Gang Starr’s Guru, one of the smoothest and lyrically complex rappers to emerge during the last years of the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, passed away yesterday at the age of 48 following a battle with cancer. As Rolling Stone reported in late February, Guru suffered cardiac arrest after undergoing surgery to treat the disease, eventually lapsing into a brief coma.
Born Keith Elam, the Boston-bred Guru and producer DJ Premier comprised the duo Gang Starr. Together, they recorded six albums between 1989 and 2003, including a pair of hip-hop classics that rank among the genre’s best, 1991’s Step In the Arena and 1992’s Daily Operation. While never chart-toppers, the singles “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?,” “Step in the Arena” and “Ex Girl to Next Girl” serve as fine examples of Guru’s unique flow and lyrical street realism.
Guru also became a pioneer in the hip-hop/jazz fusion game with his four Jazzmatazz albums. After Gang Starr’s last album The Ownerz, Guru and DJ Premier ended their partnership, but Guru still toured Europe under the Gang Starr moniker. Guru also released two solo albums, produced by Solar, under his own name in the 2000s.
“The world has lost one of the best MCs and Hip-Hop icons of all-time — my loyal best friend, partner, and brother, Guru,” Solar said in a statement. “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.”