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Gang Starr - Step In The Arena

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Step In The Arena

Gang Starr

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The album on which DJ Premier and Guru perfected the template that would launch them into underground stardom and a modicum of mainstream success. Guru's deadpan monotone delivery was shockingly different from other early-'90s MCs, many of who were either substituting charisma for substance or engaging in hardcore "realism" without really commenting on black inner-city life or offering ways to alter the situation for the better. But it is Guru who sounded like the real clarion call of and to the street on Step in the Arena ("Why bring ignorance/where we're inviting you to get advancement," he intones on "Form of Intellect"). Step in the Arena was the first real mature flowering of his street-wise sagacity. His voice would grow more assured by the next album, but here Guru imparts urban wisdom of a strikingly visible variety. It's easy to allow yourself to get caught up in the fantasy of hardcore rap, but it is somewhat more involving and disorienting to hear truth that avoids exaggeration or glorification. Guru is not easy on any aspect of the inner city, from the "snakes" that exploit the community ("Execution of a Chump") to those that are a product of it ("Just to Get a Rep"), and the result is a surprising but hard-fought compassion ("Who's Gonna Take the Weight?" pleads for the acceptance of responsibility, for not taking the easy path). He seems to have somehow developed a hopefulness out of the bleak surroundings. DJ Premier was already near the top of his game at this early point. His production seems less jazz-fueled on Step in the Arena, opting more for spare guitar lines and tight beats, as well as his unmistakable vocal cut-up style of scratching for a slightly warped and out-of-phase soundscape.
© Stanton Swihart /TiVo

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Step In The Arena

Gang Starr

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1
Name Tag (Premier & The Guru)
00:00:36

Gang Starr, Composer, MainArtist - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Lisle Leete, Engineer, StudioPersonnel

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

2
Step In The Arena
00:03:37

Guru, Producer, ComposerLyricist - Gang Starr, MainArtist - DJ Premier, Producer, ComposerLyricist

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1991 Virgin Records

3
Form Of Intellect
00:03:40

Gang Starr, Composer, MainArtist - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Shlomo Sonnenfeld, Engineer, StudioPersonnel

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

4
Execution Of A Chump
00:02:41

Chris Martin, Composer - Gang Starr, MainArtist - Keith Elam, Composer - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Lisle Leete, Engineer, Piano, AssociatedPerformer, StudioPersonnel

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

5
Who's Gonna Take The Weight?
00:03:56

Chris Martin, ComposerLyricist - Gang Starr, MainArtist - Keith Elam, ComposerLyricist - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Lisle Leete, Engineer, StudioPersonnel

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

6
Beyond Comprehension
00:03:13

Gang Starr, Composer, MainArtist - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Lisle Leete, Engineer, StudioPersonnel

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

7
Check The Technique
00:03:58

Chris Martin, Composer - Gang Starr, MainArtist - Keith Elam, Composer - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Lisle Leete, Engineer, StudioPersonnel

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

8
Lovesick
00:03:27

C. Martin, ComposerLyricist - M. Jones, ComposerLyricist - Leroy Bonner, ComposerLyricist - Ralph Middlebrooks, ComposerLyricist - Marvin Pierce, ComposerLyricist - Andrew Noland, ComposerLyricist - W. MORRISON, ComposerLyricist - Gang Starr, MainArtist - Keith Elam, ComposerLyricist - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Norman Bruce Napier, ComposerLyricist - Gregory Allen Webster, ComposerLyricist

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

9
Here Today, Gone Tomorrow
00:02:18

Gang Starr, Composer, MainArtist - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Lisle Leete, Engineer, StudioPersonnel

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

10
Game Plan
00:01:08

Gang Starr, Composer, MainArtist - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Lisle Leete, Engineer, StudioPersonnel

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

11
Take A Rest
00:04:21

Chris Martin, Composer - Gang Starr, MainArtist - Keith Elam, ComposerLyricist - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Lisle Leete, Engineer, StudioPersonnel

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

12
What You Want This Time?
00:02:41

Gang Starr, Composer, MainArtist - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Yoram Vazan, Engineer, StudioPersonnel

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

13
Street Ministry
00:01:25

Gang Starr, Composer, MainArtist - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Yoram Vazan, Engineer, StudioPersonnel

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

14
Just To Get A Rep
00:02:42

Gang Starr, MainArtist, ComposerLyricist - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

15
Say Your Prayers
00:01:24

Gang Starr, Composer, MainArtist - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Yoram Vazan, Engineer, StudioPersonnel

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

16
As I Read My S-A
00:03:02

Gang Starr, Composer, MainArtist - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Lisle Leete, Engineer, StudioPersonnel

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

17
Precisely The Right Rhymes
00:03:25

Gang Starr, Composer, MainArtist - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Shlomo Sonnenfeld, Engineer, StudioPersonnel

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

18
The Meaning Of The Name
00:02:55

Gang Starr, Composer, MainArtist - DJ Premier, Producer - The Guru, Producer - Shlomo Sonnenfeld, Engineer, StudioPersonnel

(C) 1990 Virgin Records America, Inc. ℗ 1990 Virgin Records

Album Description

The album on which DJ Premier and Guru perfected the template that would launch them into underground stardom and a modicum of mainstream success. Guru's deadpan monotone delivery was shockingly different from other early-'90s MCs, many of who were either substituting charisma for substance or engaging in hardcore "realism" without really commenting on black inner-city life or offering ways to alter the situation for the better. But it is Guru who sounded like the real clarion call of and to the street on Step in the Arena ("Why bring ignorance/where we're inviting you to get advancement," he intones on "Form of Intellect"). Step in the Arena was the first real mature flowering of his street-wise sagacity. His voice would grow more assured by the next album, but here Guru imparts urban wisdom of a strikingly visible variety. It's easy to allow yourself to get caught up in the fantasy of hardcore rap, but it is somewhat more involving and disorienting to hear truth that avoids exaggeration or glorification. Guru is not easy on any aspect of the inner city, from the "snakes" that exploit the community ("Execution of a Chump") to those that are a product of it ("Just to Get a Rep"), and the result is a surprising but hard-fought compassion ("Who's Gonna Take the Weight?" pleads for the acceptance of responsibility, for not taking the easy path). He seems to have somehow developed a hopefulness out of the bleak surroundings. DJ Premier was already near the top of his game at this early point. His production seems less jazz-fueled on Step in the Arena, opting more for spare guitar lines and tight beats, as well as his unmistakable vocal cut-up style of scratching for a slightly warped and out-of-phase soundscape.
© Stanton Swihart /TiVo

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