On April 19, Guru, rapper with Gang Starr, died of cancer. Fan and friend Mark Ronson explains why he should be fêted.
When I first started DJing in the mid-’90s, Gang Starr had this record out, ‘DWYCK’. That anthem was the New York anthem, and it stayed the New York anthem for about six years.
I remember one of the first rap celebrities I ever saw was Guru, and it was just insane. I’d play a lot of good old soul music and he was definitely into that. He’d come up to me during the course of the night and he’d always come back when I was DJing.
Then when I started to make a bit more of a name for myself he was making ‘Jazzmatazz, Volume 2: The New Reality’, and before it came out they wanted to make a mixtape sampler for it. They asked me to do it, and I was really pretty honoured.
I needed him to rap over this instrumental that I wanted to put in, and he kept planning to come to the studio but never made it. Then it was like, ‘The mixtape has to be done!’, and he called me and was like, ‘I can’t come! My wife’s just gone into labour!’ I was like, ‘Fuck, I’ve blown my chance, I really wanted to have Guru on this mixtape and it’s not gonna happen!’
Anyway, I woke up the next morning and he had left this three-minute-long freestyle on my answer machine. He was like, “What up Mark, it’s Guru. I just had a little girl, so excited… So anyway, I remembered you needed that rap, so here goes…” And he laid down one of my favourite raps of his, from a Gang Starr song called ‘Ex Girl To Next Girl’. It was so cool that he’d just had a baby girl and then he went and did that!
Guru just had this amazing smooth delivery and this rough, whiskey-weathered voice. It sounded so cool. He pulled it off. He was like the fucking smooth gangster jazz cat over DJ Premier’s brilliant beats. And he just had all these rhymes, like when he said, “Thelonius Monk a melodious thunk” in ‘Jazz Thing’ – he sounded like a thug.
I remember the first time I heard ‘Words I Manifest’ was the first time I’d ever heard a jazz sample like that. A real, true, weirdo ‘A Night In Tunisia’ sample and I was just like, ‘What the fuck is that?’ It was just a great era. At around the same time Spike Lee did that movie Mo’ Better Blues, and I just remember being in New York and that really was the sound of it.
It’s kind of a shame, though – I realised when I read that he’d died that I hadn’t seen Guru properly in 12 years, which is quite weird because I used to see him pretty regularly. I was sad because I was a fan. I’m still sad. He was one half of my favourite rap group of all time.