Moment of truth

News came out Tuesday morning, just in time for the morning drive shows, that Guru died sometime Monday. He was just 43.

Reports say  it was due to complications from cancer — minus the heart attack I blogged about here. But what´s causing a stir for music fans isn´t the prognosis, but the unclear information about Guru’s relationship with his Gang Starr cohorts and a letter he wrote on his deathbed.  Important matters considering this is a guy whose body of work helped shape hip-hop culture in the 1990s.

Being in Gang Starr is part of his legacy, and the legacy of NY/Boston hip-hop.  An odd letter to fans,  allegedly via Guru (one of those, if ¨If I die, make sure they get this¨, type of letters) , just opens up more questions about Guru’s relationship with his new music partner and his former DJ.  Not to mention the shock most fans felt over a death too early. Too soon.

The letter calls Guru the sole creator of Gang Starr, and puts a big X over the name of DJ Premier. This whole thing is dragging Gang Starr´s name through the mud. It´s  a shame. I can only think of Eazy-E and Too Poetic of Gravediggaz, as rappers who´ve died from natural causes, so early in their lives. Without the subsequent drama.

Still, many knew that Guru and Premier had  a fall-out for unknown reasons some years back, when he started a controversial working relationship with hip-hop producer Solar (no relation to the French rapper).

I first learned about this riff back in 2007, when I interviewed Big Shug for thesmokingsection.net. In the interview, he mentions Solar and the rift between the original Gang Starr members.

It could just be internet chatter, but are you and Guru not on the best of terms right now?

Shug: Basically, Guru, man…he stepped off to do his own thing about three years ago. So me and Premier continue to represent for Gang Starr Foundation, what have you, and everything that sprouts from it. Like, Premiere has year-round records at Headquarters studio and I have Team Shug and some other various projects. We haven’t spoken to Guru in about three years, but that’s by his choice and he’s doing his new thing with his new producer. His name is like Suna Son, Solar or something.

So officially, Gang Starr doesn’t consist of Guru anymore?

Shug: I mean, it’s not functioning right now. Gang Starr will always be known as Guru and Premier, but they not together right now. I don’t know if they’ll ever be together again, but you can never rule things out. He’s just out there doing his new project with his producer named Clown Solar or something. I don’t know. He doing some clown shit.

You directing any lyrics at Guru on the new album.

Shug: It depends. On “Just Don’t Stop” I’m more or less talking about where cats is at with the music and how they sound better with Premier.

When you read the letter, it becomes clear: there was bad blood between Guru and friends.

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.

Check out DJ Premier´s weekly mix show on satellite radio. DJ Premier: Live From HeadQCourterz, Friday 10PM to Midnight (ET)

Guru Death Watch

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UPDATE: 3/3/10    Guru released a statement saying he is recovering.

Rap blogs are all over Guru´s hospitalization. The rapper, once known as MC Kiethy E, seemed to have had a busy touring schedule and just released a free album online. Gang Starr´s music,  for us 80s babies, was part of our high school soundtrack. Guru´s voice helped you deal with break-ups, your own inner demons and the proverbial streets.

I remember him as one of the first rappers to claim one place while being for another. In the rap world, where authenticity is necessary, he got a sort of pass I don´t think a lot of rappers claiming Brooklyn could have gotten away with. He clearly raps with a Boston accent on so many records.

Author Mickey Hess actually analyzes Guru´s hometown mentions  in a blog post. In it, he´s addressing concerns from an editor about Guru and the early Boston rap scene. The exchange concerns Hess´book on regional hiphop.

Looking at this data confirms my sense that in the early years Guru used New York (and particularly Brooklyn) as his rhetorical home base. While it resolved my editor’s question,  it doesn’t speak to the deeper (and perhaps more controversial) question about how Guru’s Boston references compared to those of other early Boston rappers.

Guru was never my favorite solo rapper, it was his pairing with DJ Premier that made hip-hop magic. Even he admitted it was ¨Mostly Tha Voice,¨ that created his appeal. Still, a rapper way past his prime, Guru was one of the bold names among rap´s golden age in the 90s, plus, he introduced so many of us to French rap (as seen in the video above).

As hiphop fans we forgave him for the breakup of Gang Starr and forgave him for trying to act, and it was mostly because he was an artist with so much classic material under his belt.

For more on Guru check out this Rolling Stone article on his third Jazzmatazz album, 10 years ago; audio interview from last summer with the Philaflava blog; download his free album, ¨Guru 7.0 – The Street Sciptures¨ and for Spanish speaking rap fans, here´s why Guru ¨He llevado el hip hop a otro nivel.¨