Gang Starr Rapper Guru Dies At 43; Extraordinarily Strange Letter To His Supporters Released
After a battle with cancer, a heart attack in February, and surgery in March, Gang Starr and Jazzamatazz rapper Guru, born Keith Elam, died yesterday morning at 43. "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," reads part of a statement purportedly written on his deathbed and provided by his partner, Solar.
As an emcee, Guru was unflappable, rapping in a sweatless and self-possessed monotone--a voice that proved everything while sounding like it had nothing to prove. On his first solo album, 1993's Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1, he spotlit players like Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers -- one of the first collaborations between a rapper and a live band. (A gesture that drove hip-hop away from the sample-and-drum machine technology that helped it blossom, but also expanded its possibilities.)
As for the disputed letter, it quickly lapses into weird unpleasantries about the use of Guru's "likeness" by his former Gang Starr cohort, DJ Premier, and has already prompted skepticism from fans, which is really too bad. Friends, family, and fans alike should have their room to mourn. (As for the skeptics, we're among them--really, the opening line, "I, Guru, am writing this letter to my fans" feels stiff from anyone, especially someone who ostensibly helped invent jazz-rap. Plus, as Questlove points out, "HE WAS IN A COMA!")
But none of that feels worth dwelling on at the moment. The full statement is below; listen to DJ Wonder's half-hour get-well mix and watch the tributes roll in.
I, Guru, am writing this letter to my fans, friends and loved ones around the world. 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 myself and my son until he is of age to except on his own.
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. 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 GangStarr, I am very proud of what GangStarr 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 GangStarr or Jazzmatatazz 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.
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