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Memories of GURU from Gang Starr…RIP

April 20, 2010

DJ Premier (left) & GURU(right) of Gang Starr

It was about 1990 when I met the Gang Starr collective. Gang Starr the group was founded by Keith Elam aka Guru, who’s originally from Boston, but after separating from the original members who also hailed from Boston, Christopher Martin aka DJ Premier was bought in to complete the group as a duo. When I met them, they had already released an album in 1989 called “No More Mr.Nice Guy” which spawned two semi-hits (at least in Hip Hop circles), “Positivity” and “Words I Manifest”.

 Headed to our usual perch on P.S.11’s park bench, my friend Has and I noticed some unfamiliar faces, playing ball on “our” basketball court. Looking at each other without saying a word, we bypass the park bench to post up against the fences parallel to the courts. Getting our best “mean mug” on, we just stare intently at the 7 or so guys, while they glance back and forth between hoops and “swigs” of forty ounces (hey, this was 90’s BK, where to paraphrase  KRS-1 “ To stay on course, you had to roll with force”).

 After the game one of the guys says “What’s up y’all, y’all live around here? We just moved on Washington”.  As I barely get out my answer, my homie blurts out “Oh sh*#, you’re Gang Starr, right?!”  In that unmistakable monotone voice, sounding the same in person as he did on his records, he says “Me and Preem are GangStarr, I’m Guru but just call me Keith, man”. Whoa, a rap star who we’d seen on Video Music Box, Rap City and Yo’ MTV Raps is residing in “our” hood AND wants us to refer to him on first name basis instead of his rap moniker? Cool…Real cool…

 We were then introduced to DJ Premier, Li’l Dap, Malachi (who would later form the duo Group Home under Gang Starr’s guidance) and a few other dudes who were from East New York. We got to conversing a bit…well to be honest we pretty much barraged them with questions. Why are you living around here? Aren’t you guys paid? When is the next album coming out?

 They schooled us on music industry politics, and then explained with the sales of their first album they made enough to make a living, not to be rich, which is why they were sub-letting from Jazz saxophonist Branford Marsalis. They also alluded to wanting to really soak up that Brooklyn vibe for their next album. We schooled them to a few things around the way, among them, where to find the best collard greens (wink, wink).

 Released in January 1991 the next album “Step in the Arena” made immediate impact. With Preemo really coming into his own with production, Guru on his job with top-notch rhymes, this album is widely regarded as a Hip Hop classic, which helped shape the signature “Boom Bap” style of New York Hip Hop in the nineties.

 With four more albums to follow as Gang Starr plus various side projects like the critically acclaimed Jazzmatazz albums (Guru’s Hip Hop fusion album with Jazz musicians), Guru has definitely left a legacy of music that will always be revered by true Hip Hop heads like myself. 

The last time I saw Guru was about 10 years ago when there was a video shoot for Group Home’s “The Legacy” in the hood. While hanging by the set, a friend of mine came out to tell me Mr.Baldhead Slick himself, was requesting my presence in a nearby apartment they were chilling in, after spotting me. I told my homie he wasn’t talking about me to which he replied “You’re the only nesto out here, he’s talkin’ about you!” I stepped in the apartment to be greeted like a lost relative by the big homie and Li’l Dap. We kicked it, I was impressed he remembered me by name, I can’t front. But what impressed me more was, on that day he met a comrade of mine from the hood, named Mendouza aka Black who recently came home from a government paid vacation. So captivated by the rhymes coming out of this man’s mouth (pause) he took Mendouza on tour with him the next week and later featured him on his Baldhead Slick albums.

 May you rest in peace brother, to us Brooklynites, particularly in Clinton Hill we have long adopted you as one of “ours”. R.I.P. Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal. As documented here previously here’s some videos Gang Starr shot in the hood:

Lafayette and Washington avenues

Putnam ave betw. Irving place & Classon ave

Fulton street  betw S.Elliot & S.Portland


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