New York rap star Guru dies at 43

The Ownerz album cover (Virgin records)

The rapper (right) released six influential albums with GangStarr

Rapper Guru, who rose to fame with hip-hop outfit GangStarr, has died aged 43 after a long battle with cancer.

The MC, whose real name was Keith Elam, suffered a cardiac arrest in February after surgery to treat the disease and briefly lapsed into a coma.

A statement released by his PR company contained a letter purportedly written by Guru in his final days.

“I have suffered with this illness for over a year,” he wrote. “I have exhausted all medical options.”

“I write this with tears in my eyes, not of sorrow but of joy for what a wonderful life I have enjoyed and how many great people I have had the pleasure of meeting.”

According to the statement posted on the Yo! Promotions website Guru had tried to “keep his harrowing diagnosis private” and died on the morning of Monday, 19 April.

Hip-hop icon

Along with producer DJ Premier, Guru – which stood for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal – recorded six influential albums under the GangStarr moniker between 1989 and 2003.

He was known for his smooth delivery and socially conscious lyrics.

Songs like Just To Get A Rep railed against gangsta rap conventions, dissecting the cycle of meaningless violence on America’s streets with a world-weary intelligence.

Guru went on to release a series of influential jazz/rap crossover albums – titled Jazzmatazz – as well as two solo records.

Along the way, he recorded with jazz greats like Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd and Lonnie Liston-Smith.

Guru (left) and Solar (far-right)

Guru (left) and Solar (far-right) had worked together since 2005

He also collaborated with Chaka Khan, Kelis, Jamiroquai, The Roots and Brand New Heavies singer N’Dea Davenport.

In later years, he appeared to have fallen out with DJ Premier, and was not prepared to let the matter drop from his death bed.

“I do not wish my ex-DJ to have anything to do with my name, likeness, events, tributes, etc,” he said in a statement.

“I had nothing to do with him in life for over seven years and want nothing to do with him in death.”

He did not explain the reasons behind the estrangement, but said his friend, collaborator and partner MC Solaar was “well-informed” about the situation.

Following Guru’s letter, Solaar also issued a statement, paying tribute to “one of the best MCs and hip-hop icons of all time”.

“He has changed the world for the better. I salute my fallen brother Guru! He will be missed tremendously!”

However, members of Guru’s family have accused Solaar of restricting their access to the rapper during his final days.

A representative of Yo! Promotions was not immediately available to answer a call from the BBC.

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