When it comes to Gang Starr, everyone knows Manifest, Step in the Arena, Just to Get a Rep, and Mass Appeal. Between Premo’s beats, and the one of a kind monotone style of Guru, Gang Starr is known throughout the Hip Hop world as a force to be reckoned with. Gang Starr is so much more than the videos you saw on Yo! MTV Raps. They are so much more than the popular tracks that have been beaten into your consciousness over the years. When I think of MC Keithy E and Preem, I sink into Deep Concentration. I think of all the songs that I feel should be getting more appreciation. Let me share a few of those incredible tracks with you right now.
Above The Clouds (Moment of Truth)
One of the biggest things that drives this track for me, is the appearance of Inspectah Deck. As far as Wu Tang Clan members go, Inspectah Deck ranks just above U-God in popularity. Let him loose over this killer Premo beat, though, and he’ll make you forget about his Shaolin brethren all together. Never in my life would I have thought Guru and Inspectah Deck would combine their voices on the same song. With samples of “JFK Speech on Space Flight” by John F. Kennedy, “Two Piece Flower” by John Dankworth, “Superman – The Man from Krypton: Part II” by Peter Pan Records, and “Electric Relaxation” by A Tribe Called Quest, Preem makes magic.
“Above the crowds, above the clouds where the sounds are original / Infinite skills create miracles / Warrior spiritual, above the clouds raining down / Holding it down”
Robbin’ Hood Theory (Moment of Truth)
The beginning of this song sets the tone right away; “That’s not keepin it real, that’s keeping it wrong”. Guru’s delivery is everything on this track. Yes, I understand that his delivery is always the same, but this song would not even be on my radar if it had been done by anyone else. In order for this song to work, it MUST be delivered in that classic monotone style. Masterfully used samples from Albert Dailey (The Day After the Dawn) and George Duke (Capricorn) by DJ Premier keep this track laid back, yet engaging. After 5 years between records, this was a breath of fresh air.
“God is Universal, he is the Ruler Universal / For those who can’t follow that spells GURU when in my circle / I see all sides of my culture… / Design my thoughts like a sculpture / And chumps they wanna get with me cause I’m another entity / I’m sent to be, leadin the army of the century / Mention me, and snakes will retreat, eventually… / … due to my Robbin Hood Theory”
Riot Akt (The Ownerz)
This album holds a special place in my heart, as it is the last Gang Starr release. Again, right out of the gate, Guru delivers a verse that we could use today. “Put you under with one rap, me and the brothers have come back”. Letting everyone know that Gang Starr, like a comic book superhero, has returned to save listeners. Premier’s sample of Maynard Ferguson (Theme From Summer of ’42) reinforces our love for Gang Starr’s use of Jazz music in all of their work.
“Just like a thunderous gun clap, you wonder who done that / Put you under with one rap, me and the brothers have come back / We’ll lash you for tryin that, we know you been lyin cat / So now you be lyin flat, we’ll read you the riot act “
Tonz ‘O’ Gunz (Hard to Earn)
While this album was full of hot tracks (Mass Appeal, Code of the Streets, and of course DWYCK), Tonz ‘O’ Gunz is one of the best records on the album. This song is still relevant today! Guru telling the story of guns coming in to the country and how all the kids are running around with them, because it’s cool. The police just sitting back and watching the death toll rise. Look around; this song could have been written last week, instead of 1994.
“Kids pulling triggers, niggas killing niggas / Five-o they sit and wait and tally death-toll figures”
Sabotage (The Ownerz)
From the moment Premier drops that Smoked Sugar “Bump Me” bass line, this track is on. Also, any time Preem scratches past Gang Starr songs, I’m all in. This is also, possibly the most “animated” Guru has ever been on a track. For someone who is a self-proclaimed “monotone rapper”, there is a lot of feeling in these lyrics and their delivery. This record shows a maturity for Gang Starr, and an angry side of Guru. I think this whole album was slept on, but this track specifically, is one that should be revisited.
”See I’m a raw nigga, and like my pops I’m a lawgiver / Can’t throw a wrench in my game, I’m a boss figure / Take you under my wing, it don’t matter God / Dead you if you try to commit, sabotage”
There are so many underappreciated Gang Starr records out there, these are just my top five. Next time you are introducing someone to Gang Starr, or are just in a conversation with an old school head, drop a few of these titles on them.
Until next time, keep it classic, and always remember… New School Stale, Old School Fresh.