to uphold the legacy of Guru, while simultaneously seeing to it that legal wranglings do not preclude the late rapper’s son from still receiving some form of financial support from his father.
HipHopDX: I wanna start off by drawing attention to the [short] documentary about Guru you narrated last summer …. Are there any plans to follow that up with a full-length documentary, with interviews and other exclusive footage?
Justin Ruff: Yes. It’s in the works. We have a lot of things in the works right now. Some of them I can kinda talk about, some of ‘em I can’t. As far as the documentary, yes, that’s gonna be extended. … I have a couple of interviews already done. I wanna get a lot of interviews from various artists that [Guru] worked with over the years …. But, there is something bigger than that in the works, that I’m very proud of, that is in development right now.
DX: Can you give us any hints …?
Justin Ruff: Um … big picture.
DX: Is that confirmed; how far along in the works do you mean that is?
Justin Ruff: This is just putting the pieces together. We have a lot of people that are interested. We’re putting the actual starting pieces together, and they’re coming together pretty nicely. A lot of things have to be worked out beforehand, as far as getting it to the point where we can actually start talking about it – just because of the state of [Guru’s estate], ‘cause we don’t have the rights to different things. But, it’s coming.
DX: And, are you gonna write the screenplay?
Justin Ruff: No, not me. A family member is though. My mother’s a writer, so she’s gonna – I’m not sure if she’s gonna actually be co-writing it, but she’s gonna have a lot to contribute [to] it, due to the fact that she is [Guru’s sister] and she’s a writer herself.
DX: And are you a filmmaker? Is this [your background]?
Justin Ruff: I’m an actor, and a screenwriter - more so actor. My input in this [will] be … just since I know a lot of the stuff as far as the … just being a family member and the behind the scenes and all that and …
DX: Like an advisor.
Justin Ruff: Exactly.
DX: Now, I noted the documentary, and I also wanna draw attention to that Step in the Arena shirt from the summer 2011 line. That joint is too ill. You can never go wrong with classic album covers on t-shirts.
Justin Ruff: Not at all.
DX: But it’s even more dope how the image covers the whole shirt.
Justin Ruff: Oh yeah, it speaks volumes, right? Just the look of it. We have a lot of stuff, as far as the clothing line, coming up. And it’s all just to chronicle – The whole premise of the shirts, the whole basis and the foundation of the [clothing line and] the reason why we created it, was first and foremost to draw some type of revenue for [Guru’s] son. ‘Cause, as everyone knows, in the beginning a lot of stuff was conflicting as far as the estate and what should go to his son, and what Solar had to say about it, and vice versa – I’m not gonna get into him.
So that was the whole point of creating it: just to draw [some revenue] to go towards him. And, we didn’t just want to create any random clothing line, just to throw those images into the [shirts], just some random stuff. No, we wanted to [chronicle] his career from beginning to end. And that’s why we debuted [the shirt line] with his first demo tape – the cover of the first demo tape that he created. And, we’re gonna go in kinda sequential order of his career and different points in it … so that people … can relive that in a sense. And the people that don’t know can learn about his legacy and what he stood for and his purpose here. … The theme of it is to preserve his message and music and his legacy. And at the same time build something for his son.
DX: Who at this point is actually in charge of your uncle’s estate?
Justin Ruff: It’s still in the works of it being completely controlled by the family. Once it is, it’ll be Guru’s son’s mother and my mother [controlling it]. But it’s still being handled at the moment, as far as all the logistics and everything pending as far as what Solar was saying was his and what was left to him. But all of that will be handled very soon. But since things are being stalled, that’s the reason why I felt like the family needed to do something to bring [in income for Guru’s son]. Guru would want that for his son. But, for whatever reason [the estate] is the way it is at the moment. So that’s why I wanted to start [the clothing line].
DX: So you initiated the t-shirts and all that personally?
Justin Ruff: Yeah. A friend of mine, [Renzo Revelli] … runs a company called Listen Clothing. And he’s been established for about 10, 12 years in the Hip Hop game, as far as creating t-shirts that run alongside with Hip Hop and the foundation of Hip Hop. And I just really liked what he was coming with. And, we just came up with the idea of doing this for [Guru’s son].
DX: Are you involved personally in the designs?
Justin Ruff: Yeah. [Renzo and I will] sit down for hours and come up with different concepts and go from there. He does his own printing with his brother. They have their own [screen printing setup]. It’s all in-house, which makes it very easy to come up with the design and the concept and then boom, knock it out.
DX: So since you said the estate is sort of … not settled at this point, do you know if there are any plans on [your mother and Guru’s son’s mother’s] part to release any previously unreleased Guru music once everything is settled?
Justin Ruff: Um … there’s a lot we wanna do. And it’s so many things to do. I’ve been researching what [has been] done with [J] Dilla’s [estate], and what they’ve done with Bob Marley and what they continue to do. It’s so many things. … I’m the type of person I wanna get it [all going now]. I mean, I know it’s a process, everything’s a process, but … it’s so much to do. But, since we’re at the point right here it’s only but so much we can do. So that’s why I’m trying to find different ways to do things right now, whatever I can do right now. … But yeah, there’s plenty of things: music, books. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Roberto Clemente graphic novel. I wanna do something like that. That’s gonna be amazing.
DX: Now, you’ve said his name, I don’t like saying his name, so I’ll just refer to him the same way [DJ Premier] does … Does “that other guy” still have any rights to Guru’s music? Could he conceivably release a Guru album on his own?
Justin Ruff: Um … I’m not exactly sure. That’s a whole part of what’s being addressed at the moment as far as all the lawyers and what they’re trying to figure out. I personally don’t know. I haven’t heard anything from him, or heard of his whereabouts, within the last … since 2010.
DX: He’s not involved in the estate case …?
Justin Ruff: Whatever he presented is still holding up. I know the last thing I heard is that the lawyer that he had stopped representing him. So I’m not sure where he went after that. And that was back in 2010.
DX: Were you guys ever able to take any sort of legal action against him for his hospital shenanigans, and for selling Guru’s house while he was in a coma?
Justin Ruff: All that is still pending. My mother would know more with that. I purposefully took myself away from that ‘cause that was just – all the logistics of it all, it was just too stressing. … I’m not exactly sure as far as all the legal stuff that’s going on.
DX: Well let’s stop talking about that other guy and talk about Guru’s true musical comrade, [DJ Premier]. That was really cool of him I thought to bring you and Guru’s son out with him at last year’s BET Hip Hop Awards. Is Premo showing you how to deejay like he is KC?
Justin Ruff: I wish I was musically inclined [and] involved in some way, because this is the perfect realm. But, no, not at all, I’m just not really – I love music, I love Hip Hop, but I know … I don’t wanna mess it up, put it that way. [Laughs] That’s not my thing. But I know he is teaching KC. He asked KC what he wanted to be, and KC straight up said, “I wanna be a deejay.” So he’s throwing different things at him. I believe when we were in Atlanta prior to the taping of the [Hip Hop Awards] he gave him like a homework assignment, and he had to go back and find [different] artists and different songs that different producers produced and come at him with it. Preemo’s serious about it. And so is Guru’s son. It’s a beautiful thing.
DX: Speaking of deejaying, is Preemo gonna be on the 1’s and 2’s at Thursday’s tribute concert?
Justin Ruff: He’s not gonna deejay. He said he would be in attendance [though].
DX: Can you reveal who any of the special guests are going to be?
Justin Ruff: [Hesitates] No. I want to so bad. You have to show up. It’s gonna be a nice event.
DX: And all the proceeds from the door are going to [Guru’s son]?
Justin Ruff: Going to KC, yep, directly to him.
DX: And lastly, I just wanna get any thoughts you wanna share with the HipHopDX readers as we mark the one-year anniversary of your uncle’s passing.
Justin Ruff: It was tough at the beginning, but I think the beautiful thing that came out of it is the outpouring of [support from] people from around the world. I knew that he was big; I knew that he left a mark, but I honestly didn’t realize how big it was until I received, and different family members received, various emails from all over [the world]. I’m talking every continent, every country …. All over the place [there was] an outpouring of love, and different stories from people [of] how he affected their lives, and how his music changed them and inspired them to be a certain way …. He really is universal. Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal, he spread across the board. And I feel like this is only the beginning for him. He left such a mark, and it’s gonna continue to grow. So I’m excited for what the future holds for him, his legacy, and for his son. This is just the beginning.