Electronic Theses and Dissertations



Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Committee Chair

Brian Kwoba

Committee Member

Sarah Potter

Committee Member

Cookie Woolner


Abstract: As a solo hip-hop rapper and a member of Gang Starr during the 1990s, Guru (born Keith Edward Elam) represented a unique uplift voice in a burgeoning New York hip-hop scene. Demonstrating an understanding of ongoing African American freedom struggles, Guru poetically rhymed and flowed knowledge of systematic oppression and historical strategies against it, particularly in relation to the late twentieth-century African American community. In examining his poetic lyrics, Guru stands as more than a rapper, but also as a late twentieth-century poet voicing real issues and solutions. As a result, Guru is worthy of serious consideration in not just future hip-hop scholarship, but also in African American history or literature curriculums. Additionally, Guru embodies “hip-hop” epistemology stemming from Clyde Wood’s “blues epistemology” espoused in Development Arrested: The Blues and Plantation Power in the Mississippi Delta (2000). Whereas blues epistemology derives a deeper meaning for African American blues as tied to a way of life developed outside historical denial of participation in a predominately White culture and society, African Americans developed hip-hop as a way of life in the midst of poverty and government negligence in the Bronx. Meanwhile, by preserving the African American music tradition through fusing jazz with hip-hop and by messaging non-violence within African American urban communities, Guru contributed to hip-hop as its own epistemological structure. Also, Guru contributed to hip-hop epistemology by including uniquely African American spiritual elements connected to the teaching of the Five Percent Nation movement as started by Clarence Edward Smith (Clarence 13X). In the end, this work offers a refreshing micro-historical examination of a hip-hopper’s work that separates from previous hip-hop scholarship which largely tends to focus on broader examinations of hip-hop music.


Data is provided by the student.

Library Comment

Dissertation or thesis originally submitted to ProQuest.


Open access