Normally I don't get wrapped up in celebrity deaths, because...well, I don't know them. And normally I wouldn't get upset about a somewhat obscure rapper who died, but the death of Guru, famously of GangStarr, is interesting for me. I have no particular affinity for Guru as an emcee, I liked his smooth vocal style, his meaningful lyrics, and the way he could fit his voice and rhythms to song, but ultimately I remember Guru for this: GangStarr is the rap group that changed me from an enemy of hip-hop to an extreme lover of hip-hop.
My first true experience with hip-hop was on a dusty road in Utah, in a car full of high-schoolers and one of my favorite teachers, on our way out to week-long backpacking treck through the canyons of the American West. We listened to a ton of hip-hop on the way out, spinning Atmosphere, Wyclef Jean, and GangStarr amongst others. I was in absolute pain, both literal (I'm often a victim of motion-sickness) and metaphorically, because I couldn't stand hip-hop. I found Atmosphere depressing and Wyclef Jean (The Carnival) too over my head but GangStarr's The Ownerz really hit me. In that week in the canyon without any music, I had songs running through my head, namely "Who Got Gunz", "The Militia", and "Rite Where U Stand". As a confused (angry? maybe...probably) teenager, Guru and DJ Premier opened up a massive door for me to a corner of music that had infinite potential.
GangStarr's The Ownerz remains one of my favorite albums simply because it was my first. I've moved on to a huge number of rappers and hip-hop artists since then and continue to find musicians that blow my mind, and I may have broken down the wall at some point, but it just turns out that GangStarr, Guru and DJ Premier, took care of it for me.