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In memoriam... Guru

May 2010

Written by Imran Mirza

It was announced 18th April 2010 that Guru (Keith Elam), one-half of legendary rap group Gang Starr, sadly passed away due to suffering from cancer over the past year.  He had suffered a heart attack in February and had been in a coma since that time.

Guru’s legacy in hip-hop had been established years ago throughout his much revered work with fellow Gang Starr affiliate, DJ Premier, as pioneers in the jazz-rap sound, clocking up an incredible body of work since 1989, with albums ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’ (1989), ‘Step in the Arena’ (1991), ‘Daily Operation’ (1992), ‘Hard to Earn’ (1994), ‘Moment of Truth’ (1998) and ‘The Ownerz’ (2003).

The critical acclaim, the fan adoration and the peer respect the group amassed was, and still is, immeasurable.  For me, Guru was one of my first heroes in hip-hop, which makes writing this all the more difficult.  Through him, I found myself wanting to expand my horizons and explore new styles of music, but he actually made this connection with me outside of his work in Gang Starr, and through his series of ‘Jazzmatazz’ projects.  While the basis of Gang Starr’s signature sound came from the maestro that is DJ Premier sampling vintage jazz records, Guru abandoned the sampling and recruited jazz musicians and artists like Donald Byrd, Roy Ayers, Herbie Hancock and Ronny Jordan for a hip-hop / jazz fusion series that spanned 4 volumes.

‘Jazzmatazz’, to me, was nothing short of inspirational – it sounds like a conventional thing to say, but that’s what great artists do: inspire.  Guru’s lyrics always hit me like an experienced older brother was educating me on the ups and downs of life, teaching about responsibilities, always encouraging us to strive for something better, and he had an impeccable sensitivity when he relayed his tales of street hardships.

It’s always difficult for anyone to lose someone who instils a passion in them, but in this case, it’s a wonderful thing that Guru’s efforts – and most importantly, his words – will not be forgotten, and that due to the widespread coverage of his passing will hopefully be able to reach and inspire a new generation.  It’s certainly sad to note that his death has brought more questions about his personal circumstances over the last few months, and even longer than that, but I prefer to focus on the music and the legacy of which he’s left behind.

I picked out a few songs that i’d like to encourage you to check out if you’re unfamiliar  with Guru’s work, and I can only hope it will encourage some of you to explore Gang Starr’s or the ‘Jazzmatazz’ work more extensively.

Gone, but not forgotten... Guru!

'Full Clip' - Gang Starr

'Royalty' - Gang Starr featuring K-Ci & Jojo

'Loungin' - Guru featuring Donald Byrd

'Jazz Thing' - Gang Starr

'Plenty' - Guru featuring Erykah Badu

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