Guru (rapper)

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Guru (rapper).jpg
Elam in 2006
Background information
Birth nameKeith Edward Elam
Also known as
  • Jazzmattaz
  • Keithy E.M.C.
  • Bald Head Slick
Born(1961-07-17)July 17, 1961
Roxbury, Massachusetts, U.S.
DiedApril 19, 2010(2010-04-19) (aged 48)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Genres Hip hop, jazz rap
  • Rapper
  • songwriter
  • record producer
Years active1986–2010
Associated acts

Keith Edward Elam (July 17, 1961 [1]  April 19, 2010), better known by his stage name Guru (a backronym for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal), was an American rapper and record producer. He was a member of the hip hop duo Gang Starr, along with DJ Premier. He was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts. [2]

Contents placed him on their list of the Top 50 MCs of Our Time, [3] while The Source ranked him #30 on their list of the Top 50 Lyricists of All Time, saying "Guru dropped some of the most thoughtful rhymes on wax". [4]

Guru died on 19 April 2010 from myeloma at age 48. [5]

Early life

Elam was born in 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 Schools system. He attended the Advent School on Beacon Hill in Boston, Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, Massachusetts, and Cohasset High School in Cohasset, Massachusetts for high school. [6] Elam graduated with a degree in business administration from Morehouse College in Atlanta [7] and took graduate classes at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan.

Musical career

Elam began his music career under the pseudonym MC Keithy E but later changed his stage name to Guru. [6] He founded Gang Starr in 1987. The group initially released three records, produced by The 45 King, on the Wild Pitch Records record label, but these records received little attention. [7] [8] After a change in line-up, the group consisted of rapper Guru and producer DJ Premier. Gang Starr released its first LP No More Mr. Nice Guy on Wild Pitch Records; the group achieved a sizable following and released six critically acclaimed and influential albums from 1989 to 2003. Two albums, Moment of Truth (1998) and compilation Full Clip: A Decade of Gang Starr (1999) were certified gold in the United States by the RIAA. Gang Starr made archetypal East Coast hip hop with Guru's rhyming described as sharp-eyed but anti-ostentatious. [7]

In 1993, Guru released the first in a series of four solo albums while still a member of Gang Starr. Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1 featured collaborations with Donald Byrd, N'Dea Davenport, MC Solaar and Roy Ayers and received positive reviews. [9] His second solo LP, Jazzmatazz, Vol. 2: The New Reality , featured Chaka Khan, Ramsey Lewis, Branford Marsalis and Jamiroquai. The third installment, Jazzmatazz, Vol. 3: Streetsoul , was released in 2000, but it received less positive reviews. [10] In reference to the Jazzmatazz project, Guru told Pete Lewis of Blues & Soul : "Back around '93—when I first came up with the Jazzmatazz concept—I was noticing how a lot of cats were digging in the crates and sampling jazz breaks to make hip hop records. But while I thought that was cool, I wanted to take it to the next level and actually create a new genre by getting the actual dudes we were sampling into the studio to jam over hip hop beats with some of the top vocalists of the time. You know, the whole thing was experimental, but I knew it was an idea that would spawn some historic music." [11]

In 1994, Guru appeared on the Red Hot Organization's compilation album Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool . The album, meant to raise awareness and funds in support of the AIDS epidemic in relation to the African American community, was heralded as the album of the year by Time magazine.[ citation needed ]

Guru with Gang Starr, Germany 1999 Gangstarr-03-mika.jpg
Guru with Gang Starr, Germany 1999

Guru's first solo album not a part the Jazzmatazz series, Baldhead Slick & da Click , was released in 2001 to poor reviews. [12] The album reached #22 on the Billboard R&B/Hip Hop album charts. Version 7.0: The Street Scriptures, was released in 2005 on Guru's own record label, 7 Grand Records. The album was produced by labelmate Solar. It reached #54 on the Billboard R&B albums charts and received mixed reviews. [13]

Guru's final releases were the fourth installment in the Jazzmatazz series, released in June 2007; and Guru 8.0: Lost And Found, released May 19, 2009 (also in collaboration with Solar). A Gang Starr reunion album was planned but was not released because of Guru's death. [14]

On November 23, 1998, Guru was arrested in Miami on marijuana possession.[ citation needed ]


On February 28, 2010, Guru went into cardiac arrest and, following surgery, fell into a coma. [15] [16] It was claimed that Guru had briefly awakened from his coma [17] but died on April 19, 2010, at the age of 48, from multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. [18] [19] [20] Guru was survived by his parents, three siblings, and a son named Keith Casim. [6] His production partner, Solar, claimed that Guru had momentarily awakened from his coma to compose a letter to the public, [21] although DJ Premier and members of Guru's family stated that he never regained consciousness. [22] Guru's family claimed that Solar had prevented them from having contact with Guru during his illness just before his death; [23] the validity of the death-bed letter was consequently challenged by Guru's family. [24] In an interview on Conspiracy Worldwide Radio, Solar claimed that he was protective of Guru, and everything he had said was true. This interview was met by extreme emotion from the hip hop community and did little to clear the controversy surrounding his actions.[ citation needed ]

DJ Premier produced a tribute mix to Guru [25] and has released a public letter [26] along with Guru's sister Patricia Elam. [27] Harry J. Elam, an older brother, wrote a personal memoir in remembrance published in The Boston Globe on April 23, 2010. [28] The Elam family had a Guru tribute website set up where visitors were able to view tributes and sign a memorial page. [29] Guru's nephew Justin Nicholas-Elam Ruff made a 16-minute documentary in which he narrated the story of his late uncle. [30]

At the 2011 Grammy Awards, Guru's name was not mentioned in the annual retrospective of musicians who had died since the 2010 awards. On April 21, 2011, Revive Da Live Big Band held a tribute show for Guru at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City. [31] The show paid homage to Guru's Jazzmatazz series and featured a full jazz band tribute, with all proceeds going towards the Elam family. During the concert, Babygrande Records donated $5000 to Guru's son, K.C. Elam. [32]


The French city of Montpellier named a small street "Allée Guru" after the rapper, citing his influence on both hip hop and jazz. [33]


Studio albums




Video games

Related Research Articles

Gang Starr American East Coast hip hop duo

Gang Starr is an American hip hop group, consisting of Texas record producer DJ Premier and Massachusetts rapper Guru. Gang Starr was at its height from 1989 to 2003, and are considered one of the best MC-and-producer duos in hip hop history. They are recognized for being one of the pioneers of jazz rap. Some of their top hits include "Mass Appeal", "Take It Personal", "Moment of Truth" and "Above The Clouds".

Jazz rap is a fusion of jazz and hip hop music, as well as an alternative hip hop subgenre, that developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. AllMusic writes that the genre "was an attempt to fuse African-American music of the past with a newly dominant form of the present, paying tribute to and reinvigorating the former while expanding the horizons of the latter." The rhythm was rooted in hip hop over which were placed repetitive phrases of jazz instrumentation: trumpet, double bass, etc. Groups involved in the formation of jazz rap included A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, De La Soul, Gang Starr, The Roots, Jungle Brothers, and Dream Warriors.

<i>No More Mr. Nice Guy</i> (Gang Starr album) 1989 studio album by Gang Starr

No More Mr. Nice Guy is the debut album by hip hop duo Gang Starr. The album was released on April 22, 1989. It peaked at #83 on the Billboard R&B chart. The song "Positivity" peaked at #19 on the Billboard rap chart.

<i>Gurus Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1</i> 1993 studio album by Guru

Jazzmatazz Volume 1 is the debut solo studio album by American hip hop recording artist Guru. It was released on May 18, 1993 through Chrysalis Records. Recording sessions took place at D&D Studios in New York. Production was handled by Guru himself, who also served as executive producer together with Duff Marlowe and Patrick Moxey.

DJ Premier American record producer and DJ

Christopher Edward Martin, known professionally as DJ Premier, is an American record producer and DJ. He is considered one of the greatest hip hop producers of all time. He was half of the hip hop duo Gang Starr—alongside the rapper Guru—and presently forms half of the hip hop duo PRhyme, together with Royce da 5'9".

<i>Daily Operation</i> 1992 studio album by Gang Starr

Daily Operation is the third studio album by American hip hop duo Gang Starr. It was released by Chrysalis Records on May 5, 1992. It peaked at number 65 on the Billboard 200 chart.

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Kendrick Jeru Davis, known as Jeru the Damaja, is an American rapper and record producer. He is known for his 1993 single "Come Clean" from his debut album, The Sun Rises in the East, ranked as one of the 100 greatest hip-hop albums of all time by the editors of He has worked extensively with Guru and DJ Premier of Gang Starr, whom he has known since he was in high school.

Freddie Foxxx Musical artist

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<i>Gurus Jazzmatazz, Vol. 2: The New Reality</i> 1995 studio album by Guru

Jazzmatazz, Volume II is the second solo studio album by American hip hop musician Guru. It was released on July 18, 1995 through Chrysalis Records as the second installment of the rapper's Jazzmatazz album series.

<i>Gurus Jazzmatazz, Vol. 3: Streetsoul</i> 2000 studio album by Guru

Guru's Jazzmatazz: Streetsoul is the third solo studio album by American hip hop musician Guru. It was released on October 3, 2000 via Virgin Records as the third installment of Guru's Jazzmatazz album series. Production was handled by Gang Starr, The Neptunes, Agallah, DJ Scratch, Erykah Badu, J Dilla, The Roots and Victor Flowers.

<i>Step in the Arena</i> (album) 1990 studio album by Gang Starr

Step in the Arena is the second studio album by hip hop duo Gang Starr, printed as a 1990 release, and commercially released on January 15, 1991. In 2007, it was named the greatest hip hop album of all time by HipHopDX called it "the album that cemented Gang Starr as a timeless tag team."

<i>Hard to Earn</i> 1994 studio album by Gang Starr

Hard to Earn is the fourth studio album by American hip hop duo Gang Starr. It was released on March 8, 1994, by Chrysalis and EMI Records in North America. The album featured the singles "Mass Appeal",, "DWYCK", and "Code of the Streets". Guest appearances on the album include Group Home, Jeru the Damaja, and Big Shug. At the time, all were part of the Gang Starr Foundation, which made the album a stepping-stone for future DJ Premier-helmed projects by Group Home and Jeru. Hard to Earn received acclaim and commercial success upon release.

Afu-Ra American underground rapper (born 1974)

Aaron Phillip, better known by his stage name Afu-Ra, is an American underground rapper. Afu-Ra is a member of the Gang Starr Foundation, and has worked closely with its members, Gang Starr, Jeru the Damaja, Big Shug, Group Home, and others.

Gang Starr Foundation is a collective of east coast rappers led by the hip hop group Gang Starr. It was co-founded by Boston legend Big Shug. It was established in 1993.

<i>Baldhead Slick & da Click</i> 2001 studio album by Guru

Baldhead Slick & da Click is the fourth solo studio album by American hip hop musician Guru. It was released on September 25, 2001 via Ill Kid/Landspeed Records, marking Guru's first solo recording outside his Jazzmatazz series. Production was handled by Alchemist, Adam West, Agallah, Ayatollah, Biggest Gord, Divine, DJ Roach, DJ Spinna, DJ Yutaka, E-Boogie, Gang Starr, G-Flexx, J-Love, Pete Rock, P.F. Cuttin', Smitty, Stoupe the Enemy of Mankind and The Committee. It features guest appearances from Big Shug, Kaeson,, Lae D-Trigga, Mendoughza, New Child, Black Jesus, Bless, Blick Street, Don Parmazhane, Ed O.G., Gold D, Hannibal Stax, Hussein Fatal, Ice-T, James Gotti, Kapital Gainz, Killa Kaine, Killah Priest, Krumbsnatcha, Mr. Moe, Pete Powers, Smitty, Squala Orphan, Suspectz, Tef, Timbo King and Treach. The album peaked at number 122 on the Billboard 200, number 22 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums, number 5 on the Independent Albums and topped the Heatseekers Albums in the United States.

<i>Gurus Jazzmatazz, Vol. 4: The Hip Hop Jazz Messenger: Back to the Future</i> 2007 studio album by Guru

Guru's Jazzmatazz, Vol. 4: The Hip Hop Jazz Messenger: Back to the Future is the sixth solo studio album by American hip hop musician Guru. It was released on July 31, 2007 via 7 Grand Records, making it the fourth and final installment in the rapper's Jazzmatazz series. Production was handled entirely by Solar, who also served as executive producer together with Guru. It features guest appearances from Blackalicious, Bobby Valentino, Bob James, Caron Wheeler, Common, Damian Marley, David Sanborn, Dionne Farris, Kem, Brownman Ali, Omar, Raheem DeVaughn, Ronnie Laws, Shelley Harland and Vivian Green.

Cary Guy, better known as Big Shug is a hip hop artist and actor from Boston, Massachusetts, a cofounder of Gang Starr and a member of the Gang Starr Foundation collective.

Mass Appeal (song) 1994 single by Gang Starr

"Mass Appeal" is a song by American hip hop group Gang Starr from the album Hard to Earn. The song reached #67 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #42 on the Billboard R&B chart. It was also featured on the soundtrack of the video game Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4.

<i>Gurus Jazzmatazz: The Timebomb Back to the Future Mixtape</i> 2007 mixtape by Guru

The Timebomb: Back To The Future Mixtape is a commercial mixtape album released by Guru through 7 Grand Records, hosted by DJ Doo Wop and produced by Solar. Released soon after Jazzmatazz, Vol. 4: The Hip-Hop Jazz Messenger: Back to the Future, its press release describes it as "Guru's "raw" companion to the Jazzmatazz Vol. 4 album."

<i>One of the Best Yet</i> 2019 studio album by Gang Starr

One of the Best Yet is the seventh and final studio album by American hip hop duo Gang Starr, released on November 1, 2019. The album features previously unreleased and posthumous vocals from Guru, who died nine years prior to the album's release. The album features guest appearances from J. Cole, Royce da 5'9", Talib Kweli, M.O.P., and Q-Tip, among others.


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