One year ago today, the gravelly-voiced front man for legendary rap duo Gang Starr, a group formed alongside DJ Premier, Keith “Guru” Elam passed away at the age of 48 due to complications following a cardiac arrest.
Guru’s death sent shockwaves throughout the hip hop community, sparking many fitting tributes dedicated to Guru’s valuable musical contributions over the years. For fans of Guru, his death continues to serve as a grim reminder of mortality and also how fragile our existences can be.
The Boston native began his foray into rap in 1985, culminating in a series of singles with an early incarnation of Gang Starr in 1987, all produced by the celebrated DJ Mark The 45 King. Fittingly however in April of 1989, the Gang Starr posse whittled down some members with Guru and Texas native DJ Premier remaining in front and thus released the critically acclaimed No More Mr. Nice Guy LP.
Two years later, the release of the Step In The Arena album catapulted the “King Of Monotone” and Primo into the national conversation as a force to be reckoned with. The singles from the album “Just To Get A Rep,” “Who’s Gonna Take The Weight?,” and “Lovesick” were all heavy in rotation on radio and the various music video outlets at the time. Gang Starr had emerged as an important voice for the hip hop nation.
Speaking of voices, Guru’s vocal tone was his trademark as much as his clean shaven head, and he infamously cemented this fact on the track “Mostly The Voice” from Gang Starr’s fourth album Hard To Earn released in 1994. His deep baritone voice never conveyed much in the way of emotion but somehow the man known as the “Bald Head Slick” was able to make his unique vocal instrument seamlessly gel with anything DJ Premier laid down in front of him. Rapping in a straightforward style with his vocals always sitting loud and high in the mix, Guru’s voice could send chills down spines with his delivery alone.
Guru’s passing also revealed deep machinations involving the relationship of the deceased legend and his music partner of later times, Solar. Solar’s attempt to reportedly use Guru’s death to expose even deeper rifts between Guru and his family and he and also his allegedly estranged former partner Premier came across to many fans as a cheap ploy to be divisive and ruin the legacy of one of hip hop’s most treasured and iconic groups. Primo debunked Solar’s attempt graciously as possible and revealed that he and Elam’s bond went much farther than music.
Rest In Peace to Keith “Guru” Elam. Through music, his voice and legacy will live on for his legion of fans and for supporters of classic hip hop music forever.