My brother, Guru

Harry Elam Jr., Harry Elam Sr., and Keith (“Guru”) Elam on Cape Cod in the 1970s.

Source: Boston.com

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Boston-born Keith Elam, who rose to fame as Guru, founder of the rap group Gang Starr and a person who sought to merge rap and jazz, died earlier this week. His brother, Harry, a distinguished professor of drama at Stanford, has written this remembrance).

“Positivity, that’s how I’m livin..’” So goes the lyric from my brother’s early hip-hop song, “Positivity.” My brother Keith Elam, the hip-hop artist known as GURU—Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal—died this week at the too-young age of 48 because of complications from cancer. ‘Positivity’ was what he sought to bring to the music and to his life, and for me that will be a large part of his legacy.

In February of this year, my brother went into a coma, and I traveled across the country from my home in California to see him. At his bedside, I stood and stared at his overly frail frame, his head that he had kept clean-shaven for the last 20 years uncommonly covered with hair, his body connected to a sea of tubes and wires. I listened to the whirl of machines around us and took his hand. As I did, my mind flashed back to now-distant times, so many memories. And I saw us as teenagers at the beach on Cape Cod playing in the water together. And I saw us as boys, driving to school. My brother was five years younger than me, so we attended the same school only for one year — my senior year, his seventh-grade year — at Noble and Greenough School, and I would often drive us both to school. Invariably, I made us late, yet my brother, never as stressed as me, was always impressively calm. At school he endured the jests and teasing from the other boys about being my “little brother.” I was president of the school and had charted a certain path at Nobles. But my brother found his own creative route at school, as he would throughout his life. His journey was never easy, never direct, but inventive. Through it all he remained fiercely determined with a clear and strong sense of self.

Over the years I had proudly watched my brother perform in a wide variety of contexts. While at Nobles, we had a black theatre troupe known as “the Family.” In 1973, we put on a play entitled ”A Medal for Willie,” by William Branch, and because he was only in the seventh grade, Keith played only a small role, but even then you could see his flair for performance, his comfort on the stage. At home, our older sister Patricia would teach him the latest dances, and he would execute them with verve as I watched from the sidelines, impressed with his moves, and not without a few twinges of jealousy since I’ve always had two left feet. As a teenager he raced as a speed skater. I do not remember how he became involved in the sport; I only remember traveling with my family to watch his meets in the suburbs of Boston. I do not remember if he won or lost, I do know that he always competed with great ferocity and commitment.

When he announced to me that he was dropping out of graduate school at the Fashion Institute of Technology to pursue a career in rap, I thought he was making a grave mistake and warned him against it. But as always he was determined, and in the end he would succeed beyond perhaps what even he had imagined. Early on in his rap journey, he visited me in Washington., D.C., over a Thanksgiving weekend. I was teaching at the University of Maryland then, and we went to what was perhaps the most dreadful party we had ever attended. As we hastened out the door, I apologized for bringing him to this party. My brother replied “let’s write a rap song about it,” and we did. The lyrics made us laugh as we collaborated on the rhyme scheme and rode off into the D.C. night. It is one of my fondest memories, this spontaneous brotherly moment of collaboration and play.

Keith’s big break came with Spike Lee’s film ”Mo’ Better Blues,” with his song “A Jazz Thing” underscoring the credits. I watched that film over and over again just to hear my brother at its end. Soon he was on to creating his first Jazzmatazz album with others to follow, and he became credited for creating a fusion between jazz and hip hop. To be sure, that fusion owes something to our grandfather Edward Clark and Keith’s godfather, George Johnson, who introduced Keith to jazz by playing their favorite albums for him. He credits them both on his first Jazzmatazz. That first Jazzmatazz album featured musical heroes of my youth, Roy Ayers, and Donald Byrd, and here was my brother featuring them on his album. And with this success, came tours. I have seen him perform all over the world, and each time he would give a shout out from the stage to his brother and my wife, Michele. And I was so proud. It sometimes struck me with awe that all these people were there to see my brother. I watched him deal out magic; he was in his element feeling the crowd, and them responding to his groove. This was my baby brother, the kid with whom I once shared a room. The kid whose asthma would cause him to hack and cough and wheeze at night keeping me up. But when I would complain, my parents would send me out of the room. The message was clear: Love your siblings, whatever their frailties. Shorter than me and slighter of build, my brother suffered from asthma and allergies his whole life, but he was always a survivor

Back in 1993, when he played at Stanford University, I was in perhaps my third year as a professor there. As I walked into the auditorium that night, the assembled audience of students looked at me with a new awareness, “that’s the Guru’s brother,” not that’s Professor Elam, but the Guru’s brother.

And I was, and am, the Guru’s brother. I admired and loved him deeply, my little brother. And I was and am so proud of him, and how he made his dreams reality . And with the outpouring of love that has crowded my e-mail with his passing, I know that he touched so many with his music. My brother cared deeply about family. He raps of my parents in more than one song. They are featured on his video “Ex girl to next girl.” It was one thing seeing my brother on MTV; it was another seeing my parents. His son K.C. was the joy of his life.

The doctors told me back in February that there was not much chance of my brother recovering from the coma. But my brother has always been a fighter, always been one to overcome surprising adversities, so this seemed just one more. We prayed that he would again prevail. But it was not to be. Still his drive, his spirit, his energy, his positivity will live on, and so will his music. “that’s how I’m livin…”

Harry J. Elam Jr. is the senior associate vice provost at Stanford University and the author of several books, including “The Past as Present in the Drama of August Wilson.”

Tags: , , , ,


57 Responses to “My brother, Guru”

  1. Jamey says:

    Pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed surfing around your blog posts. After all I’ll be subscribing for your rss feed and I hope you write once more very soon!

  2. I’m seriously loving the theme of your information site. Do you face any web browser interface troubles? A lot of my own blog visitors have complained about my garageband online site not operating appropriately in Explorer but seems great in Firefox. Have you got any kind of advice to help repair this issue?

  3. I always look over your content carefully. I’m also fascinated by best medical malpractice attorneys, maybe you could talk about this occasionally. I will be back.

  4. omega xl says:

    I’m really enjoying the theme/design of your blog. Do you come across any kind of internet browser interface problems? A few of my blog readers have lamented about my omega xl features website not working effectively in Explorer but looks very good in Chrome. Do you have any kind of advice to aid repair the issue?

  5. click here says:

    Thank you so much for discussing the idea, I saved the webpage. I am furthermore seeking info regarding aptoide app download, are you aware where I can find one thing like that? I will return in the future!

  6. Hi there, after reading this amazing article i am as well cheerful to share my experience here with friends.

  7. I found your weblog site on google and verify a few of your early posts. Continue to maintain up the superb operate. I simply additional up your RSS feed to my MSN News Reader. Looking for ahead to reading more from you afterward!…

  8. I frequently look over your articles attentively. I am likewise focused on upvc window frames, maybe you might talk about this sometimes. See you.

  9. karaj says:

    As I site possessor I believe the content material here is rattling wonderful , appreciate it for your efforts. You should keep it up forever! Best of luck.

  10. I like the things you guys are up to. This sort of clever effort and coverage! Carry on the amazing work guys, I have included you to Arvind Pandit Kansas webpage.

  11. You are certainly right and I understand you. When you want, we might as well speak about happy new year quotes, something which fascinates me. The site is truly brilliant, regards!

  12. Appreciating the dedication you invested in your website and comprehensive facts you offer. It’s awesome to discover a blog occasionally that isn’t the similar old rehashed content. Amazing read! We have bookmarked your blog and I am including your RSS feeds to my own kik for pc page.

  13. Darwin Horan says:

    Good day! This is my very first comment on this site so I just wanted to give a fast shout out and say I truly enjoy reading through your blog posts. Can you suggest any other websites that deal with real estate classes? I am also pretty curious about that thing! Thanks a lot!

  14. I am really curious to understand just what website platform you are using? I am experiencing several slight safety difficulties with my latest blog dealing with door intercom and I would love to find one thing more risk-free. Are there any strategies?

  15. Quinn says:

    I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your website. It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me to come here and visit more often. Did you hire out a developer to create your theme? Excellent work!

  16. I personally arrived right here from a different website on the subject of how to get followers on twitter and thought I may as well check out this page. I really like the things I see therefore now I am following you. Getting excited about looking over your blog yet again.

  17. Our LGV (Large Goods Vehicle) HGV training is based in East London, and our LGV/ HGV courses are taught by qualified DVSA LGV & HGV trainers. LGV was formerly known as HGV, where it used to be referred to as HGV Class 2 (now called LGV Category C) and HGV class 1 (Now called LGV Category C+E).

  18. Hey there, you are certainly right. I frequently read your content thoroughly. I am furthermore curious about free movie streaming, perhaps you might discuss this sometimes. Bye.

  19. I actually arrived over here from another web address related to personal injury firms and thought I may as well read this. I really like the things I see so I am just following you. Getting excited about finding out about your site all over again.

  20. website says:

    Heya, you’re certainly correct. I always look over your posts carefully. I am also interested in pokemon app, you might discuss that occasionally. See you!

  21. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog article or vice-versa? My site discusses a lot of the same subjects as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other. If you’re interested feel free to shoot me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Awesome blog by the way!

  22. Hello there, you’re definitely correct. I frequently read through your articles thoroughly. I am furthermore thinking about ethereum trading, you might discuss this from time to time. See you soon.

  23. You’re absolutely correct, I’d like to discover new information on the topic! I’m as well interested in push lawn mower reviews as I think it is really quite cool at the moment. Keep doing this!

  24. You’re absolutely correct, I would really like to find out more info on that issue! I’m as well fascinated by websites to watch free movies because I consider it is really very cool lately. Keep this up!

  25. Thank you very much for writing the idea, I bookmarked this site. I am additionally interested in info about canon printer, have you any idea exactly where I can discover one thing like that? I’ll be back very soon!

  26. I actually arrived right here via another page on bitcoin bank account and thought I should check out this page. I like what I see thus now I”m following you. Looking forward to exploring your website back again.

  27. hguhf  says:

    Heya, you are definitely right. I constantly look over your articles carefully. I’m likewise fascinated by web games, perhaps you could write about that sometimes. Bye bye.

  28. I’m definitely enjoying the theme of your website. Do you come across any web browser interface troubles? A few of the website visitors have lamented concerning my freight forwarding services website not working properly in Explorer yet seems awesome in Opera. Have you got any solutions to help repair that problem?

  29. My family and I really like your blog and find almost all of the content to be precisely what I’m trying to find. Do you offer people to post content material for you? I wouldn’t mind producing a piece of text about fast shipping or maybe on a lot of the subjects you’re writing about on this page. Great website!

  30. I would like to say cool blog! This is so helpful! Please write more.

  31. I would like to say cool blog! This is so helpful! Please write more.

  32. Thank you for this wonderful post! I actually liked reading it.I will be sure to take note of your page and will often come back in the future. I would love to encourage you to keep on with the wonderful work, possibly blog about new movies online as well, have a superb day!

  33. I was recommended this blog via my cousin. I’m no longer positive whether this put up is written by means of him as no one else recognize such special about my difficulty. You’re amazing! Thanks!

  34. آینه says:

    You’re absolutely correct. I loved reading this article and I will certainly return for more immediately. Our internet site is dealing with websites to watch movies, you could check it out if you are still interested in this.

  35. I really enjoy the article post.Really looking forward to read more. Really Great.

  36. I’m still learning from you, as I’m trying to reach my goals. I definitely enjoy reading everything that is written on your website.Keep the tips coming. I liked it!

  37. Thank you for your terrific content! I certainly appreciated finding out about it.I’ll remember to bookmark the blog and will often return from now on. I would really like to encourage that you keep on with the excellent work, maybe discuss hd movies online also, have a wonderful day!

  38. Thanks for this great posting! I truly appreciated learning about.I’ll be sure to take note of your page and will come back very soon. I would like to encourage you to ultimately keep on with the excellent job, perhaps think about where to watch movies online as well, have a fantastic day!

  39. Thank you for this excellent article! I actually liked it.I’ll be sure to save this website and will come back in the future. I want to encourage you to keep on with your great posts, perhaps write about Arvind Pandit also, have a fine evening!

  40. Background Removal Service says:

    Many thanks for discussing this, I bookmarked this page. I am additionally trying to find info on modem router, have you any idea where I might come across something such as this? I will be back in a little while!

  41. Kazuko says:

    You made some decent points there. I looked on the internet for the concern and located most individuals will go along with together with your web-site.

  42. rodney dangerfield memorial says:

    Enjoyed every bit of your blog.Thanks Again. Fantastic.

  43. Thank you for this excellent article! I actually liked it.I’ll be sure to save this website and will come back in the future. I want to encourage you to keep on with your great posts, perhaps write about Arvind Pandit also, have a fine evening!

  44. I love what you fellows are now up to. This type of great effort and exposure! Carry on the amazing effort friends, I have you on my personal free movies online for free webpage.

  45. I really enjoy the article post.Really looking forward to read more. Really Great.

  46. this site says:

    Hello there, what do you really feel about wealth generators presentation? Really cool idea, huh?

  47. Navision NAV says:

    Thank you for the auspicious writeup. It in fact was a amusement account it. Look advanced to far added agreeable from you! However, how can we communicate?

  48. There are certainly fantastic improvements on the structure of this website, I really like this. Mine is on the subject of free instagram followers and generally there are a lot of things to do, I’m yet still a starter in web page design. Be careful!

  49. I’m really interested to discover which website system you have been using? I’m having some small safety challenges with our latest site related to apple jailbreak and I would like to find a thing a lot more secure. Do you have any solutions?

  50. Hello. I recently came across this amazing site and I certainly enjoy it. I also love to discuss industrial real estate sometimes. Great to be here, appreciate it!

  51. You’re entirely right. I loved looking through this article and I will certainly come back for more soon. Our internet site is on forex robot review, you can have a look if you are still interested in that.

  52. I really enjoy the article post.Really looking forward to read more. Really Great.

  53. Many thanks for discussing this, I bookmarked this page. I am additionally trying to find info on modem router, have you any idea where I might come across something such as this? I will be back in a little while!

  54. green career says:

    Hey, what do you really feel regarding ecojobs? Pretty awesome issue, huh?

  55. My family and I definitely like your site and find almost all of your articles to be precisely what I am looking for. Would you offer people to post content for you? I would not mind composing a post on movers & packers in mumbai or possibly on some of the topics you’re posting about here. Again, awesome information site!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *