MC Guru, a rapper with New York's Gang Starr, died Monday after a battle with cancer. He was 48.

Guru, whose real name was Keith Elam, was admitted to hospital in February after suffering a cardiac arrest. He had been fighting cancer for more than a year, a fact he did not reveal to fans, according to his collaborator, Solar.

"Guru has been battling cancer for well over a year and has lost his battle!" Solar said in a statement.

"This is a matter that Guru wanted private until he could beat it, but tragically, this did not happen. The cancer took him. Now the world has lost a great man and a true genius."

Solar, a New York producer, has been Guru's musical partner for several years, including singing backup. The pair formed their own label 7 Grand Records and had a small stable of artists, as well as made music together.

Solar called his friend "one of the best MCs and hip hop icons of all-time," noting his influential role in setting a new tone for rap in the 1990s.

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U.S. hip hop artist Guru performs during a concert in Moscow on Oct. 5, 2006. He died Monday. ((Thomas Peter/Reuters) )

Guru rose to fame in the late 1980s as part of New York underground rap duo Gang Starr with  DJ Premier.

Guru was known for his rhyming skills, while Premier produced, incorporating jazz sampling and choruses.

Among their biggest successes was the 1998 album Moment of Truth, as well as Step in the Arena and  Daily Operation. Their last project, The Ownerz, was released in 2003.

However, Guru seemed to have fallen out with his former partner, saying in a letter he had left instructions with his lawyer that Premier should not participate in any tributes or events surrounding his death.

In 1993, Guru also found solo fame with Jazzmatazz, a  series that saw him collaborate with jazz icons such as Branford Marsalis, Donald Byrd, Roy Ayers and Ronny Jordan. The hit single Trust Me came from the series.

He continued the Jazzmatazz series in collaborations with Solar with the release of The Street Scriptures and Guru 8.0: Lost And Found.

In a letter to fans, released by Solar, Guru praised his friend for standing by him during his illness and said the work they had done together represents his legacy to the world.

"I am most proud of my leadership and pioneering efforts on Jazzmatazz 4 for reinvigorating the hip hop/jazz genre in a time when music quality has reached an all time low," Guru wrote in his letter.

"The work I have done with Solar represents a legacy far beyond its time. And we as a team were not afraid to push the envelope. To me this is what true artists do… I hope that our music will receive the attention it deserves as it is some of the best work I have done and represents some of the best years of my life.

Guru was born in Boston and began making music in New York in the late 1980s. He leaves a son, KC.

Corrections

  • MC Guru was 48 at his time of death, according to his family. An earlier version of this story gave his age as 43, based on statements by his friend Solar and reports by The Associated Press.
    Apr 22, 2010 11:45 AM ET
With files from The Associated Press