The great Detroit-born trumpeter Donald Byrd died Monday in Delaware, where he was artist in residence at Delaware State University. Starting in the 1950s as a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers before leading his own band for Blue Note Records, he recorded over 50 albums—ranging in style from hard-bop to afro-pop to the experimental hip-hop/jazz fusion he helped Gangstarr MC Guru pioneer on the Jazzmatazz albums in the early '90s. He was 80.
This is admittedly kind of a ridiculous way to begin an article about a dead rapper named Guru, but let me posit up top that death is the ultimate contextualizing force. That is, relative to death, everything else falls into a sort of desperate kind of perspective. The difference in re: hip-hop is that bad rap's rhetorical over-deployment of death – this is the thing that Fox News squeakers pretend to think corresponds one-to-one with actual homicides – makes it seem cheap. Listen to a corny 50 Cent song – or check out 50 Cent's cornier shoot-em-up video game – and violence is simultaneously the entire context and [...]
Sad rap news. Keith "Guru" Elam, MC in the beloved duo Gang Starr, is apparently in a coma after suffering a heart attack. He's scheduled to undergo surgery later today. Here's wishing him a full recovery. Above, the video for the classic, "Mass Appeal," which was the definitive sound of the New York City streets my first summer living here, 1994.