To those of you without internet (a rather ironic possibility if you're reading this), rapper Keith Elam -- professionally known as Guru of pioneering hip hop group Gangstarr -- passed away last night, following what we're now being told was a year-long battle with cancer but we KNOW has been an off/on coma after February 28th's cardiac arrest episode.
It has been said that before being called home last night that he wrote a final letter to fans -- purportedly from his deathbed (more on that in a minute.
The letter, as consistently presented on hip hop outlets in my RSS feeds, reads...
I, Guru, am writing this letter to my fans, friends and loved ones around the world. I have had a long battle with cancer and have succumbed to the disease. I have suffered with this illness for over a year. I have exhausted all medical options.
I have a non-profit organization called Each One Counts dedicated to carrying on my charitable work on behalf of abused and disadvantaged children from around the world and also to educate and research a cure for this terrible disease that took my life. I write this with tears in my eyes, not of sorrow but of joy for what a wonderful life I have enjoyed and how many great people I have had the pleasure of meeting.
My loyal best friend, partner and brother, Solar, has been at my side through it all and has been made my health proxy by myself on all matters relating to myself. He has been with me by my side on my many hospital stays, operations, doctors visits and stayed with me at my home and cared for me when I could not care for myself. Solar and his family is my family and I love them dearly and I expect my family, friends, and fans to respect that, regardless to anybody's feelings on the matter. It is my wish that counts. This being said I am survived by the love of my life, my sun KC, who I trust will be looked after by Solar and his family as their own. Any awards or tributes should be accepted, organized approved by Solar on behalf myself and my son until he is of age to except on his own.
I do not wish my ex-DJ to have anything to do with my name likeness, events tributes etc. connected in anyway to my situation including any use of my name or circumstance for any reason and I have instructed my lawyers to enforce this. I had nothing to do with him in life for over 7 years and want nothing to do with him in death. Solar has my life story and is well informed on my family situation, as well as the real reason for separating from my ex-DJ. As the sole founder of GangStarr, I am very proud of what GangStarr has meant to the music world and fans. I equally am proud of my Jazzmatazz series and as the father of Hip-Hop/Jazz. I am most proud of my leadership and pioneering efforts on Jazzmatazz 4 for reinvigorating the Hip-Hop/Jazz genre in a time when music quality has reached an all time low. Solar and I have toured in places that I have never been before with GangStarr or Jazzmatatazz and we gained a reputation for being the best on the planet at Hip-Hop/Jazz, as well as the biggest and most influential Hip-Hop/Jazz record with Jazzmatazz 4 of the decade to now. The work I have done with Solar represents a legacy far beyond its time. And we as a team were not afraid to push the envelope. To me this is what true artists do! As men of honor we stood tall in the face of small mindedness, greed, and ignorance. As we fought for music and integrity at the cost of not earning millions and for this I will always be happy and proud, and would like to thank the million fans who have seen us perform over the years from all over the world. The work I have done with Solar represents a legacy far beyond its time and is my most creative and experimental to date. I hope that our music will receive the attention it deserves as it is some of the best work I have done and represents some of the best years of my life.
And now for the "more on that" as promised above...
- I have been listening to hip hop since the early 80's, which naturally places me at the point of having listened to Gang Starr from day one (or as close to day 1 as I can get from Greensboro, NC).
I was playing drums in Jazz Band when the Jazzmatazz series started in 1993, and have remained a monetary supporter up until vol. 4 in 2007...
In such, I have found Guru's voice to be a lot less divisive than has been presented in that poorly-formed last paragraph. Rumors have swirled in this hellish 9+ weeks that Solar has been shielding the world -- family/friends/fans -- from the whole of information regarding Guru's condition and recovery. On the surface, the lack of discussion as to what actually happened to Gang Starr from either side of the story was one thing, and having personally left friendships for the better of myself without spending anymore time bickering over them.
- WHO THE FUCK IS SOLAR?!!?
Before Guru's hospital episode, I had only seen this dude's name one time. Ironically, as well, I had heard Guru make very sparing mention of it, and never to lift him -- or anyone else, for that matter -- up as highly as he did in that last paragraph there. On the other side of it, he never spoke ill of anyone either. If Guru ever had an issue with an individual, he was good enough a man to handle it outside of the public eyes.
My spider senses are tingling. Some fuckery is afoot and Guru did not write that letter. Differing from the opinion of Questlove, I will concede that being in and out of a medical coma does allow one the chance to write, or at least dictate SOMETHING on their way through, but the language used does not suggest that.
How it feels to me is that a rumored-to-be-shady Solar has used the then-pending death of his "in" to the industry and the previously amicable split of Gang Starr to co-opt Guru's voice to denigrate Premier and blow one last chance at life into his own name. That, lady and gentleman, makes Solar a piece of fucking shit in Phlip's not-so-humble and very pissed off opinion.
The whole "ignore my history with Premier and replace it with thoughts of my new life with Solar" aesthetic does not seem like the much more elegant and gracious Guru we all came to love as hip hop fans. We knew him for his respect for the culture, his recognition of what came before him and learning from it. To claim to be the sole founder of Gang Starr is not the Guru that we knew. All of a sudden giving control of his life's work to an utter unknown individual who all observation shows that we should not trust, if only because of being an unknown, is not the Guru we know.
The consistency, here, is in the progression that serves to WHY we shouldn't be trusting Solar. Up to and including suspicious goings-on such as this.
I pray for the best for the family and real friends of Keith Elam, may he rest in peace. He will be missed.
I ALSO hope for karmic comeuppance of the individual who appears to be trying to rewrite history to include himself, all in the name of personal gain. This situation reeks of a dude waiting for his as-written (whether or not we believe it) "best friend" to get cold in the ground to come public with "ooh look, a dying legend big-upped me on his deathbed, like me now!" With that said, fuck you Solar.
This whole shit feels too much like James Brown's death, but with less money and fewer children involved. This will play out like a cheesy primetime soap opera (who remembers those?), getting much uglier before any resolution is realized.