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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 1990 | Chrysalis\EMI Records (USA)

Distinctions The Qobuz Ideal Discography
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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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 1998 | Virgin Records

By the release of Moment of Truth in the spring of 1998, Gang Starr were rap veterans, having spent nearly ten years as professionals. That elapsed time meant that the album was positioned as something of a comeback, since the duo had been inactive for four years, and it had been even longer since they had a hit. They knew they had to come back hard, and Moment of Truth almost accomplishes their goals. Retaining the swing of their jazz-rap fusions, Gang Starr nevertheless have their rhythms hit at a street level, and Guru's rhymes are his best in years. It may not have the thrill of discovery that made their first albums so exciting, and it does suffer from a few slow spots, but on the whole it's a successful return. © Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released July 13, 1999 | Virgin Records

Considering that the only previous hip-hop hits collection to stretch two full CDs came from 2Pac (and that only after his death), Gang Starr's Full Clip is a surprising release, though it's incredibly welcome. The duo of DJ Premier and Guru has been one of the longest continuous acts on the rap scene, beginning with 1989's No More Mr. Nice Guy and a spot on the soundtrack to Spike Lee's 1990 film Mo' Better Blues. And as demonstrated by Premier's stunning productions on classic early tracks like "Who's Gonna Take the Weight," "Words I Manifest," and "Just to Get a Rep," Gang Starr hit its stride early, and just kept on hitting peak after peak during the '90s with "Speak Ya Clout," "Code of the Streets," "Tonz 'O' Gunz," and "You Know My Steez." And new tracks, usually the bane of any best-of collection, provide quite a few highlights here -- including "Full Clip," "Discipline" (featuring Total), and "All 4 Tha Ca$h." Also, the set compiles several notable B-sides -- "The ? Remainz," "Credit Is Due," and "You Know My Steez (Remix)" -- as well as soundtrack works like "1/2 & 1/2" (from Blade), "Gotta Get Over" (from Trespass), and "The Militia II (Remix)" (from Belly). Though Guru's monotone raps can grate over the course of two hours, Full Clip documents one of the best, most underrated hip-hop groups ever, from their jazzy beginnings into Premier's harder productions from the mid-'90s and beyond. © John Bush /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released March 8, 1994 | Virgin Records

Gang Starr came out hard on their 1994 album, Hard to Earn, an album notably different from its two predecessors: Step in the Arena (1991) and Daily Operation (1992). While those two classic albums garnered tremendous praise for their thoughtful lyrics and jazzy beats, Hard to Earn seems much more reactionary, especially its lyrics. Guru opens the album with a tough, dismissive spoken-word intro: "Yo, all you kids want to get on and sh*t/Just remember this/This sh*t ain't easy/If you ain't got it, you ain't got it, motherf*cker." While this sense of superiority is undoubtedly a long-running convention of not just East Coast rap but rap in general, you don't expect to hear it coming from Gang Starr, particularly with such a bitter tone. Yet this attitude pervades throughout Hard to Earn. Songs such as "Suckas Need Bodyguards" and "Mass Appeal" take aim at unnamed peers, and other songs such as "ALONGWAYTOGO" similarly center on "whack crews." The best moments on Hard to Earn aren't these songs but instead "Code of the Streets" and "Tonz 'O' Gunz," two songs where Guru offers the type of social commentary that made Gang Starr so admirable in the first place. Yet, even though Hard to Earn is a bit short on such thoughtful moments, instead weighed down a bit with harsh attitude, it does offer some of DJ Premier's best productions ever. He's clearly at -- or, at least, near -- his best here. There isn't a song on the album that's a throwaway, and even the interludes are stunning. Given the subtly bitter tone of this album, it perhaps wasn't surprising then that Guru and Premier took some time to pursue solo opportunities after Hard to Earn. You can sense the duo's frustration with the rap scene circa 1994. The two didn't return with another Gang Starr album until four years later when they dropped Moment of Truth, a succinct comeback album that reaffirmed their status as one of New York's most thoughtful and artistic rap acts. © Jason Birchmeier /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 1992 | Chrysalis\EMI Records (USA)

On Step in the Arena, DJ Premier and Guru hit upon their mature sound, characterized by sparse, live jazz samples, Premier's cut-up scratching, and Guru's direct, unwavering streetwise monotone; but, with Daily Operation, the duo made their first masterpiece. From beginning to end, Gang Starr's third full-length album cuts with the force and precision of a machete and serves as an ode to and representation of New York and hip-hop underground culture. The genius of Daily Operation is that Guru's microphone skills are perfectly married to the best batch of tracks Premier had ever come up with. Guru has more of a presence than he has ever had, slinking and pacing through each song like a man with things on his mind, ready to go off at any second. Premier's production has an unparalleled edge here. He created the minimalist opening track, "The Place Where We Dwell," out of a two-second drum-solo sample and some scratching, but is also able to turn around and create something as lush and melodic as the jazz-tinged "No Shame in My Game" without ever seeming to be out of his element, making every track of the same sonic mind. For an underground crew, Gang Starr has always had a knack for crafting memorable vocal hooks to go with the expert production, and they multiply both aspects on Daily Operation. Every song has some attribute that stamps it indelibly into the listener's head, and it marks the album as one of the finest of the decade, rap or otherwise. © Stanton Swihart /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released November 1, 2019 | Gang Starr Enterprises LLC

Almost ten years after their MC died, Gang Starr have made a comeback with a “new” record. And it’s all thanks to Guru’s incredible creativity. He left behind a number of unused archive tracks which ended up in the hands of DJ Solar, an enigmatic character he was close to during his last few years while his relationship with his longtime partner DJ Premier diverged. The latter, together with Guru’s family, eventually bought about thirty tapes from Solar in 2014 and from 2017 onwards he set about building an album around these posthumous vocals. “I never lost faith, or waivered” said Premier in an interview with The New York Times. “I still felt it inside of me, it just happened to be nine years later after Guru’s death. I’m a patient guy.” And it was worth the wait. DJ Premier takes us back to the golden years of American hip-hop (the 90s) with boom bap productions and a star-studded lineup of featuring artists including J. Cole, Jeru The Damaja, M.O.P., Q-Tip, Royce Da 5’9” and Talib Kweli. Premier pickaxes away at the infinite supply of soul to reveal a wealth of samples, like on Lights Out with M.O.P. (which samples from The Temprees’ Dedicated To The One I Love, released on Stax) before launching into a mise en abyme by cutting out Guru’s vocals on Natural and Playtawin (from the 2003 album The Ownerz). The single Family and Loyalty - clearly a message for DJ Solar - samples the piano from He Looked Beyond My Faults by the gospel singer Larnelle Harris. A brilliant “real hip-hop” record and perhaps not the last from Gang Starr. © Smaël Bouaici/Qobuz
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released November 1, 2019 | Gang Starr Enterprises LLC

Almost ten years after their MC died, Gang Starr have made a comeback with a “new” record. And it’s all thanks to Guru’s incredible creativity. He left behind a number of unused archive tracks which ended up in the hands of DJ Solar, an enigmatic character he was close to during his last few years while his relationship with his longtime partner DJ Premier diverged. The latter, together with Guru’s family, eventually bought about thirty tapes from Solar in 2014 and from 2017 onwards he set about building an album around these posthumous vocals. “I never lost faith, or waivered” said Premier in an interview with The New York Times. “I still felt it inside of me, it just happened to be nine years later after Guru’s death. I’m a patient guy.” And it was worth the wait. DJ Premier takes us back to the golden years of American hip-hop (the 90s) with boom bap productions and a star-studded lineup of featuring artists including J. Cole, Jeru The Damaja, M.O.P., Q-Tip, Royce Da 5’9” and Talib Kweli. Premier pickaxes away at the infinite supply of soul to reveal a wealth of samples, like on Lights Out with M.O.P. (which samples from The Temprees’ Dedicated To The One I Love, released on Stax) before launching into a mise en abyme by cutting out Guru’s vocals on Natural and Playtawin (from the 2003 album The Ownerz). The single Family and Loyalty - clearly a message for DJ Solar - samples the piano from He Looked Beyond My Faults by the gospel singer Larnelle Harris. A brilliant “real hip-hop” record and perhaps not the last from Gang Starr. © Smaël Bouaici/Qobuz
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 2003 | Virgin Records

Quite a few chart-topping rappers came and went during the five years between Gang Starr's fifth and sixth LPs. So many, in fact, that it's tempting to think that commercial rap had taken a turn for the worse simply because the duo hadn't been back to tend the fires since 1998. Angry and intelligent as they'd ever been, Guru and DJ Premier came right back with guns blazing, ridiculing radio DJs and program directors as "f*cking robots" and proving their case with an album full of tough, kinetic hip-hop that blows away anything on the rap charts. Guru, never the most talented rapper on the East Coast, tightened his flow considerably to match his cutting verse, and DJ Premier only continued waxing lyrical with turntables and samplers. (Compared to his outside productions during the interim, it's clear he was holding back for Gang Starr a few can't-miss productions: "Put Up or Shut Up," "Skillz," the title track.) Guru's wordplay and imagery are vivid, whether he's relating yet another inner-city tale ("Sabotage"), excoriating the record industry ("Deadly Habitz"), or casually making a play for a girl ("Nice Girl, Wrong Place"). Surprisingly, most of the guest features are pedestrian, including the lame guns-and-gangstas posturing of "Who Got Gunz" featuring Fat Joe and M.O.P. or "Capture (Militia Pt. 3)" featuring Big Shug and Freddie Foxxx. Also a letdown is Snoop Dogg's "In This Life...," the return of a favor Premier did for him on two tracks for his Paid tha Cost to Be da Bo$$ LP of a year back. (The only great collaboration is Jadakiss' full-flowing rap on "Rite Where U Stand.") All the Gang Starr trademarks are in place, from Premier's perfect upchoruses to Guru's reedy voice cutting or instructing, and sounding better than ever. © John Bush /TiVo
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Rock - Released January 1, 2003 | Virgin Records

Quite a few chart-topping rappers came and went during the five years between Gang Starr's fifth and sixth LPs. So many, in fact, that it's tempting to think that commercial rap had taken a turn for the worse simply because the duo hadn't been back to tend the fires since 1998. Angry and intelligent as they'd ever been, Guru and DJ Premier came right back with guns blazing, ridiculing radio DJs and program directors as "f*cking robots" and proving their case with an album full of tough, kinetic hip-hop that blows away anything on the rap charts. Guru, never the most talented rapper on the East Coast, tightened his flow considerably to match his cutting verse, and DJ Premier only continued waxing lyrical with turntables and samplers. (Compared to his outside productions during the interim, it's clear he was holding back for Gang Starr a few can't-miss productions: "Put Up or Shut Up," "Skillz," the title track.) Guru's wordplay and imagery are vivid, whether he's relating yet another inner-city tale ("Sabotage"), excoriating the record industry ("Deadly Habitz"), or casually making a play for a girl ("Nice Girl, Wrong Place"). Surprisingly, most of the guest features are pedestrian, including the lame guns-and-gangstas posturing of "Who Got Gunz" featuring Fat Joe and M.O.P. or "Capture (Militia Pt. 3)" featuring Big Shug and Freddie Foxxx. Also a letdown is Snoop Dogg's "In This Life...," the return of a favor Premier did for him on two tracks for his Paid tha Cost to Be da Bo$$ LP of a year back. (The only great collaboration is Jadakiss' full-flowing rap on "Rite Where U Stand.") All the Gang Starr trademarks are in place, from Premier's perfect upchoruses to Guru's reedy voice cutting or instructing, and sounding better than ever. © John Bush /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 1, 2006 | Virgin Records

Booklet
The fact that Mass Appeal: The Best of Gang Starr is the second greatest-hits compilation released by Virgin simply attests to the importance of the duo, one of the first great MC/DJ-producer teams in hip-hop (and both of who, incidentally, have gone on to do well as solo artists, Guru with his whole Jazzmatazz series and DJ Premier most recently on Christina Aguilera's Back to Basics). But while 1999's Full Clip was two discs of 31 tracks (some of which were remixed versions), Mass Appeal limits itself to one disc of 20 songs, and includes almost all of their singles ("You Know My Steez" is the most notable exclusion), which means that while the scope is actually greater, spanning all six of their studio albums, the depth is less. Though the tracks are not listed chronologically, the jazz-based beats of Premier and Guru's relaxed flow are highlighted and strong in each. Gang Starr staples "Take It Personal," "The Militia," "Just to Get a Rep," "Mass Appeal," "Ex-Girl to Next Girl," and "Step in the Arena" (all but the latter also found on Full Clip) are found on the compilation, as well as lesser-known though not obscure cuts like "Check the Technique" and "B.Y.S." More serious fans may be intrigued by the bonus tracks, "Natural" and "Tha Squeeze," but considering that both are also found on the 2004 Japanese import of The Ownerz, Mass Appeal is probably a better pickup for fans who've heard about the glory and genius of the group but don't own all the albums. © Marisa Brown /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released December 11, 2020 | Gang Starr Enterprises LLC

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released September 20, 2019 | Gang Starr Enterprises LLC

Hip-Hop/Rap - Released December 26, 2006 | Virgin Records

Booklet
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The fact that Mass Appeal: The Best of Gang Starr is the second greatest-hits compilation released by Virgin simply attests to the importance of the duo, one of the first great MC/DJ-producer teams in hip-hop (and both of who, incidentally, have gone on to do well as solo artists, Guru with his whole Jazzmatazz series and DJ Premier most recently on Christina Aguilera's Back to Basics). But while 1999's Full Clip was two discs of 31 tracks (some of which were remixed versions), Mass Appeal limits itself to one disc of 20 songs, and includes almost all of their singles ("You Know My Steez" is the most notable exclusion), which means that while the scope is actually greater, spanning all six of their studio albums, the depth is less. Though the tracks are not listed chronologically, the jazz-based beats of Premier and Guru's relaxed flow are highlighted and strong in each. Gang Starr staples "Take It Personal," "The Militia," "Just to Get a Rep," "Mass Appeal," "Ex-Girl to Next Girl," and "Step in the Arena" (all but the latter also found on Full Clip) are found on the compilation, as well as lesser-known though not obscure cuts like "Check the Technique" and "B.Y.S." More serious fans may be intrigued by the bonus tracks, "Natural" and "Tha Squeeze," but considering that both are also found on the 2004 Japanese import of The Ownerz, Mass Appeal is probably a better pickup for fans who've heard about the glory and genius of the group but don't own all the albums. © Marisa Brown /TiVo
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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released June 6, 1989 | Wild Pitch

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released January 31, 2020 | Gang Starr Enterprises LLC

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released September 20, 2019 | Gang Starr Enterprises LLC

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released April 16, 2021 | Gang Starr Enterprises LLC

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released October 18, 2019 | Gang Starr Enterprises LLC

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Hip-Hop/Rap - Released October 18, 2019 | Gang Starr Enterprises LLC

Artist

Gang Starr in the magazine
  • Gang Starr, still one of the best
    Gang Starr, still one of the best Nine years after the death of Guru, DJ Premier breathes life back into Gang Starr with previously unheard vocals from his deceased former collaborator.