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R.I.P. GURU, R.I.P. Gangstarr

I first heard this song during the outtro to Mo' Better Blues...

...and I thought to myself, What the hell is this?

As a rabid fan of rap/hip hop in the nineties, I didn't get the jazz thing. Of course jazz was the undercurrent behind many of the samples of the day but this was straight jazz, not a hook, not a loop, but just rap and jazz.

Slowly but surely Gangstarr began to grow on me and the majority of hip hop. Before long nearly everyone from Black Moon to KRS One was rhyming over some arrangement of horns, bass and saxophone.

From that point forward anytime I heard the signature sound of DJ Premier followed by the unmistakable gravelly, ever-steady monotone of GURU (Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal) I went crazy, bobbing my head with my eyes closed, absorbing every word and note. He was "dropping science", talking about what it meant to be a real man, a real person and society's ills; and slamming hip hop back then for what it has become today.

And then came Jazzmatazz --- a masterstroke that set him apart from everyone --- a 4 album series of pure live jazz produced by heavyweights such as Marsalis, Byrd, Hancock and Hayes (Isaac) and hip hop. The earlier volumes were packaged to look like Blue Note recordings. It persists as some of the best music I've ever heard and when I run across it on my iPod, I'm transported back to the time when I heard it for the first time.

GURU, born Keith Elam, passed away this past Monday from what is being reported as cancer (multiple myeloma and related respiratory issues). What I didn't know while he was alive was that he was a native of Boston, grad school educated and had a father who was a judge, nor did I know his former DJ was a native of Houston. It's amazing what you learn about a person in death. But I choose to celebrate his life and the music that will live on in me and now my son who loves DWYCK, another one of his classics with Nice and Smooth.

Rest In Peace, GURU.

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