If you're a rapper and Boston
isn't feeling you, it's not exactly advisable to move to NYC
, the most talent-laden city in hip hop
. But that's what Guru
, one half of Gang Starr, did after graduating from Morehouse College
in Atlanta. After bouncing around the scene he eventually hooked up with the illustrious DJ Premier
, who was already in Gang Starr -- the group was then made up of Primo, DJ Wanna Be Down
and the rapper Damo D-Ski
But by the time Gang Starr cut their first LP, No More Mr. Nice Guy, the group was down to just Guru and Primo. The 1989 album had the classic joint "Manifest" as well as the instrumental "DJ Premier in Deep Concentration," but on the whole, the album sounds outdated even in comparison to their next effort, 1991's stellar Step in the Arena. The title track to this LP is perhaps Gang Starr's finest song of all time, with Guru spitting the sort of braggadocio rhymes that characterize the glorious early 90's era of hip hop:
Once you step in the arena, cheater; you're gonna be a-
mazed when you gaze at the armor on this leader
Fully clad and glad to find a cause, I won't pause
Fear is a joke, slowpoke, I'm like claws
that'll rip 'cause your gift, is merely flesh
Superficial and I wish you, would give it a rest
But if you don't, I'll unsheath my Excalibur
Like a noble knight, so meet ya challenger
As the decade progressed, Primo's rep grew bigger and bigger, as he laced some of the hottest beats of all time such as "It Ain't Hard to Tell" (off of Nas' Illmatic) and "Come Clean" (off of Jeru the Damaja's "The Sun Rises in the East"). To this day Primo is widely recognized as the finest producer in the game.
Premier can certainly hold it down as a DJ as well. I saw Gang Starr in concert recently, and he ran the crowd through a sort of hip hop quiz. Primo would throw a record on and see how many in the crowd could sing or rap along. Some were easy, such as De la Soul's "Oooh" but Primo definitely dug in the crates to pull out an old school Notorious B.I.G. freestyle as well as Biz Markie's "Just a Friend," which brought the crowd to a new level of excitement.
The show as a whole was pretty well done -- Guru is not the best rapper out there in terms of flow (he makes his living off of his distinctive husky voice instead), but he has a solid live delivery. More importantly, the crowd knew most of the songs Gang Starr ran through, which clearly had Guru and Premier excited to do the set. Perhaps the most telling moment of the night came just as the curtain opened and revealed Primo adjusting his turntables, awaiting the entrance of Guru. Without any prompting from a hype man (of which, thankfully, there were none), the crowd began to chant, at first slowly, "Primo... Primo... Primo... Primo, Primo, Primo!!"