Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Guru, Gang Starr Founder and Hip-Hop Hero, Dead at 43


So tweeted Travis Barker as word spread this morning of the death of Gang Starr mastermind and rap-jazz pioneer Guru (aka Keith Elam). He was just 43.

According to a statement issued by Elam's friend and longtime partner Solar, and posted on DJ Premier's site, Guru died Monday morning following a yearlong struggle with cancer. Last month, the disease triggered cardiac arrest, which left the hip-hop hero in a coma.

"The world has lost one of the best MCs and hip-hop icons of all-time—my loyal best friend, partner, and brother, Guru," Solar said. "Guru has been battling cancer for well over a year and has lost his battle! This is a matter that Guru wanted private until he could beat it, but tragically, this did not happen. The cancer took him. Now the world has lost a great man and a true genius."

Along with Barker's, the Twitter tributes began flowing early.

"RIP Guru," wrote Kendra Wilkinson.

"R.I.P. Guru. 1 of the most distinctive voices ever in hip-hop. He made up 1/2 of the greatest rap duo of all time & was far too young to go," tweeted music producer Mark Ronson.

"FOR GURU!! 'I loved my friend He went away from me,nothing more to say The poem ends, Soft as it began- I loved my friend.' Langston Hughes," offered rapper Heavy D.

Guru broke into the music biz in the 1980s with the launch of Gang Starr, which found instant success with its acclaimed 1989 debut, No More Mr. Nice Guy, and the 1991 classic Step In the Arena.

In 1993 Guru struck out on his own with his pioneering Jazzmatazz Vol. 1, a project that fused jazz and rap and featured some wild collaborations between hip-hop artists and jazz legends, including Donald Byrd, Branford Marsalis and Ronny Jordan.

Three more volumes followed, featuring appearances by Jamiroquai, Erykah Badu, Macy Gray, the Roots and Isaac Hayes.

Gang Starr, meanwhile, continued to lord over the underground hip-hop scene in New York and refine the genre of jazz-rap throughout the '90s until the release of the 2003 album The Ownerz, which proved to be the group's last.

Knowing his time was short, Guru penned a farewell to fans, paying tribute to Solar, his legacy in Gang Starr and Jazzmatazz, as well as his family, especially son KC, whom he called "the love of my life."

"I write this with tears in my eyes, not of sorrow but of joy for what a wonderful life I have enjoyed and how many great people I have had the pleasure of meeting.

"The work I have done with Solar represents a legacy far beyond its time and is my most creative and experimental to date. I hope that our music will receive the attention it deserves as it is some of the best work I have done and represents some of the best years of my life."

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