RIP Guru of Gang Starr: Infinite skills forever
Yesterday, Cold Crush received some bad news that the hip hop community had been praying against for a long time now. Keith Elam, who we know as love as Gang Starr and Jazzmatazz MC Guru, who has been in a coma since February after suffering a heart attack died in hospital at age 43, this Monday April 19.
While the news was not a surprise — Guru had after all been in a coma since February, it is no less of a tragedy to DJs, Producers and MCs from all circles of hip hop, plus the legion of fans, all of whom have had Guru in their prayers since February. The world of hip hop is in mourning at the loss of one of it’s brightest stars.
Guru started Gang Starr back in 85 with Mike Dee aka DJ 1,2 B-Down, releasing the singles Believe Dat, The Lesson and Movin’ On on Wild Pitch Records, with mixed production by Mark the 45 King, Donald D and J.V. Johnson. They were classic joints, but the group split in ’89 after a falling out, and it was at this time that Guru got in touch with Dj Premier. Primo: at that time known as Waxmaster C had sent Guru an ill demo tape of beats which he was feeling, and this is the duo that made the legend that is Gang Starr: one of the most influential hip hop acts to come out of New York.
Guru and Primo soon recorded their first record, Words I Manifest, which was soon followed by No More Mr. Nice Guy: the first Gang Starr album of many classic hip hop records that would follow including Step In The Arena (1990), Daily Operation (1992), Hard To Earn (1993), Moment Of Truth (1998), and their final album together The Ownerz dropped in 2003 There were also 2 ‘best of’ albums, 1999s completely epic Full Clip: A Decade Of Gang Starr and Mass Appeal: The Best of Gang Starr (2006).
Gang Starr live in Austria, 2003
The man Primo tells it like it is: “Gang Starr represents real hip hop — they don’t play the bullshit. They play the real shit“. Damn straight… Gang Starr were always straight up pure hip hop. No fucking around, no sell out bullshit. Always doing their thang, walking through the darkness carrying their torches. Respect
Gang Starr split
After The Owners, Gang Starr decided to go their separate ways. The exact reasons are unclear but this snippet from a 2005 interview with Guru gives the insight that they were unhappy the management of their label Virgin Records, stating that their promotion was badly handled: partly due to being shuffled through far too many different A&R reps. “Not only that,” Guru explained “but you’ve got A&R and executives making decisions who are not from the culture, not from the streets”. But both Guru and Premier were clear that it wasn’t a split — things were still cool, they were just going in their own directions. Primo explained “If Guru wants to do it I’m down, it’s really up to him. He’s the one that said we should pause for a minute and if that’s how he feels fine by me. If he calls me tomorrow and says I’m ready to start, I’m ready“.
Gang Starr feat. Big Shug & Freddie Foxxx – The Militia
A dope film clip to The Militia from Gang Starr’s 1998 album Moment of Truth, featuring Big Shug, Guru and Freddie Foxxx aka Bumpy Knuckles rapping over in my opinion one of DJ Premier’s all time dopest beats. Killer verses from all 3 cats but I gotta say, Bumpy really murders the beat on that last verse, spitting absolute FIRE. A dope film clip too, though unfortunately it’s the radio friendly version meaning half the words in the track are censored!
Guru was also responsible for bringing the hip hop and jazz cultures a step closer together with his solo project Jazzmatazz, creating an experimental fusion of jazz and hip hop. Of course, producers had been sampling jazz records and breaks since the birth of hip hop, but Jazzmatazz was the first project to combine a live jazz band with hip hop style production and rap. Over the four Jazzmatazz albums, Guru worked with an impressive array of collaborators from both the hip hop and jazz scenes, including Herbie Hancock, Isaac Hayes, Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd, Ronny Jordan, Kool Keith, Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu, Big Shug, French MC Solaar (not to be confused with his later collaborator Solar, who also took part in the later Jazzmatazz records) and The Roots.
Jazzmatazz Volume 1 was a big success in the USA and especially Europe, with a strong fusion of jazz and hip hop. Later albums were criticised for losing some of the jazz feeling so prominent in the first album, and later albums explored styles like soul and R&B, nonetheless Jazzmatazz has a strong following of fans, and albums are doubtless being bumped all across the world right now as cats not their head in tribute to Guru.
Moment Of Truth
With such a legacy of amazing tracks, it was a tough decision to narrow it down to one track to go with our tribute to the man Guru. We chose the title track from Moment Of Truth not only for the pure heat of Guru’s rhyme over a classic Dj Premier beat, but also because it is sadly appropriate due to the controversy caused by the way Guru’s more recent collaborator and business partner Solar has handled things since Guru’s heart attack.
Questions were first raised when Guru’s own nephew, Justin Nicholas-Elam Ruff posted a video online stating that Solar was refusing Guru’s own family visiting access to the hospital, and further was withholding any information as to Guru’s condition from his own family, surely not the behavior of somebody acting in the best interests of somebody in a coma.
Most controversially are the claims from Solar that Guru came out of his coma and penned two letters to the public — both of which make more mention of Solar having the only real information on his condition than his own family and friends, and the most offensive of all is his supposed deathbed letter, where instead of making peace like most would expect from a man on his deathbed, Guru allegedly dissed his former homeboy Dj Premier saying that he wishes for him to have nothing to do with his legacy or even pay tribute.
Unsurprisingly, hip hop is pissed. Freddie Foxxx, who has been loudly speaking out against Solar throughout the whole affair is one of the loudest cats saying fuck Solar and that Guru’s so called last words are fake, and he is not the only one. You can read the letter as publicly released by Solar here on the unofficial Dj Premier blog and make up your own mind: Guru passed away after hard battle RIP.
We don’t want to soil the man’s legacy by focusing too much on this dark cloud, but it is too important not to mention. And like the man Guru himself said: “the same sheisty cats that you hang with, and do your thang with could set you up and wet you up,” and “just as you’ll receive what is comin to you, everybody else is gonna get theirs too, I ain’t no saint, therefore I cannot dispute, that everyone must meet their moment of truth“.
Peace to Guru and his true fam and supporters, and fuck fake ass greedy ass bullshit — all his fans know that was never what Guru was about.
Hip hop pays its respects to the man Guru
“His rhyme flows were insane, and I will never remove him from my heart and soul. Rest in peace to the man who felt ‘satisfaction from the street crowd reaction.’ I love you Goo” – Dj Premier
“Gonna Miss U GURU. R.I.P!” – Fab 5 Freddy
“I woke up today to hear that one of closest friends passed away.. I’m paralyzed with sorrow. Guru..Rest In Peace OG..I miss you” – Ice T
“R.I.P Guru” – Mos Def
“RIP Guru. Long live Gang Starr” – Talib Kweli
“RIP Guru u will be missed, he is a hiphop legend, my prayers go out to your family and friends, I grew up on his music” – Juicy J of Three 6 Mafia
“Guru. I respect you and appreciate you. May you rest peacefully. My love goes out to your family. You helped shape our culture. Rock on my B” – LL Cool J
“We love and will miss you Guru. One of the greatest to hold a mic” — Peanut Butter Wolf
“Life will go on. The memory of Guru & all other lost homies will live in the individuals that keep the legacies alive & protected” – Freddie Foxxx aka Bumpy Knuckles
RIP Kieth Elam aka Guru
July 17, 1966 – April 19, 2010
Hip hop will never forget your legacy