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Listen to DJ Premier's 'R.I.P. Keith 'Guru' Elam 1-Year Anniversary Tribute' mix

April 20, 2011 |  1:36 pm


Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the death of Guru, the rapper for the legendary duo Gang Starr. Over the last 365, the Boston-bred, Brooklyn-based MC has been alternately lionized and overlooked -- similar to the treatment he received during his lifetime.

Most glaring were snubs at the Grammy Awards and BET Awards, both of which failed to honor his life during tribute sections. (The BET Hip-Hop Awards later partially remedied the transgression.) But for the hard-core crowd that he always cultivated, Keith Elam's legacy still looms large. His recondite rhymes and bald-head aggression dominated radio decks from "Jazz Thing" until the final Gang Starr record. And in the last year, we've had the ability to reevaluate exactly how singular his contribution to music was.  

At the risk of reiterating last year's tribute to the all-time great, no one defined the sound of mid-'90s New York like Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal. He was able to fuse the pro-black militancy of Public Enemy and X-Clan into a measured but potent fury. He exchanged stridency for a sage calm, famously monotone but always commanding. Whereas Public Enemy had the Bomb Squad to sound the alarm, Guru and Primo never lost their cool, swagged out before the phrase existed, able to spin both stick-up sagas and homages to their jazz predecessors.

In honor of the anniversary of his passing, his partner, DJ Premier, took over the decks at New York's Hot 97 to spin two hours of classics. For those who missed Guru's glory years, it's an ideal introduction. For those still mourning a fallen legend, it's another opportunity to reminisce on how great he was.


Remembering Guru with Gang Starr's defining cut

Keith Elam, rap singer known as Guru of duo Gang Starr, dies at 47 ...

-- Jeff Weiss