The Dominant One, The Prominent One

What can I say… I’m speechless, at a loss for words. My favorite hip-hop MC of all time passed away Monday. Guru, of Gang Starr, Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal, succumbed to cancer after what was reportedly a very intense battle and ended in a month long coma and then a heart attack. He was 43 (47 according to the New York Times). There’s a lot of drama surrounding his passing, but it’s family business and should be left out of the media.

It was about 1989 and I used to stay up late to catch Pump It Up on Fox, which I think came on around 1am eastern time. I was just a kid, and I’d sneak out of bed to watch it. I was hooked on hip-hop long before I had a license to drive or even kissed a girl – the only one among my friends who embraced hip-hop long before it became mainstream. It was on Pump It Up that I first heard of Gang Starr and I was immediately hooked – like a lightning rod struck me right on my head. Hip-hop spoke to me like nothing else – certainly not the hairbands of the time, the heavy metal, the wack and cheesy R&B, or anything else of the time. Gang Starr had the video for Just to Get a Rep played on Pump It Up that at the same time as Boogie Down Productions, Brand Nubian, De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest, so many other pioneers of the time. Hip-hop was real – and GangStarr embodied what I wanted from music in the days of my youth.

In the years that followed, through some very tumultuous teenage years (and then some), it was among others but namely Gang Starr that were always on my headphones. Guru’s philosophy, lyrical genius, social messages, messages of knowledge of Self, about workin hard, and DJ Premier’s cuts, scratches, blends of jazz, horns, and melodies kept my feet on the ground and kept me tough and strong-minded when I had little else to hold on to. Gang Starr gave me power, strength; Gang Starr was a fixture in my life and to this today remains that way.

The news hit me yesterday when my friend DJ GarfDigga tweeted:

Back home in Brooklyn passin thru East New York listenin 2radio – hearin the love for #Guru #Gangstarr – Love is Love

I had no idea what he was talking about but I instantly got the chills. Moments later I saw the news and we tweeted back and forth.

Now, I don’t usually get upset about celebrities passing, with rare exceptions like Michael Jackson, Joe Strummer, Kurt Cobain, and a small handful of others. But Guru, Gang Starr, Jazzmatazz, was like a teacher to me. With Guru gone now I can’t help but feel like a part of myself was just lost as well. I know that the music and the philosophy will live on, but it’s little comfort right now.

Finding a way is important
Map out a plan, take a stand, you can work it
The future’s all in your hands and
So of yourself, yea, you should be demanding
We’re all responsible for whatever outcome
That’s why I speak over beats for my income
Knowledge is key and if you ask what it is, g
It’s just a form of my style of street ministry
Street ministry…

And, one of my favorite’s of all time, that just gets me ready for daily battle every time I hear it:

Aiyyo I’m gonna be on ti dop that’s all my eyes can see
Victory is mine yeah surprisingly
I’ve been laying waiting for your next mistake
I put in work and watch my status escalate
Now I’ma start collectin props connectin plots
networkin like a conference cause the nonsense is yet to stop
Jakes shake me down, haters wanna take me down
Break me down, CLAP all they heard was the sound

When Guru released Jazzmatazz in the early 90s, I jumped on board and found myself hooked again. It wasn’t long after that I became a jazz freak – just took the plunge, started exploring jazz of all kinds, of all flavors.

In my early 20s when I was going through more crap, had lost some friends to reckless living, crime, prison, and others were just going down a path I didn’t want to take, it was Moment of Truth that I put on my headphones when I’d bike around the city just thinking and meditating on life. Empowered by the lyrics, the confidence, the wisdom, I sorted my shit out and never looked back.

Alright – ’nuff said. Keith (a.k.a. Guru) Elam – thank you for your gift to me and to so many others and for leaving such an imprint behind. Rest in peace.

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