Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

In Memoriam: Guru

Guru (an acronym for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal), the iconic, paradigm-shifting founder and rapper of hip-hop legends Gang Starr and creator of hip-hop jazz died yesterday after spending much of the previous two months in a coma following a heart attack. He was 43. Born Keith Elam in Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1966, Guru founded Gang Starr in 1987 and released a handful of singles that achieved enough regional success to catch the attention of New York DJ Premier. In 1989, Guru and Premier released their landmark first album No More Mr. Nice Guy, followed by five others, the last, The Ownerz, in 2003. One of the originators of the East Coast hardcore style, Guru’s hard-edge, rapidfire, syncopated delivery matched the uncompromising seriousness of his lyrics. Particularly critical of what he felt was a drift in hip-hop toward popstar meaninglessness, Guru remained relevant and true to his origins even as he celebrated his own achievements as a wordsmith on joints like Check the Technique, Take It Personal and Code of the Streets.

In 1993, in the wake of the duo’s finest album Daily Operation, Guru teamed up with a diverse crew of jazz artists including Branford Marsalis, Donald Byrd and Ramsey Lewis to release the first of his four Guru Presents: Jazzmatazz series of albums, showcasing jazz improvisation over a hip-hop beat while taking a somewhat more lighthearted lyrical approach than he took with Gang Starr. The final Jazzmatazz album was released in 2007. Guru also released two solo albums during the decade. He is survived by a son. His longtime collaborator Solar (no relation to the French hip-hop artist MC Solaar, whose career he springboarded here in the US) released a controversial posthumous letter ostensibly written by the rapper distancing himself from DJ Premier, with whom he had split after the duo’s final album together seven years ago.

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April 20, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, obituary, rap music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment