“I love the video. Watching him now, expressing his opinions about music and the art form gives me a surreal feeling. I miss him!!!!…I think the video itself is very informative and needs to be seen.” – Justin Nicholas-Elam Ruff (Guru’s Nephew)
Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal also known as Keith Elam, departed this earth on April 19th, 2010. Whether contributing his raspy voice to the heavenly production of DJ Premier or fusing his vocal abilities through his own Jazzmatazz projects, G.U.R.U. was one of a kind. In 2008, Revive Da Live did a show with G.U.R.U. and trumpeter Roy Hargrove. Below is the interview footage from this show, never released until now. Although we’re all aware of the dark cloud that surrounded G.U.R.U. during the last few years of his life, this interview captures him and Roy in rare form. As we conclude the hip-hop jazz issue, let’s remember G.U.R.U. and what he stood to accomplish.
G.U.R.U. was always into experimentation. His work with his Jazzmatazz series pushed the envelope of creativity during the 1990s. While the first release was somewhat successful in the United States, the album was a commercial success in Europe. The album featured many well-known European musicians including French rapper MC Solaar, Soul II Soul keyboardist Simon Law and British saxophonist Courtney Pine. Also featured on the album were American musicians, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, trumpeter Donald Byrd and vibraphonist Roy Ayers.
G.U.R.U. was one of many hip-hop artists digging for a jazzier sound but he was the first to create an album that featured jazz musicians creating new compositions in the studio. The presence of Roy Ayers and Donald Byrd on the same album by an MC had yet to be done up to this point. This holds immeasurable weight in the larger context.
Both G.U.R.U. and DJ Premier were big into jazz, that’s obvious, but the Gangstarr team and Branford Marsalis were the staunchest purveyors of the jazz/hip-hop sound. Going back to 1990 with their work on the Mo’ Better Blues soundtrack with “Jazz Thing,” the three of these artists (with great help from the late pianist Kenny Kirkland) had already planted the seeds for the future work of Jazzmatazz and Buckshot LeFonque, Marsalis’ experimental jazz/hip-hop group. Both members even lived at Marsalis’ Long Island home for a short time in the early 1990s.
G.U.R.U. would release several more albums under the Jazzmatazz name but none really captured the jazz/hip-hop sound quite the first one. It can be hard to try and eulogize such a vast career as that of Keith Elam’s. Not only were he and DJ Premier vastly influential in hip-hop but both were true friends and musical soul mates. The legacy of G.U.R.U. can be seen today in the work of many up and coming artists in jazz music. This current generation of jazz musicians will continue to carry on the torch in loving memory of G.U.R.U. At the time, his conceptual work was heralded but since his unexpected passing, his work should be more appropriately discussed.
G.U.R.U.’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1 is only one of several supreme examples of the early 1990s jazz/hip-hop sound. All of us here at the Revivalist have been and continue to take influence from Keith Elam. Although his life ended prematurely, we are eternally thankful to G.U.R.U. and to DJ Premier and all of the other artists he worked with. Without you there is no past, no present or future.
Gangstarr “In Memory of”
“Freud, a philosopher, but I’m a realist
So philosophize this, without love we won’t exist
To those who passed out there, in the deserts and the jungles
With pain on their shoulders, and heavy bundles
I pray each one will, ascend to new heights and new enlightenment
And this is why I’m writin’ it…”
Words by Jared Pauley