Guru, Lost Without You [XXcLusive Tribute Excerpt]

Photography by Angela Boatwright

Sad news came to hip-hop on the morning of April 19, when Keith “Guru” Elam died after a yearlong struggle with multiple myeloma cancer. Really, though, fans, friends and family of the legendary Gang Starr MC had been in a strange state of mourning and distress since March 1—this is when many of them first learned he was sick and, soon after, of the ugly personal strife that kept him and his friend, caretaker and business partner John “Superproducer Solar” Mosher separated from many of the people he was once close to.

The story went public, as so much information does these days, on Twitter, when Solar posted a message stating, “Guru is struggling with a serious health issue. And we appreciate all your love and well wishes. We continue to hold out hope that Guru will make a full recovery from this. And ask that his privacy on this matter be respected. Again thank you for all your support through this trying time.” Within hours, the news had evolved into a rumor that Guru had in fact died. That evening, #RIPGURU became a trending topic on Twitter.

A Tribe Called Quest’s Q-Tip was first to break the news that Guru was still alive. “Spoke to Preemo,” Tip wrote. “He’s in surgery still keep praying. He’s still here.” #RIPGURU became #PRAYFORGURU.

It made sense for Q-Tip to go to DJ Premier for answers. After all, from 1988 to 2004, Guru and Premier had recorded together as Gang Starr. Premier was in touch with Guru’s father. The morning of March 2, the website DJ Premier Blog—which is a fan site, but one approved by Premier—tweeted: “Guru still in a med induced coma, he’s breathing with machine help.” Apparently, that didn’t go over well with Solar. Early the next morning, there was a message posted on his Twitter account: “Solar will be providing the only accurate info on Guru.” That, in turn, didn’t go over well with Guru’s family. On March 3, Justin Elam Ruff, son of Guru’s sister, Patricia Elam, posted a video on YouTube accusing Solar of withholding information about Guru’s condition and not allowing family to see him. In a press release, Solar rebutted that Guru’s family members, including Patricia, had in fact visited the rapper in the hospital. And back and forth they went.

On March 8, Justin posted another clip, this one stating he had visited his uncle on March 6. But he said there was one list at the hospital for permitted guests and another for those barred from seeing Guru. He’d also learned that Solar was listed as Guru’s health-care agent, giving him the right to make health-care decisions for Guru should Guru lose the ability to do so for himself. Justin also stated that, on the New York State health proxy form, Solar was listed as Guru’s brother.

#FUCKSOLAR became a trending topic on Twitter.

On March 18, Solar was ready to clear the air. He met with XXL at a Dominican restaurant in Uptown Manhattan and revealed that Guru had entered the hospital of his own volition in mid-February, and also that he had suffered a cardiac arrest later that month. According to Solar, Guru then developed anoxia, a condition wherein a region of the body is deprived of oxygen. But Solar was hopeful for a recovery. “There have been big improvements,” he said. “Facial expressions. He is mouthing words.” The misinformed reports bothered him a lot. The #RIPGURU tweets, especially, were excruciating he said. “I had to go through 200 e-mails of condolences. You don’t know what that was like.” And he stressed that Guru wasn’t in a coma—anoxia has comalike symptoms—and said he was hesitant to release information because doctors had been less than a hundred percent sure of the diagnosis. He confirmed that, upon entering the hospital, Guru had signed a health-care proxy document naming Solar his health-care agent and listing him as his brother. “Guru made that decision when he was in sound mind,” he said. “As much as you and I are talking now. He did not want his family involved.” Solar brushed off critics’ questioning his relationship with Guru. “Listen, they did it to Jesus, and we are measuring time based on that man. I’m just going through a Jesus situation now.”

DJ Premier visited his former partner in the hospital on Monday, April 12. He walked right in, went straight to the elevator and up to Guru’s floor. No sign-in, no list. Nothing.

“I put on a Gang Starr T-shirt,” he says. “I put my Moment of Truth CD in my pocket—I don’t know why I brought it, but I just brought it anyway. I just walked right in, and soon as I saw him—I’m not even a crying type of guy, and I wasn’t boo-hooing or anything like that—but the tears just started running. It’s like, Damn, man, how did it come to this? Because we really had a whole bunch of hopes that we were going to be back to rocking one day. And when you see the way he looked, with all the tubes and the tracheotomy stuff in him, and all of that hooked up to him, it’s like, Wow, this is not what I expected.”

He stayed a short time. Five, seven minutes, he says, before a nurse came in and he left. “I just wanted to tell him how much I loved him, period,” he says. “Whether he could hear me or not, I know somewhere he heard me. It was ill. His eyes were almost half open, and it was like he almost was awake, but he wasn’t… I took my Gang Starr shirt off, and I took it and rubbed it against his body, so he can feel the logo. I knew how much Gang Starr meant to him. Even if he moved on to another chapter in his life, I know how much Gang Starr was important to him. We did way too much to just completely block it out and act like it doesn’t exist.”

On April 19, #RIPGURU tweets popped up again. This time, however, it was not just a rumor. According to an Elam family statement released on April 21, Guru became hypertensive, due to low blood pressure, that morning and succumbed to a second cardiac arrest.

Solar released a statement, too, one day earlier: “The world has lost one of the best MCs and hip-hop icons of all time—my loyal best friend, partner and brother, Guru.” Solar then released a letter that he said was written by Guru back in January, after doctors had told him his cancer was terminal. In it, Guru thanks his fans, requests that Solar “look after” his nine-year-old son, Keith Casim, and, most shockingly, attacks DJ Premier. “I do not wish my ex-DJ to have anything to do with my name, likeness, events, tributes, etc.,” Guru wrote. “I have instructed my lawyers to enforce this. I had nothing to do with him in life for over seven years and want nothing to do with him in death.”


“It’s absolutely false,” Solar told XXL on April 21. “This is Guru’s letter that was prepared to be released by myself through a publicist to the world after he passed.”

Who can you believe? It’s essentially Solar versus everyone. But Solar was Guru’s closest confidant. Like it or not, Guru hadn’t spoken to Premier for six years, according to Premier’s own estimation. He’d disassociated himself from most friends and had a strained relationship with his family. It’s an ugly he-said, they-said situation. Solar claims to be Guru’s “best friend, partner and brother.” Former friends and colleagues, however, describe a different rapport between the two—a destructive, abusive relationship founded on physical and emotional manipulation. Solar, they claim, held all the power—both in life and, now, in death. —Thomas Golianopoulos

For the rest of this extensive reported story on the life, death and legacy of Keith “Guru” Elam, be sure to pick up the June 2010 issue of XXL, which is on stands now.

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  • BeerGangsta

    RIP Gang Starr!! He keep it real with his lyrics. Hold your head up Premier. God got his back! He is in a safer place know. Premier u do u. And the jam pumping.

    • lisa

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  • Truth

    I still think XXL is disrespectful for putting diddy on this months cover. XXL is fucking mad to not grace the cover with such a legend that is guru in his time of passing. amazing XXL, you fucked up large. Iunderstand its a business and you gotta get that dough, and no doubt puff paid large… but it comes down to respect. You disrespected Guru by not putting his face on the cover for the world to see.

    @ beergangsta.. wtf is with the “you do you” comment. that aint even relevant here. you kids use too many catch phrases. almost as bad as the “real talk” and “no homo” shit. bunch of followers.

  • that nigga

    “Listen, they did it to Jesus, and we are measuring time based on that man. I’m just going through a Jesus situation now.”

    Wow, now Solar is comparing himself to Jesus?? First “Superproducer”, now “Jesus”.
    What the fuck this nigga ever “produce” in the music industry?? Please someone let me know. This is the first I ever heard of his idiot.

  • $yk

    #FUCKSOLAR became a trending topic on Twitter the slogan concerning “super-producer” Solar.

    ^ fixed

    Yo Solar,

    Word is bond, on the universal flag, we will try ANY means to make sure you don’t MAKE A PENNY IN THIS GAME EVER AGAIN.

    You made the NGE look bad too with that devilishment you pulled…go back in your lessons, your head is required…

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  • Cheddar

    I’ve never posted a comment on a magazine’s message board or forum but after copping this issue and reading this interview nearly 15 times, I had to. First, my sincerest condolences go out to the Elam family and DJ Premier. Rarely does the love between friends end because you aren’t as close as you used to be. Despite whatever happened between Guru and Premier, he didn’t have to visit or care, but he did. Secondly, FUCK SOLAR!! “A Jesus situation”? Did that shit really fall out of YOUR mouth? REALLY? No man that walks amongst us can equate to God. KILL YOURSELF IMMEDIATELY FOR THAT COMMENT!But really, motherfucker, niggas like you get theirs in the end. Shysty ass, no-name fuckin producer. You are no Timberland, nor Pharrell, nor Kanye, nor Drumma Boy, nor Polow, nor Dr. Dre and so on and forth. Take note that I named some of the best fuckin producers in the game and your name is not up there. You will not prosper from this. Finally, R.I.P to Guru. You will be remembered as one of the biggest rap icons that stayed true to form. Something that A LOT of so-called rappers and MC’S could learn from.

  • the G.O.D

    R.I.P GURU,you will be missed. Now for that ‘Lunar’ character claiming she is godbody that’s bull, you ain’t god and he is from Nyack, I know Nyack; I went to school in Nyack after I left Brooklyn, I was one of the original founder of triple HP posse,and for some reason I do not remember dude, maybe the older cats might remember him but he is a non-descript (pussy, punk etc… As far as GURU’s real peeps, y’all let him down, y’all should have handled this the street way that y’all claim y’all rep this would not have happened, trust me had this been back in beantown, ‘Lunar’ would have been dead. What’s done is done, the man/thelegend is gone, ma up and protect his legacy. F… lunar.

  • the G.O.D


    Typo: man up


  • Chaka

    Still bumping my moment of truth CD though.
    Guru could have written those notes way back in January but might not have been in the same state of mind in march/April when he was weakened by the disease and came to grip with death.Whatever the case maybe,Premier made peace with him in the end.Thats all that matters.RIP Guru with love from Africa.

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  • Dick B.

    All this doesn’t really matter in comparison to his effect on hip hop. Gang Starr’s last four albums are all top twenty five rap albums of all time. Wish you were still here to make another classic with Premier!

  • orangejuicejones

    Were GURU and Solar lovers? That’s the way the end of the article makes it sound……

  • AY n NY

    Got love 4 u 4eva……..actions and reactions,dont be quick to judge……ur hommie still got lv 4 u afta lot years of issues……we all miss u….GANGSTAR 4 LIFE!!!

  • http://BlackPlanet GemHaddar

    I don’t know who SOLAR is. Never heard of him before. So I hope and pray y’all ignore him.
    Maybe if enough of us do, he’ll eventually GO AWAY.
    In the event that he doesn’t-and he attempts to DO ANYTHING connected with the GANGSTARR name w/OUT input from PREMIERE or GURU’s family, I have a suggestion – ALL of the hip hop vocalists and their fans/supporters and any interested others – should hold an mtg(s). and decide amongst themselves with input from Premiere and GURU’s family, decide just HOW THEY ARE GOING TO DEAL WITH SOLAR.

    I hear this clown is claiming to be the sole controller and administrator of the whole GANG STARR legacy. Has anyone EVER seen this so-called letter GURU wrote.

    Whether it’s done the street way or in the COURTS, THIS FOOL MUST BE STOPPED.


  • Nare

    R.I.P Guru, one of the realest MCs ever!

  • HugoStrange

    You childish fucks, dont you dare say Guru was gay, speculative bulshit, grow up, this is gifted unlimited rhymes universal we are talking about. He was simply brainwashed by a very isolated and manipulative partnership with a nobody that has so much hatred for everyone and so much self love that he is evil!!! please, i promote peace, but i cant help but be immature about this, Guru a legend, a man i have looked to in my hard times, was belittled by this evil, sick good for nothing being! he needs to be brought to justice and i hope it ends in major jailtime, or fucking murder haha, fuck this, im all worked up now, peace to all keeping gurus legacy alive. fuck you ‘ .. ‘ (not even gonna use the fakeass name!’

    • Guy Fawkes

      Who cares if he was gay? What does that mean? Nothing; to my knowledge he wasn’t gay, but then again, everyone could be gay even if they are not exclusively gay. So fuck hating on someone, for whatever reason.
      Gay, race, religion or lack of, culture: these were never meant to be insults. They are neither good nor are they bad. They just are, and they’re personal, so why give a shit anyway. Live and let live. Love begets love and all that stuff.

      Guru’s Jazzmatazz Vol. 2 The New Reality FULL ALBUM

      Now that’s some real music. Search that in YouTube. Let’s all appreciate the message he was able to give us.
      p.s. blow up Parliament. lol J/K … maybe