Unfortunately, one of the greatest American rap and hip-hop MCs died this month. Guru was an extraordinary rapper. He was both gritty and smooth. He rose to fame rhyming for the famed rap group Gang Starr. The old school rap duo featured Guru on the mic and DJ Premieron the turntables. I was a big fan of Gang Starr. And I followed Guru into his solo work, especially the first Jazzmatazz album. If you haven’t heard of Gang Starr check out their songs “Blowin’ Up The Spot” and “Full Clip.”
Guru was one of those rappers that kept in touch with the roots of his craft. I often saw him on the local cable network in Austin, visiting recreational centers in East Austin. He got kids involved in the hip hip culture on the ground level. He was definitely a grassroots artists. A man who explored the musical world from the bottom up and not from the top down. This viewpoint gave his music real soulpower.
Keith Elam aka Guru will probably be most remembered for his multi-volume Jazzmatazz collaborations with famed jazz and pop music artists. The first Jazzmatazz album was an instant classic. Jazz artists like Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd, Branford Marsalis, and Lonnie Liston Smith joined Guru for a fusion of jazz and hip hop. Guru explored this blend creating genius tracks like “Loungin’.'” Another one of my favorite songs on this album is the cut “No Time To Play” with Ronny Jordanand Dee C. Lee. The track “Le Bien, Le Mal” mixes rap and jazz music as well as French and English lyrics. The French rapper Mc Solaar shared the mic with Guru on this cutting-edge experimental Franco-American rap-jazz tune.
Guru fused rap with a diversity of sounds and artists through his Jazzmatazz collection, performing with such notable musicians as Ini Kamoze, Erykah Badu, Macy Gray, the Roots, Junior Reid, Les Nubians, and Herbie Hancock. From rap to jazz to R&B to reggae this rapper crossed musical boundaries and set new trends.
Guru made substantial inroads into the reggae genre as well, especially on a collaboration with Stephen Marley. Marley and Guru reworked the Bob Marley classic “Johnny Was” into a beautiful mix of rap and reggae music on the album Chant Down Babylon. And check out the killer hit on the album Jazzmatazz, Vol. 4: The Hip Hop Jazz Messenger – Back To The Future entitled “Stand Up (Some Things’ll Never Change)” with the talented dancehall wordsmith Damian Marley.