Remembering Guru Essay: Keith “Guru” Elam (1961-2010)

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the first tape i’ve ever owned was “step in the arena” by gangstarr. i was about 6 years old and my pops let me get it solely because it didn’t have a sticker on it (unlike that terminator-x tape “valley of the jeep beats” that had a huge parental advisory sticker on the front).

in the tradition of what is probably now coined as ‘conscious hip-hop’ gangstarr possessed lyrics that talked about black empowerment, knowledge, understanding and backdrops of dusty-samples chopped to perfection by dj premier. it appeared that the combination couldn’t get any better. simplicity: one dj. one mc. no bullshit.

this is what i feel when i hear parents and older mentors talk about how they felt when john lennon got shot or how our moms’ felt when marvin was killed. well, between dilla passing and now guru, our heroes that are just like the rock greats of yesteryear are effecting me the same way.

guru and gangstarr are solely the reasons that i am involved with hip-hop the way that i am. as an artist, writer and emotional critic wanting to see the genre that i invest my life in to be handled with love and care. guru had that same love for the culture and it’s evident.

seriously, i wanted to be guru. as a young child seeing how fucking cool the man was (in the “lounging” video with donald byrd) i loved the marriage of jazz and hip-hop and how it made sense to me. it showed that hip-hop is our modern jazz and that we’re not ignorant kids making senseless music. it doesn’t hurt to have jazz greats co-sign a culture that the rest of the world abandoned. guru had that vision.

i can remember where i was when i purchased every gangstarr record. no lie. i can remember when i was 11-years-old going to the local target (since wal-mart edited their shit) and trying to buy “hard to earn”. but since i only had a ten dollar bill, the $11.49 it cost with the taxes wasn’t enough. except for another hip-hop lover who was probably at least five years older than me, leant his buck-forty-nine to help me after he saw me in front of him in line.

i went home and played the album out to no end (and have the same exact copy of the cd till this day that i bump religiously).

it sucks to see the group part ways almost seven years ago and it was even more disheartening to see the real-life soap opera that went on with producer solar and guru’s family (having guru’s nephew plead on youtube to see his uncle in which him and his family were banned doing).

and it’s even more suspicious that a farewell letter would talk about his albums with solar (sounding like an artist bio) as well as insulting premier (not even by name but referred to as “former-DJ”) seems like something somebody wouldn’t be thinking about on their deathbed.

i’m sorry if it seems that these sentiments are crossing a line but something just doesn’t feel right. and despite guru and premier’s relationship, they had a bond that will succeed both of their lives. a bond that had guru bless 162 premier beats (i would beat down a nun to get at least one) and millions of loyal fans over the years.

a rapper didn’t pass away. music lost a pioneer and as much as i loved guru and his contribution to my life, it felt as if we lost a friend. we lost a member of our family. we love you. peace and love. “suckers keep playing themselves to have mass appeal.” -PJ