Jazzmatazz (Way Overdue)

I should have written this post two years ago.

Somehow, I didn’t realize until today that Guru died. He died of cancer in April 2010. Guru, with counterpart DJ Premier in the duo Gang Starr, rarely appeared on MTV and never transitioned into the mainstream, but for some reason he was one of the first rappers I listened to, way back in fifth grade.

It was 1998. I was just starting to listen to rap. After school, I’d go home and play basketball for an hour or two and then turn on the TV to BET, to Rap City. Familiar videos played every afternoon, extravagant, over-produced videos by the likes of Juvenile, Puff Daddy, Ma$e, Master P and so on. Watching them and being 11 years old and new to rap music, you thought the genre could only be flooded with lavishness, with gold tanks, shiny jump suits and platinum teeth. Then I heard Gang Starr.

Gang Starr had two videos that played on Rap City back then: “Royalty” and “You Know My Steez.” They were simple, and so were the beats. DJ Premier spun and scratched over an old record, and Guru delivered his flow, always elemental, smooth, describing their sound on the intro to the album Moment of Truth as “just Guru and Premier.”

How did I think of him today? I saw his name on Twitter and Googled him, realizing he was gone. Three weeks ago, the country’s pop culture community mourned the death of MCA, publicizing well-deserved tributes to a person who brilliantly melded socially-conscious and hilarious lyrics together like few have ever done. Like Guru, he died of cancer. I’m going to listen to music by both of them today.

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