Today we woke up to the unexpected news that hip-hop legend Keith "Guru" Elam passed away yesterday after a long battle with Cancer at the age of 43. We say unexpected not only because the Gang Starr MC was a relatively young man, but because the last we heard of his bizarre health situation—through his secretive music and business partner Solar—was that Guru had surgery following a heart attack and he was expected to make a full recovery.
Well, now that we've learned the true nature of his health problems, it's too late. All we have left to remember Guru by is an impressive catalog of music than spans his 20 year career, from his truly unparalleled work with DJ Premier to his innovative Jazzmatazz projects. When Guru's health problems first came to light last month, we put together a beginner's guide to Guru's complete discography (yep, even the stuff he did with Solar), so we're reposting it below to honor the man's music on this truly sad day...
ALBUM: GANG STARR'S NO MORE MR. NICE GUY
As song titles like, "Conscience Be Free," "Knowledge" and "Positivity" would suggest, the then-23-year-old duo of Premier and Guru were heavily invested in uplifting the community, a message that never really faltered during their ascent. What would change, however, is the Guru becoming even more cocksure in his already brassy flow and Premier gaining post-production value to polish these early examples of his genius.
ALBUM: GANG STARR'S STEP IN THE ARENA
SINGLE: "Just To Get A Rep"
Widely considered a must-own for hip-hop heads, Step In The Arena might be the real No More Mr. Nice Guy, as it moves at a slower, more austere pace. Blues and funk breaks thicken up Premo's backdrops, though NMMNG's jazz influence remains prevalent. At 18 songs deep, it runs far longer than a train ride, but it's an album to be studied through headphones nonetheless.
ALBUM: GANG STARR'S DAILY OPERATION
SINGLE: "Take It Personal"
The third graph of The Source magazine's review of Daily Operation begins with, "DJ Premier is a master at his craft." While this was news to very few, it was imperative acknowledgement for people still reeling in the grandeur of the Step In The Arena. Aside from a flourishing Guru, Daily Operation also boasts the debut of the little homie Jeru The Damaja, and a song called "The Illest Brother" originally meant for the Juice soundtrack.
ALBUM: JAZZMATAZZ, VOL. 1
SINGLE: "Trust Me" f/ N'dea Davenport
Ceding to his most experimental ambitions, Guru created Jazzmatazz with a full band that included heavyweights like Lonnie Liston Smith, Branford Marsalis, Ronny Jordan, Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers. Though Premier was nowhere to be found and Guru traded some of the grittier realties of Daily Operation for sunnier scenarios, the album was critically and commercially well-received, selling especially well in Europe.
ALBUM: GANG STARR'S HARD TO EARN
SINGLE: "Mass Appeal"
With hits like "Mass Appeal" and "D.W.Y.C.K.," Hard To Earn might be Gang Starr's most accessible album, and therein also Guru's. Though both remain party staples to this day, Guru would take time out for real talk on songs like "Tonz 'O' Gunz" and the gritty third single "Code Of The Streets."
ALBUM: JAZZMATAZZ, VOL. 2: THE NEW REALITY
SINGLE: "Watch What You Say" f/ Chaka Khan
Once again indulging his inclination to rap over live horns, Guru called on big dawgs like Chaka Khan (who guests on the lead single), Me'Shell N'Degeocello and even Jamiroquai. Marsalis returns to help with arrangement, but even Premo came through on the boards for Vol. 2. At 70 plus minutes, its another really long playing LP, but time flies when you're drinking wine and listening to hip-hop.
ALBUM: GANG STARR'S MOMENT OF TRUTH
SINGLE: "You Know My Steez"
Some four years after the last proper Gang Starr album, Moment Of Truth appeared as a comeback album of sorts. Fans were anxious to hear Guru and Premier all in again and were pleasantly surprised to find Guru as limber as ever, even addressing the doubt, rapping, "Though they conspire, fake us to make us retire/With the burning desire we make it out of the crossfire."
ALBUM: JAZZMATAZZ, VOL. 3: STREET SOUL
SINGLE: "Keep Your Worries" f/ Angie Stone
Like the previous volumes in the series, Jazzmatazz Vol. 3 is shaped by it's guests, the creme de la creme of this era's soul-centric producers and singers including The Neptunes, The Roots and J. Dilla on the production side and Angie Stone, Bilal and Erykah Badu on the vocals. That said, the collabs are frequent but sensible as Guru seems to have recruited song birds only where his own voice wasn't viscous enough to bind the verses.
ALBUM: BALDHEAD SLICK & DA CLICK
SINGLE: "Where's Our Money?!"
An artist showcase in the vein of Jay-Z's Roc La Familia album, Baldhead Slick & Da Click was Guru in the yard, working out with his friends. Said workouts included threatening sucker MC's and anyone else who would dare wear nice jewelry, have a fine girlfriend or walk around like they were holding something around the click. [Ed Note: No videos were shot in support of Baldhead Slick & Da Click.]
ALBUM: GANG STARR'S THE OWNERZ
As the last proper Gang Starr album, The Ownerz might be the most disjointed of the bundle. Having by now established themselves both in and out of Gang Starr, the pair seem torn between Guru's Jazzmatazz sensibilities and Preemo's penchant for vintage NYC street hop. Make no mistake, that pair can do either expertly, but the styles don't transition very well over the space of the unfocused album.
ALBUM: VERSION 7.0: THE STREET SCRIPTURES
SINGLE: "Hood Dreamin"
On his first solo effort outside of the Jazzmatazz series, Guru looks exclusively to producer Solar (not to be confused with France's MC Solaar who appeared on Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1). While Solar is an adept producer and even nudges Guru into some foreign tempos, the production becomes tedious toward the album's end.
ALBUM: JAZZMATAZZ, VOL. 4: THE HIP HOP JAZZ MESSENGER: BACK TO THE FUTURE
SINGLE: "State of Clarity" f/ Common
Jazzmatazz Vol. 4 represents all the ideals of it's predecessors, but the guest list seems more random this time around. Vol. 4 hosts scene-stealing cameos from Raheem Devaughn, Damian Marley and others, but maybe more notably, was produced en masse by Solar as opposed to the live arrangement of previous volumes. Guru is ever nimble within Solar's soundscapes, but the newer, mechanized sound is a stretch for true jazzmatazzketeers.
ALBUM: GURU 8.0: LOST & FOUND
SINGLE: "Lost & Found"
If the title track is to be believed, Lost & Found is Guru at his most comfortable, again teamed up with Solar, splicing a street corner aesthetic with divine wisdom and highbrow wit, the sole captain of his ship. It's a harder reality to accept when hung next to the majesty of the Gang Starr catalogue, but one no less acceptable when supported by bright spots like "Ride" and "Divine Rule."