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NEWSWORTHY> Peace to the Guru

If you don’t live in the Batcave or two miles under the surface of the Earth, then you are already aware that GURU of Gangstarr (Keith Elam) succumbed to his year long battle with cancer on April 19th. This post is not about the details of his life – it is more about the impact of his life. We realize that Motor Mavens is primarily an automotive site but we just couldn’t ignore the passing of a pioneer in an artform that has become such an integral part of American history – especially since we have so many Mavens on staff who appreciate true Hip Hop.

The first time I heard Guru was in 1989. I was a teenager and my cousin and I had formed a rap group in hopes of becoming respected MCs. I was picking him up to go record a song on the album we were working on and I was late so I was rushing to get him and then get to the studio on time. All of the rushing stopped when I got to his house.

My cousin had this nasty, complex track playing that I thought he’d put together until someone started rhyming over it. The MC’s voice was different from any other MC I had ever heard. Remember, this is back in 1989 when you had a very wide variety of different sounding MCs with completely different styles all co-existing in the world of Hip Hop; Rakim, KRS ONE, LL Cool J, Kool Moe Dee, Ice T, MC Shan, JUST-ICE, Fresh Prince, NWA – gangsta, party, conscious, lyrical, even silly – it was all there and all respected for the skills more than the sales. So, in a huge group of distinctive voices, this MC’s voice was completely different – plus the dude had mad lyrical skills. That MC, of course, was Guru and the song I heard that day, as an introduction to one of the truly pioneering Hip Hop artists, was Manifest. Needless to say, we were a little late to the studio that day.

The first thing Guru brought to Hip Hop was Jazz. It seems like a given now, but then you were more likely to hear Funkadelic or Soul fusions in Hip Hop. Jazz was a much more complex musical language – more cerebral. It would take Guru and Premier to incorporate it so seamlessly and take it mainstream Hip Hop.

But far more than just Jazz, Guru brought a certain musical fearlessness and freedom to Hip Hop. The first time I ever heard anyone rhyme in another language (successfully) was MC Solaar on Le Bien Le Mal – Guru gave us all the opportunity to experience that. I don’t think any other MC could have pulled off the things that Guru did while completely managing to avoid commercialism and corniness.

For me, Guru was a pioneer. He opened my eyes to Jazz in a new way which allowed me to truly appreciate my Pop’s old Miles Davis and John Coltrane albums. I think that Guru did something for the music of Hip Hop that many of the lyricists (including himself) had already done lyrically – he allowed us all to dig a little deeper. And that’s Universal. Peace god.

:: Avon Bellamy

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26 Responses

  1. Antonio Alvendia

    …Honestly, I felt kind of weird that we published a post like this. It’s COMPLETELY unrelated to cars, and part of me always feels that we need to “categorize” every single thing we post on our site. However, sometimes members of the Motor Mavens Crew want to post up random stories or pics that we feel our audience might relate to… because it’s relevant to US.

    When I first heard about Guru’s death yesterday morning, I was SUPER SUPER shocked. I knew he was in the hospital, and people had been circulating rumors months ago that he had passed away… but @DJPremierBlog said it wasn’t true… back then.

    I did some digging, and read up on trusted news sources for music like The Source, MTV [ http://www.mtv.com/photos/gang-starrs-guru-a-life-in-photos/1637389/4791512/photo.jhtml ]… and I even saw the story on ABC’s website and CNN. Crazy.

    While this is NOT a car-related post, I hope our readers will be understanding of this.

    Guru had a HUGE impact on some of us as we were growing up. I was bopping my head to Guru and Premier’s music ever since Daily Operation and Step in the Arena…

    Rest in peace Guru. RESPECT.

  2. Jover

    Respect Antonio and giving Guru a sendoff that’s so well written.

    By coincidence, on the way home from an evening drive with no traffic, the USB Key that had mad eclectic collection of music I had on randomly selected the Gang Starr Folder. It started with Just to Get a Rep… I had to big him up on how that happened somehow.

    RIP Guru

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  4. JDM Rob

    This is a little weird flicked 2 this wedsite while listening group homes livin proof, heard about the news yesterday and was very down about it. Fair play for postin this about guru, he and primo opened my eyes 2 what HIP HOP really is, never looked back. R.I.P. Guru

  5. Antonio Alvendia

    Actually, Avon wrote it. Not me. but thanks Jov! Come visit Cali soon! ACTUALLY, CALL ME! We’re about to get Cipher Garage back in action!

  6. Does not matter if it isn’t about cars. Guru is well woth it on whatever related blog it is.
    RIP to one of the founders to what real hip hop really is.

    And on a sidenote cool that you guys also grown up with all this.

  7. Antonio Alvendia

    @CASSE: Yeah man, I heard that he was into drag racing or something..? With a Camaro or something like that? I heard rumors back in the day that he raced his car at E-Town, Atco, and/or even Hunt’s Point… But I dunno… I couldn’t find any additional info about it.

  8. Edward Uche

    I remember watching YO MTV Raps in the 80s after school and seeing Guru’s videos in rotation. The beat from Manifest repeating itself over and over, such a timeless classic of his early work. Primo beats were always recognizeable and in my opinion grew to an epic peak with his work on the Group Home album. DJ Premier and GURU forever fresh.

  9. Antonio Alvendia

    @Uche: Yeah bro but too bad the Group Home couldn’t even get close to the lyrical skills of Guru. Primo’s beats saved them, to be honest. I forget which one I thought was pretty wack… maybe it was Little Dap. I know that he was Guru’s homie and all, but man… in a battle that kid would get served. Unless he was battling someone with even less lyrical skill, like Greg Nice or something. “ah wee wee, muhammad ali, i mean cassius clayyyyy… you say butta, i say parkayyy”


    Oh but peep out this MTV video interview with SWAY from the legendary hip hop radio show, The Wake Up Show. It’s funny – in this interview with DJ Solar, he talks about Guru’s death and about allegations that Guru’s “letter to his fans” was in fact false, and conjured up by Solar. Pretty crazy shit! This cat looks shady as fuuuuuuu. http://www.mtv.com/videos/news/507727/solar-confirms-gurus-farewell-letter.jhtml#id=1637567

  10. AvonB

    @Antonio – C’mon man! You can’t judge Greg Nice against the same standard you use for Guru. It’s completely apples and oranges. On one side you have cerebral, conscious, heavy weight thinker Guru and on the other – Greg Nice – a pocket rapper. That’s a rapper who gets on a dope beat and finds the “pocket” and stays in it. He stays on beat all the time and his voice becomes like another instrument over the track. He’s not TRYING to make you go “OH Sh!t! did you catch that?!” He’s just trying to make you nod and have a little fun with it. A party rapper with a little extra flavor – thus all of the sound effects and emphasis on delivery. I don’t prefer pocket rappers but it’s cool for what it is.

  11. AvonB

    @ Uche – from Group Home I think I remember some gravelly voiced cat named Malachi the Nutcracker. Always thought that was freakin’ hilarious…

  12. Jover

    My Bad Avon, I coulda sworn it was Antonio that wrote it when I read that late last night.

    Antonio, I’ll holler at you. When should I call? shoot me a message.

  13. AvonB

    @ Jover It’s all good, man. I’m the Ghostface Writer. LOL! The dead giveaway is where I say that I was a teenager in 1989 – but far enough into my teens to be driving my cousin to the studio to lay tracks for an album. I think in 1989 I would have been stopping at the convenience store to pick up diapers for Antonio…hmmm…

  14. We too appreciate real hip-hop, thats why I must say I can appreciate this post on an automotive site. Listening to Gangstarr for a long minute now. I’ll continue to listen to him as if he’s still around. Rest in peace homie.

  15. Man, this is news to me. As a member of the first Hip Hop generation and experiencing it from it’s N.Y. beginnings from the late ’70’s, this news really hit me hard. Rest in peace Gang Starr “aka” Guru.

  16. Saint

    First off, unless you are a hip-hop archiologist.
    Gangstarr means nothing to you.
    So anyone speaking on Guru’s legacy is an O.G. now.
    You remember 86 corollas and Isuzu Impulses like it was yesterday.
    Not because you saw an Inital D cartoon on Youtube.
    When choping springs on Sazuki Samurais was Da-Shit.
    I’m talking Magnum PI Ferrari O.G’s

    Guru was smooth an unpredictable. but the track was so nice you could forgive any cureball that he made you strike out on.
    Abstract but gangster with it.

    Guru quote:
    No way you’ll never make it
    Come with the weak shit, I break kids
    Step into my zone, mad rhymes will stifle ya
    Lines like rifles go blast when I kick some ass
    A lot of rappers be like one time wonders
    Couldn’t say a fly rhyme if there was one right under
    Their noses, I hate those motherfuckin posers
    But I’m so real to them it’s scary
    And with my unique skills nag you can’t compare me
    And no we don’t make wack tracks
    and all the suckers get pushed back when I’m kickin real facts
    I represent set up shit like a tent boy
    You’re paranoid cause you’re my son like Elroy
    And you’d be happy as hell to get a record deal
    Maybe your soul you’d sell to have mass appeal

    Verse 1 Mass Appeal

    As for me:
    “In a music form now plagueded by elementary MC’s; he brought a college degree
    Guru, rest in peace”

  17. Antonio Alvendia

    @Saint: DAMN. you just laid it down. RESPECT.

    Avon and I were having this conversation the other day. He was saying how he thinks RAKIM forever changed the face of hip hop with the cerebral rhymes he was bustin, when most other MCs were party rappers (Rappin Delight steez). We show our respect to Rakim the GAME CHANGER on our DSTROYRxMotorMavens collab shirt, Follow the Leader.

    As for me, I’ve been soaking up NAS lyrics and delivery since even before Illmatic. From when The Source got all crazy when they heard him rhyme on Live at The BBQ with Main Source.

    But respect to all the MCs who had a super elevated lyrical game even back then… Special Ed, Big Daddy Kane, Heavy D, and such…

  18. AvonB

    @Saint: Respect
    I was GRADUATING from HIGH SCHOOL in ’86.
    I was grown-man thick and knew all the tricks
    Chief of the rap addicts
    I went to Hip Hop for my fix
    the needle oozing rhymes from Rakim and Kris
    The Message tested positive in my piss

    I was into Hip Hop before there was an old school
    Before Guru or the New School Rules
    Before Nas was Nasty
    Before Biggie was ashy
    Before Kurtis Blow’s curl was classy

    Grandmaster Flash put me on blast, G

  19. Kid Karola

    I was overseas (well back home in Aus) when I heard about Guru’s passing. I felt so lucky to have been able to see him perform a few years ago when he last toured Australia (even tho it was with Solar) such a epic MC and on point live. Later that night I caught up with an old mate, an MC by trade that was spinning some tunes at a club. He dropped some ill Premier B-sides of Gangstarr and classic Guru numbers.
    Damn hearing those tracks took me back to the early 90’s listening to; Step in the Arena, Daily Operation, Hard to Earn and Jazzmatazz on my trusty Walkman on the way to school, riding trains and painting graff. And even tho I have these albums on my ipod now and still play them on the regular, I dug out my old tapes and blasted them one last time.

    To a true lyrical innovator – Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal – Rest In Peace God.

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