July 17, 2018

Guru, Still One Of The Best Yet (R.I.P.)

East Coast Hip-Hop pioneer Guru, leader of gritty duo Gang Starr and rap-jazz fusion project Jazzmatazz, died on April 19th in New York after a yearlong struggle with cancer. He was 48. "He had one of the most distinctive voices in music," says A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip. “If you wanted to understand rapping, story-telling, if you want to get thugged out, if you want to get political, you could listen to Gang Starr. They just encompassed everything that hip-hop embodied.” With his gruff monotone and stark, no-nonsense lyrics, Guru and his partner, DJ Premier, defined a stripped-down strain of Nineties New York hip-hop. Guru - born Keith Elam - actually grew up in Boston, the son of a judge and a public-school library administrator. He graduated from Morehouse College, worked as a social worker and attended the Fashion Institute of Technology before he dropped out in the mid-Eighties to pursue a music career. Over a 14-year span, Gang Starr released six LPs, and scored two gold albums and several Top 10 rap singles, including "Mass Appeal" and "Take It Personal." With Jazzmatazz, the rapper collaborated with jazz greats like Herbie Hancock and Branford Marsalis. "Guru was like a vanguard of rap," says Nas. "He was never negative - he was just saying what was going on in the streets. Along with A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and Public Enemy, Gang Starr helped expand the possibilities of hip-hop, still a nascent genre when Guru and Premier came on the scene, and helped inspire a generation of innovators. “Gang Starr’s music was the soundtrack to me falling in love with hip hop,” says Talib Kweli, who was a 14-year-old aspiring MC in 1990, when he first met Guru and Premier at New York’s New Music Seminar (“Guru and his crew snuck me and my crew in,” he says) and later toured with the duo. “Guru was a friend, a mentor, and a legend. He will be forever missed.” - Rolling Stone, 4/22/10 // Rest In Peace, Guru.