Guru (an acronym for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal) was born as Keith Elam on July 17, 1961in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. His father, Harry, was a judge and his mother, Barbara, was the co-director of libraries in the Boston public school system. He attended Noble and Greenough in Dedham, Massachusetts for high school. Guru graduated in business administration from Morehouse College in Atlanta and took graduate classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, but later dropped out to pursue a rap career. He also worked briefly as a social worker.
Before changing his name to Guru, Keith Elam began his rap career under the pseudonym, MC Keithy E and founded the Hip-Hop group Gang Starr with various producers, such as Donald D, J.V. Johnson or DJ Mark the 45 King helping out. In 1987 and 1988, Gang Starr released three 12″ vinyl singles on the Wild Pitch label. In 1989 Guru hooked up with producer DJ Premier (then known as Waxmaster C) and released their first LP “No More Mr. Nice Guy.” During their career Gang Starr helped pioneer the New York hip hop sound, and in fact, many an artist who achieved greater notoriety owes much of their sound, lyrical style, and even content to Gang Starr. Their catalog, especially Step in the Arena (1990), Daily Operation (1992), Hard to Earn (1994) and Moment of Truth (1998) are well-respected among critics. Both the Moment of Truth album and the compilation Full Clip: A Decade of Gang Starr (1999) were both certified gold.
Their track “Jazz Thing”, featured on the soundtrack to Spike Lee’s film Mo’ Better Blues, helped establish the sound of jazz rap. Guru also released a series of four albums entitled Jazzmatazz (1993, 1995, 2000, & 2007) which mixed Hip-Hop and jazz music styles and defined the “fusion” genre. Guru also released a record under the name Baldhead Slick & da Click in 2001. He is also known as the voice of “8-Ball” in the video game Grand Theft Auto.
On February 28, 2010, Guru went into cardiac arrest and, following surgery, fell into a coma. It was claimed that Guru had briefly awakened from his coma but died on April 19, 2010, at the age of 48, from cancer. He was survived by his parents, three siblings and a son, Keith Casim. Some controversy has surrounded his death 9see the letter below). A friend, Solar (not to be confused with MC Solaar) claimed that Guru had awakened from his coma, though DJ Premier and members of the rapper’s family stated that he never regained consciousness from his coma. Guru’s family claimed that Solar prevented them from contact with Guru during the latter’s final illness. The validity of the death-bed letter has been challenged by Guru’s family. DJ Premier recently produced a tribute mix to Guru and has released a public letter along with Guru’s sister Patricia Elam. Harry J. Elam, Guru’s older brother, wrote a personal memoir in remembrance of Guru.
From http://DJPremierBlog.com: Guru aka Keith Elam has passed away yesterday morning (April 19) after a long battle with cancer. According to Solar, Guru suffered from the malicious illness for over a year and after numerous special treatments under the supervision of medical specialists failed, the legendary MC succumbed to the disease. Guru always tried to keep this harrowing diagnosis in private but in early 2010 he had to admit himself to hospital due to serious effects caused by the disease. Since the onset of illness, Guru tried to live a “normal” life as an influential and outstanding musician, loving father, family man, and best friend. Doctors encouraged Guru to think positive that the cancer can be arrested and that a full recovery is possible but several special treatments including hard hitting chemotherapies failed.
While in hospital with terminal cancer, Guru wrote a letter, which was provided by Solar, to his fans addressing his illness, his shining music career, his family and loved ones. “I, Guru, am writing this letter to my fans, friends and loved ones around the world. I have had a long battle with cancer and have succumbed to the disease. I have suffered with this illness for over a year. I have exhausted all medical options. I have a non-profit organization called Each One Counts dedicated to carrying on my charitable work on behalf of abused and disadvantaged children from around the world and also to educate and research a cure for this terrible disease that took 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. My loyal best friend, partner and brother, Solar, has been at my side through it all and has been made my health proxy by myself on all matters relating to myself. He has been with me by my side on my many hospital stays, operations, doctors visits and stayed with me at my home and cared for me when I could not care for myself. Solar and his family is my family and I love them dearly and I expect my family, friends, and fans to respect that, regardless to anybody’s feelings on the matter. It is my wish that counts. This being said I am survived by the love of my life, my sun KC, who I trust will be looked after by Solar and his family as their own. Any awards or tributes should be accepted, organized approved by Solar on behalf myself and my son until he is of age to except on his own. I do not wish my ex-DJ to have anything to do with my name likeness, events tributes etc. connected in any way to my situation including any use of my name or circumstance for any reason and I have instructed my lawyers to enforce this. I had nothing to do with him in life for over 7 years and want nothing to do with him in death. Solar has my life story and is well informed on my family situation, as well as the real reason for separating from my ex-DJ. As the sole founder of GangStarr, I am very proud of what GangStarr has meant to the music world and fans. I equally am proud of my Jazzmatazz series and as the father of Hip-Hop/Jazz…”
Guru, born Keith Elam, rose to fame in the 80’s as the founder of the legendary rap group GangStarr. The group released the classic single Words I Manifest followed by their critically acclaimed debut album No More Mr. Nice Guy (1989) and the classic album Step In The Arena (1991). Guru was the first artist to truly blend Hip-Hop with Live Jazz beginning in 1993, and seeing the vast influences his Jazzmatazz concept has had on the industry, it is clear that Guru’s musical contributions have been way ahead of their time. Despite the fact that Guru isn’t hailing from New York, he is noted as a pioneer of the New York sound and true lyrical Hip-Hop. Guru later on joined forces with hit producer Solar and formed his label 7 Grand Records with the goal to keep “real” Hip-Hop alive.
We will sorely miss Guru, both from a personal and from a professional standpoint. Our warmest condolences to Guru’s family and loved ones at this difficult time. –Primo
Categories: Hip-Hop History