Guru: A Tribute To An Everlasting Legacy


This week hip-hop was plunged into mourning as we lost Keith Elam, fondly remembered as Guru; the mastermind behind rap music’s most-loved duo, Gang Starr.

No doubt there will be a few bandwagons driving through the blogs over the upcoming weeks. ‘Tupac-syndrome’ (no disrespect Pac) will flood the forums as Guru makes his way into everyone’s top five. Don’t get me wrong; I have a front row seat on that bandwagon. The difference being, I’ve been here a while.

Guru played an important part in developing my love for this genre. This is my way of giving back to the man who helped shape my journey. But this isn’t about my scrobbles on Last.fm, it isn’t about DJ Premier, and it isn’t particularly about Gang Starr. This is mine and Overrating The Underrated’s tribute to Guru.

Guru, a backronym for ‘Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal’ (and less commonly, ‘God is Universal; he is the Ruler Universal’), formed Gang Starr in 1985 working with an array of DJ’s before finally hooking up with the Houston-born DJ Premier in early 1989. Later that year they released their debut No More Mr Nice Guy, a relatively uninspiring effort yet one which was succeeded by one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time in the form of Step In The Arena (1990).

The flawless chemistry between Guru and Premo was in full force. Guru’s conscious, monotone lyricism perfectly complimented Premo’s textbook production and the unstoppable duo pioneered East Coast hip-hop to a level never seen before. Gone were the days of inconsistent, bit-part LP’s; Gang Starr were here now. Their solid, back-to-back-listenable albums made hip-hop easy. Guru, although often criticised for his routine, almost over-lazy flow began to draw in ears; attending to the needs of both the casual listener who could enjoy his unobtrusive voice, and the hardcore heads, craving his words of wisdom on social responsibility (Robin Hood Theory), braggadocios battle rhymes (Step In The Arena) or intricate story telling (Soliloquy of Chaos).

But Guru wasn’t quite done there. In addition to his work with Gang Starr, he was bringing hip-hop back to its origins of deep within jazz music. His Jazzmatazz Vol 1 was one of the first albums to combine a live jazz band with hip-hop. Although Guru’s Jazzmatazz series were less commercially praised as his work with Premo, his movement of cross-artist collaboration paved the way for artists such as Jay-Z almost fifteen years later.

Guru will be sorely missed across hip-hop, jazz and the world of music. We reach out to his friends and family throughout this difficult time and may we celebrate his artistry for years to come.

Rest In Peace Keith Elam (July 17, 1966 – April 19, 2010)

Gang Starr – Check The Technique

Posted a few months back. Refresh? Yes please.

Gang Starr – Soliloquy of Chaos

From Daily Operation. Guru showcases his story telling ability over a catchy, progressive loop.

Guru – Who’s There?

Soulful number off Jazzmatazz Vol 3. Politically charged attack on society which Guru expertly touches on some heartfelt topics.

Guru (feat Erykah Badu) – Plenty

From the same album, totally different. Funky and upbeat. Pleasant variant from Premo’s heavy drums. Guru integrates seamlessly with Erykah. Is there anyone he wasn’t compatible with?

Gang Starr – Moment Of Truth

Guru’s best work.

“They say it’s lonely at the top, in whatever you do
You always gotta watch motherfuckers around you
Nobody’s invincible, no plan is foolproof
We all must meet our moment of truth.”

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3 comments to Guru: A Tribute To An Everlasting Legacy

  • Tito

    “No doubt there will be a few bandwagons driving through the blogs over the upcoming weeks. ‘Tupac-syndrome’ (no disrespect Pac) will flood the forums as Guru makes his way into everyone’s top five”

    Absolutely agree on that. Numerous MC’s always forgot Guru on their Top 5 lists (just have to check allhiphop.com top 5 dead or alive section). It doesn’t matter if they were from the second middle of the 90’s or from 00’s, they used to mention Big, 2Pac, Rakim, Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, Krs, Jay-Z and maybe someone Chuck D, but they always forgot to mention Guru.
    In my opinion Guru should be there before Big, 2pac or Jay-Z… He has not been a superstar and is by far less none than those 3 dudes, but his contribution to hiphop music has been by far bigget than the one done by those 3 dudes. He worked with DJ’s (2nd element of hiphop), you really have to dig if you want to find a DJ on the albums of Jay, Big or Pac.
    You just have to compare each other catalogue… it’s easy to make 2 good albums…but to make gangstarr and jazzmatazz albums at the level he did… He must be on a top 5!
    You wont find any wack album form Guru till later he teamed up with Solar on “Guru 7.0 The Street Scriptures”
    Even Krs has a lot of wack albums, but I still like him. Just wanted to say that I dont understand why he’s always the forgotten on everybody’s top 5 lists…Maybe now he will be recognised as the great mc he was..

  • Appreciate the feedback Tito.

    Guru’s talent in spotting great artists to collaborate with was unfortunately his downfall from the moment he decided to work with Premo. Although a perfect combination, at the same time Guru was always overshadowed by Premo’s work on the boards.

    Another contributing factors perhaps was his consistency which led to people not truly appreciating his work because he was so consistently on point. Take Jay, Nas, 50, Jeru et al.; we always reminisce to a time when they were on top of their game. Yet overlook a man who was always at the top of his.

    It’s just a tragedy he had to die for people to realise that.

  • I’ll admit I never really got into Guru much until your Gang Starr feature a little while ago. ‘Who’s There?’ is an absolutely phenomenal track.

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