RIP: Gang Starr’s Guru

Guru, a.k.a. Keith Elam, one-half of legendary rap duo Gang Starr, died of cancer yesterday in New York. He was 43.

The Boston-born rapper’s longtime partner, Solar, issued an “official” statement. “The world has lost one of the best MCs and Hip-Hop icons of all time—my loyal best friend, partner, and brother, Guru!”

In the same statement, Guru allegedly writes: “My loyal best friend, partner and brother, Solar, has been at my side through it all and has been made my health proxy by myself on all matters relating to myself.”

The statement goes on to dis DJ Premier, but with that repeated use of “my loyal best friend, partner and brother” language in both statements, we’re pretty sure the deathbed letter is a fake. Check for yourself.

What’s not in doubt, of course, is Gang Starr’s role in increasing the vocabulary of hip hop, taking it from the streets to the cafe.  It was only when DJs started nipping Coltrane that high-minded music types began regarding rap music as intellectual  pursuit. Without them, we might not be hearing hip hop with our frappuccino.

We dipped into our archives and found DJ Premier talking about he and Guru’s modest –and fiery–beginnings.

On Meeting Guru:
DJ Premier: [Wild Pitch Records’] Stu [Fine] told me that Guru was having a problem with the other members of Gang Starr. They were all from Boston, and Guru decided to stay in New York until his stuff started popping, and the other guys didn’t want to come down for anything other than shows, or where money was involved. So I got involved. I moved in with Guru to 183rd Street in the Bronx. He had a job as a caseworker, and I was doing whatever I could to scrape up some paper. We was getting our apartment padlocked. We’d have fights with each other, Guru be saying, “It’s your fault ’cause you don’t have a regular job.” We’d be tearing that place up. I remember one day it was 99-degree weather, and we had this one little fan, No More Mr. Nice Guy was out, in ’89, and things are not going so well, and Guru just stomps this fan to bits. So now we’re in super-hot heat, and I’m telling him I’m going to leave. We used to fight every day.

On sampling jazz:

DJ Premier: Jazz records are great to sample because you don’t have to worry about finding a spot where the words aren’t. We put “Jazz Music” together because my grandfather asked me to put together a song that would honor his generation, the jazz generation; and Guru’s uncle asked him to do the same thing, and this was before we even met.

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