Shame on me for taking GURU’s cancer lightly. Today Keith “GURU” Elam died, now the seriousness of his sickness is sinking in a lot more than when he was fighting for his life. This is coming from a grown DJ Treats, not the kid with DJ Rico (the old namesake) autographed by GURU and Premier on a 12″ copy of “You Know My Steez” and Full Clip: A Decade of Gang Starr on vinyl! Ain’t no shame in how dedicated I was to Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal.
I would go so far to say Gang Starr is the reason why I have a career as a DJ, and more importantly a full-time job in music journalism. GURU was undoubtedly the voice of the group, he rapped that wise-intelligent-ignorant-shit, good enough to play around my mom. I bragged about how his dad was a prominent judge. Minor details like that granted him permanent airplay in our ’90-something Pathfinder we drove around Brooklyn. She was as cool as me I thought, even when I dragged moms to Fat Beats, the place where I dwelled after school. As soon as 3:10pm hit (my school kept us longer than most) I headed for Fat Beats, to eventually leave with 60 bucks worth of vinyl, a shopping bag full of stickers, and a permanent memory of the Moment of Truth gold plaque behind the store counter. Fat Beats NYC was one of the biggest supporters of what Prem and GURU did in the ’90s. Next to Eminem’s in-store signing of The Slim Shady LP, Gang Starr greeting fans around the release of Moment of Truth was just as big. They made it! Months later when the album scanned over 500,000 copies, they closed in on true crossover success that once seemed so elusive.
My memories of Gang Starr are still very clear as I write this to come full circle with their legacy. I’m cherry picking here: spending hours scratching “You best to have a batch of scratch and treats to bring her” from “She Knows What She Wantz”; placing “You Know My Steez” at the front of my first crate of vinyl so that every time I went digging, I’d see GURU and Premier’s autographs. I read Chairman Mao’s editorial on the album sleeve to Full Clip: A Decade of Gang Starr. I didn’t mind the 40-something minute train ride from Manhattan to Canarsie reading a lengthy tribute written by the ego trip O.G. Or how about when I held an internship at K7!/Rapster records where I shipped DJs music like one of GURU’s Jazzmatazz mixtapes? It was the summer of 2005, the action seemed like it was outside, not inside prepping mailers to ?uestlove and DJ Rashida. Good days came when the label picked up dope projects: Virgin Ubiquity: Remixed or the Kings Of Hip-Hop compilation that DJ Premier had a hand in hosting. On my best day doing data entry for the office vinyl, a raspy GURU raved to an A&R about some Jazzmatazz record that was getting spins on BBC Radio. He chopped it up with me about the mixtape I was helping to service at the time, but the only vague compliments I could muster up were, “It’s aight” and “It’s a nice change of pace from Gang Starr,” no more no less.
My search for the right words took me further back than I expected for this retrospect on my life with Gang Starr. I didn’t think that we’d really lose a rap icon today. I figured he’d eventually pull through like Phife’s battle with diabetes. How good could things really have gone even if he did fully recover? Fans may never know the real answer. DJ Premier didn’t have any for me when we spoke for Suite903TV. Learning about how he filters through his record collection, that was one of the best nuggets of info I’ll probably walk away with from any interview. I’ll leave it to my newfound outlook on life as my reason to rediscover Gang Starr. So should you—fans new and old. Everyday, for the past month or so, I passed Gang Starr’s second gold plague here in the offices at Cornerstone. It has a lot more meaning now. R.I.P. GURU.