By Gary Fletcher
Guru, as he was known, died yesterday at the age of 43. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma (a cancer of the white blood cells) last year and had been hospitalized since February. He was a pioneer in the hip hop game and his band Gang Starr was one of my all time favorites.
Guru (real name Keith Elam) started out in the hip hop scene in the late 80′s as Keithy E., “The Guru” and joined forces with DJ 1,2 B-Down creating Gang Starr in 1985. From 1987 to 1988 they released a few singles before splitting up in 1989. After the split, Guru contacted superstar DJ Premier who later sent him a tape of his beats. Guru liking what he heard asked Premier to join Gang Starr. Later that year they released their first single, “Words I Manifest” along with their first album “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”
I really didn’t start listening to Gang Starr until 1990 when they released “Step in the Arena.” In 1992, they released “Daily Operation” which started their signature sound of fusing street smart lyrics, to great beats and elements of jazz. In 1994, they released “Hard to Earn,” which in my opinion, has some of the best hip hop tracks ever recorded. Listen to “Code of the Streets,” “The Planet,” or “Mass Appeal” and you’ll see what I mean. In 1998, they released “Moment of Truth” and then in 2003 released “The Ownerz,” two great albums in their own right.
Guru had a very successful career under his Jazzmatazz series of recordings as well. This was one of the first ever fusions of a live jazz band, hip hop and rhyming. This also brought in a whole new group of fans for Guru and his music. He released four albums under that series from 1993 to 1997. Branford Marsalis, Lonnie Liston Smith, Ramsey Lewis, Donald Byrd and Ronny Jordan were a few of the jazz greats appearing on those releases. Special appearances by N’Dea Davenport, MC Solaar, Kool Keith, Patra, Jamiroquai, Angie Stone, Erykah Badu, Damian Marley and The Roots to name a few.
Check out “Loungin” below.
Guru released two other “solo” albums as well. In 2001, “Baldhead Slick and Da Click,” Version 7.0: The Street Scriptures in 2005 and Guru 8.0: Lost and Found last year. There are some great tracks on these releases but to me, Gang Starr and Jazzmatazz are his best work and what I find myself listening to.
If you are not familiar with his music do yourself a favor and pick up one of his albums. I was a little disappointed with “Guru 8.0″, so if you peep any of his albums, maybe try some of his early stuff first.
To my man Guru, you will truly be missed.
“So like they say, every dog has it’s day
And like they say, God works in a mysterious way
So I pray, remembering the days of my youth
As I prepare to meet my moment of truth”
Gang Starr, “Moment of Truth”