Paying back Guru with props and prayers

What more can I say?

Just like when you hear a song that brings you back to a period of time that it helped you define, hearing about legendary rapper Guru’s medical issues late last night took me back a few years to when his music was a soundtrack to one of my most significant days.

I got put on Gang Starr relatively late in the game. I’d heard of them, but I hadn’t been exposed to their music until a friend gave me a mix in the summer of 2007 that included Mass Appeal and Above the Clouds. The latter, which included Wu-Tang Clansman Inspector Deck, piqued my interest, so I read up a bit and bought Mass Appeal, a greatest hits collection.

At the time, I was training for my second 26-mile race, the Las Vegas Marathon. My running goals mean a lot to me, and I constantly needed new music to help me focus during long training runs. With D.J. Premier’s genius on the boards and Guru’s monotone, gritty flow and confident words, the disc became one of my go-to albums for 22-mile voyages on foot from Hasbrouck Heights to Newark, and (luckily) back.

Every song is a straight-up classic. No gimmicks, no pop, no designer labels. Just mind-blowing beats, and Guru’s rhymes about life and love featuring razor-sharp clarity and intensity. As I write this exiting the Lincoln Tunnel with a clear view of the skyline, I can safely say that Gang Starr is as New York as the Chrysler Building, Gray’s Papaya and the Mets cap on my head.

Starting line at dawnDecember 2007: Three days before the race, on my final warmup run on the Las Vegas strip, I aggravated an injury to a tendon in my lower right leg that had sidelined me for a week in the summer. With just two days to heal, I sat in a whirlpool, rubbed creams on it, but I could barely walk the night before the race.

As I stood at the window of my room in the Luxor, staring through my own reflection at the glowing city I had put in a year of work to run 26 miles in, I needed to ice. But more importantly, I needed to relax.

As I looked through the CDs I had brought on the trip, I knew I had to have something to put me in the zone, to allow myself to settle in and focus. Gang Starr was a no-brainer.

About seven hours before I was to venture into the desert, I sat on the bed with a book about Lance Armstrong in my hands and Soliloquy of Chaos coming out of my laptop’s speakers, and I let the bag of ice on my leg do its work. And though I hadn’t walked without pain in the previous few days, my tension disappeared. The following day’s endeavor again became conceivable to me.

I slept well, was thrilled to wake up relatively pain free, and ran powerfully and confidently through the desert, bettering my best time by 20 minutes, one of the accomplishments in my life I’m most proud of. And I knew that Gang Starr would be something I associate with that period of time, an enduring soundtrack to one of my favorite days.

It boils down to that when I needed to chill in the worst possible way, Gang Starr was just what the doctor ordered.

So when I heard about Guru last night, I could only give him the respect of praying he comes out of it. I’ve never met him, and frankly don’t know a whole lot about him. But I know the special role his words have played for me, and I doubt I’m alone in that regard.

And in my opinion, 43 is far too young for Keith Elam to say goodbye.

Is this really the end?
Or is it a new beginning?
A new reality



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