Born and raised in Boston, MA, Keith “Guru” Elam is perhaps not known for his skillful qualities as an MC, but rather his passionate, dedicated and simple attitude that bridged the gap between age, race and cities. Guru, Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal or more uncommonly known as God is Universal; he is the Ruler Universal with regards to his ties to the Nations of Gods and Earth, was the voice of a generation. It’s not ironic that Guru chose the name he did, as it subsequently takes on the identity of ‘teacher’ or ‘master’ and the lessons he taught were through music.
Though he co-founded Gang Starr in 1986, it was only after its initial break-up did Guru move to New York and partnered up Houston native Christopher “DJ Premier” Martin in 1989, and well, the rest is history. Gang Starr immediately took the hip-hop community by storm in the late 80s to early 90s, embracing a time of change and innovation, as well as the recent discovery of a generational youth voice. Guru and DJ Premier would become one of the most significant duos in hip-hop history by creating the master blueprint for DJ-MC duos in the future. What Guru lacked in lyrical power, Preemo made up for in beats. And as Premier experimented with sampling and elevating his productionalskills, Guru was right there to ride the beats while letting them shine.
Gang Starr allowed the original rap listeners of the late 70s and early 80s to connect to the youth that were projecting hip-hop culture into mainstream society in the 90s. There was a comfort in Guru’s voice, perhaps even a luxury that came from its monotone yet commanding presence. In conjunction with his voice, Guru had a very distinct, yet smooth and lazy delivery that surprisingly captivated listeners at the time. To be honest, Guru had every strike against him, yet he managed to overcome them with the way he believed in the words he spoke. Guru, if for anything else, knew that there was a power behind words that can be manipulated and emphasized to bring poignant messages to the forefront, and that’s how he be the voice behind some of the most prolific music in hip-hop.
At the same time, Guru was one of the most modest artists in hip-hop, period. Perhaps he knew his downfalls, but his unpretentious ways allowed other artists to rise up and shine over Preemo’s beats. Guru wasn’t concerned with fame and fortune; he was concerned with creating a product to be proud of and a legacy to last.
The blueprint that Gang Starr created is indicative of a fearless versatility which is consequently the formula for longevity. For over a decade, Gang Starr was ‘the sound’ in the realms of underground hip-hop, and it was never wavered for commercial success. Both MC and DJ knew the power of minimalism and simplicity with regards to music production, the historic value of sonic authority, and lastly, the global power hip-hop held.
Guru, as an artist, as a person, and the voice of a generation, didn’t just make rap music. Guru wasn’t just an emcee or a member of Gang Starr. Guru was an innovator who embraced his downfalls and validated his strengths, a man who could command the attention of a room, and a voice that believed in the power of words. Keith “Guru” Elam was one of hip-hop greatest teachers.