Keith "Guru" Elam: 1966-2010

I decided to take a break from custom sneaker blogging for a moment just to speak on the loss of one of my favorite hip-hop artists, Keith "Guru" Elam, formerly of Gang Starr, who passed away this past week.

I remember the first time I heard Guru. It was during the "Manifest" video by Gang Starr, which was also my introduction to the group. As a kid, I was a huge fan of that song and it stuck in my head after hearing it. This unique duo, consisting of Guru and DJ Premier (in my opinion the greatest producer in hip hop of all time), went on to release the follow ups to their debut album: Step In The Arena and Daily was these 2 albums that made me a huge Gang Starr fan and one of my all time favorite groups. The unique combination of Guru's signature monotone voice along with Premo's one of a kind boom bap style and original use of sampling along with the scratches on the hooks (a DJ Premier staple) just seemed to naturally go together and when you heard a Gang Starr track or picked up a Gang Starr album, you knew exactly what you were getting: 100% hip hop in it's purest form. No gimmicks, no nonsense, just good music with substance.

Then I remember later when Guru embarked on a new side project called Jazzmatazz. I was somewhat intrigued when I heard him in an interview talk about the concept of the project and I remember getting the first album of the series simply because his name was attached to it. When I heard it it was like nothing I ever heard in hip hop: a unique fusion of Rap with Jazz music..but it was more than just a rapper sampling and rapping over jazz tracks, Guru actually collaborated with jazz legends like Donald Byrd, Roy Ayers, Branford Marsalis and Herbie Hancock, as well as artists such as N'Dea Davenport, Chaka Khan, and Angie Stone. On the hip hop side, Guru included artists like Big Shug (from the Gang Starr camp..Shug sings as well as raps), Kool Keith (one of my favorites), Philly's own Bahamadia, and French hip-hop artist MC Solaar (up until this time I had no idea that there were other major hip hop artists in other countries. I knew hip hop was big worldwide, but had no idea that other countries had their own major hip hop artists!)

I enjoyed Guru's side projects as well as Premier's (mostly producing for other artists), and that made me cherish even more when the two would come back together to do a new Gang Starr project (Moment of Truth, Hard To Earn, and Step In the Arena are my personal favorites). I heard in the later years that Guru & Premier had a falling out and that Guru was working with a new producer named Solar (not to be confused with MC Solaar). I admit i'm not as familiar with the work he did with Solar and i've heard many people speak negative on Solar after Guru's hospitalization (I have an opinion on the issue but i'll reserve it since this is about Guru and not Solar). I still would have loved Guru & Premo to put their differences aside and give the people another Gang Starr album, but unfortunately it was not to be.

Hip hop lost one of it biggest shining stars this past week. Rest in peace Guru...your music has brought me many great memories and has helped to make me proud to be a lifelong hip hop fan. Let's not remember Guru for such things as the Solar controversies, but for the influence and contributions that he has brought to hip hop.

Rest in peace to Baldhead Slick, you will be missed but your music will live on forever.

Elom aka Ecentrik