The last time DJ Premier saw Guru, his partner in the influential 1980s and ’90s rap group Gang Starr, it was March 2010. Gang Starr hadn’t dropped an album in seven years, and the duo had stopped communicating entirely. But the time to make amends had come too late: The 48-year-old rapper was in a medically induced coma at Good Samaritan Hospital in Rockland County, N.Y., living out his last days with multiple myeloma, a rare form of cancer.
“His eyes were open, fluttering,” DJ Premier, 53, said in an interview this month at HeadQCourterz Studios in Queens, a space stuffed with platinum and gold plaques inside the sprawling production complex that houses the “Sesame Street” set. “I just looked at him: This should not be you.” He remembered placing a Gang Starr shirt on his friend’s chest and telling him, “I love you, man. Anything happens to you, I’ll make sure your family’s good. I’ll never let you down. We’re Gang Starr forever.”
Guru, born Keith Elam, formed Gang Starr with friends from Boston in the late 1980s; when the rest of the group split, he relocated to New York and teamed with DJ Premier, a gifted producer from Texas. From 1989 to 2003 the pair released six critically acclaimed albums that showcased Guru’s slick baritone gliding over Premier’s hardened beats. Their songs “DWYCK,” “Mass Appeal” and “You Know My Steez” became hip-hop staples, and the two musicians thrived separately, too: Guru with his jazz-rap fusion series “Jazzmatazz,” and Premier as an in-demand producer for the Notorious B.I.G., Jay-Z and Nas.
After a period of drift sparked by tensions over alcohol, money and credit, the duo had lost touch. And when Guru died just weeks after Premier’s hospital visit, the chances of new Gang Starr music appeared to have died along with him — at least until this past September, when “Family and Loyalty,” the first Gang Starr song in 16 years, was released (it included previously unheard Guru verses and a feature from J. Cole). On Friday, a full-length LP titled “One of the Best Yet” will arrive. It is potentially the first of two posthumous Gang Starr albums, which have taken nearly a decade to bring to life.