With the passing of Guru, one of hip hop’s intellectual yet streetwise voices has become silent. What the New York MC leaves behind is a musical legacy and rumours about the authenticity of his will.
MC Guru of Gang Starr and Jazzmatazz fame, who was blessed with one of the most recognisable male voices in hip hop along with Q-Tip, Snoop Dogg and French MC Solaar, lost his battle against cancer on Tuesday, April 20.
Born Keith Elam in Boston, Massachusetts in 1966, Guru (an acronym for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal) formed an early version of Gang Starr in 1985 (with DJ Mark the 45 King), and after the group’s break-up he teamed up with DJ Premier under the same name in New York City in 1989.
The prolific duo’s first single Words I Manifest was released the same year and their track Jazz Thing, featured on the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s Mo’ Better Blues, was another early gem. Six highly acclaimed LP's followed, backed up by high-energy live performances before Guru and Premier stopped working together in 2002 due to artistic differences.
Guru’s vocal delivery never lacked content, attitude and thoughtfulness. Much more than an antagonist, like so many other MC's in the game, he was a unifier and a man of the street, who knew he was in the position to stand up for his beliefs anytime in his daily life.
Limousines and bodyguards were not his thing, except at the height of Gang Starr’s popularity at the end of the Nineties. Gang Starr layed out the blueprint for hip hop music of the purest quality. With his project Jazzmatazz he elegantly fused cool jazz and New York swing with rap and brought hip hop to audiences who otherwise would never have listened to it.
What he stood for on stage and off was the saving creative powers of hip hop in the harsh reality of American street life. What he leaves behind is a puzzled public and a far from clear situation concerning his legacy.
Members of Guru's family have claimed that his business partner Solar (not to be mistaken with the above mentioned MC Solaar) prevented them from contact with Guru during his fatal illness.
There are also doubts about the authenticity of a letter concerning his posthumous legacy, which is exclusively in favour of Solar. The statement reads: “I do not wish my ex-DJ [Premier] to have anything to do with my name, likeness, events, tributes etc. connected in anyway to my situation... I had nothing to do with him in life for over seven years and want nothing to do with him in death.”
Only days before Guru's passing, DJ Premier had said in an interview: “There have been a lot of rumours going around. I deal with his family directly and get my updates from them. He’s breathing, he’s alive, and he’s fighting to maintain. It saddens me that it’s like that. I miss him. I’ll love him forever.”