Just over a month since undergoing surgery following a heart attack, Gang Starr MC Guru (born Keith Elam) has died at age 43. According to a statement, Guru died of cancer-related causes on Monday after a long fight with the disease.
Guru’s longtime collaborator and partner Solar mourns his loss in the statement and explains that Guru had written a letter to his fans that was to be released upon his death.
“The world has lost one of the best MCs and hip-hop icons of all-time â€” my loyal best friend, partner, and brother, Guru,” Solar said. “Guru has been battling cancer for well over a year and has lost his battle! This is a matter that Guru wanted private until he could beat it, but tragically, this did not happen. The cancer took him. Now the world has lost a great man and a true genius.”
Born on July 17, 1966, near Boston, Guru rose to fame in the late 1980s as part of the duo Gang Starr with partner DJ Premier. The pair helped define the New York underground rap sound in the 1990s. Their unique sound combined Premier’s production palette, which leaned heavily on sampled jazz records and scratched vocals on the choruses, with Guru’s uncompromising rhymes. Although the pair would work separately as often as they did together â€” Guru’s Jazzmatazzseries of albums and Premier’s work with Nas, Jay-Z, and underground act Group Home â€” Gang Starr continued to release critically acclaimed material throughout the late ’90s and early 2000s.
Their 1998 album Moment of Truth was among their most critically lauded collections and Gang Starr’s biggest-selling project to date. Gang Starr’s last group project, The Ownerz, was released in 2003.
Guru found solo fame in 1993 when he released the first volume of his Jazzmatazz series, an all-star project that featured a number of collaborations with jazz icons such as Branford Marsalis, Donald Byrd, Roy Ayers and Ronny Jordan, as well as vocals from French producer Solaar and N’Dea Davenport of the Brand New Heavies. The album’s mixture of jazz and rap was considered pioneering at the time, and the record spawned the hit “Trust Me.” Guru would go on to make four volumes in the series.
Guru wrote his farewell letter while in the hospital, according to Solar. “I, Guru, am writing this letter to my fans, friends and loved ones around the world,” it begins. “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 [of] myself and my son until he is of age to except on his own.”
Guru very pointedly distanced himself from Premier in the letter, saying he didn’t want his former musical collaborator to be able to participate in any tributes or events surrounding his death.
“I do not wish my ex-DJ to have anything to do with my name likeness, events, tributes etc. connected in anyway to my situation including any use of my name or circumstance for any reason and I have instructed my lawyers to enforce this,” wrote Guru. “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 Gang Starr, I am very proud of what Gang Starr has meant to the music world and fans. I equally am proud of my Jazzmatazz series and as the father of Hip-Hop/Jazz. I am most proud of my leadership and pioneering efforts on Jazzmatazz 4 for reinvigorating the Hip-Hop/Jazz genre in a time when music quality has reached an all time low. Solar and I have toured in places that I have never been before with Gang Starr or Jazzmatazz and we gained a reputation for being the best on the planet at Hip-Hop/Jazz, as well as the biggest and most influential Hip-Hop/Jazz record with Jazzmatazz 4 of the decade to now.
“The work I have done with Solar represents a legacy far beyond its time. And we as a team were not afraid to push the envelope. To me this is what true artists do! As men of honor we stood tall in the face of small-mindedness, greed, and ignorance. As we fought for music and integrity at the cost of not earning millions and for this I will always be happy and proud, and would like to thank the million fans who have seen us perform over the years from all over the world. The work I have done with Solar represents a legacy far beyond its time and is my most creative and experimental to date. I hope that our music will receive the attention it deserves as it is some of the best work I have done and represents some of the best years of my life.”
At press time, Guru’s family â€” from whom he was reportedly estranged, along with other past associates â€” had not commented on his death, and last month his nephew Justin Nicholas-Elam Ruff posted several emotional videos on YouTube saying that Solar was preventing them from seeing the MC during his illness.
“Solar has completely cut us off. My family has no way of knowing what is going on with Guru’s situation,” he said in the video. “Solar has complete control over the flow of information given from the hospital and will not disclose any information to us. The doctors and the hospital staff will not discuss any info with Guru’s family.” Ruff said in one of the videos that no one in Guru’s family had not seen him since February 28, and that he was prevented from seeing Guru when he visited the hospital last month.