Stevie G: Gang Starr were game-changers

One of the great rap duos Gang Starr changed the game in the 90s, so says Stevie G in his weekly Downtown column
Stevie G: Gang Starr were game-changers
Gang Starr.

Gang Starr were one of the great rap duos of all time. We live in different times now, but in the 90s in particular, they were one of the groups who really changed the game.

DJ Premier, for many, is the greatest hip-hop producer of all time. And his partner Guru, who sadly died in 2010, was one of the greatest ever to hold the mic. Their place in hip-hop history had been slightly tainted by the circus which surrounded Guru’s death, but
finally there has been a really well executed project put together by Premier, which will ensure their legacy even more.

Gurus death should have led to him being heralded in the same way as rappers as Biggie and Tupac, but there was a cloud over it and the timing also meant that he was
almost pushed to the margins. His own relationship with DJ Premier was tainted by a another producer, Solar, who apparently manipulated not only Guru but many of his family, who were prevented from contacting him before he passed.

It was a messy situation but
ultimately, Solars already fading credibility was fairly shot soon after, although many outside the hardcore rap fans seemed to forget about Guru and Gang Starr.

This final album, “One of the best yet”, has been rumoured for over five years, but it finally dropped
recently. DJ Premier remains a
hip-hop legend who has a keen
interest in the health of the genre, much of which he helped shape back in the day. Gang Starr belong to an era where groups such as EPMD, Eric B & Rakim, Wu Tang, A Tribe Called Quest and Mobb Deep reigned supreme, and their
dynamic and relationship together was incredible.

I saw them live in Dublin at their peak in the Tivoli theatre in 1994, where they were joined by Big Shug and Jeru the Damaja for an iconic gig in Irish hip-hop history. Later on I welcomed Guru to the Savoy in 2001 as my first ever Jam special guest, and he was great company, plus amazing on the mic. His solo work and “Jazzmatazz” projects were also highly influential, and aside from Gang Starr his partner Preemo shaped the rap game with production for practically everyone who mattered, from Nas and Biggie to Group Home and Jeru.

This new album brought a little trepidation in some ways, and I was fearing the worst. Such posthumous records can often go very wrong, and as the years passed their was a suspicion that there might not have been much left in the vaults rhyme wise from Guru. Thankfully, DJ Premier was on the case and
carefully put together a Gang Starr album that actually sounds like Guru is still here. It’s got the whole regular Gang Starr foundation cast, from Jeru to Group Home, and it sounds like it could have been dropped in 2001. There is little
pandering to modern tastes or
gimmicks, bar a J Cole appearance, and he fits flawlessly in aswell, being one of the more popular
modern day rappers who grew up on Gang Starrs music.

Rap may have completely changed, even as it got more progressively bigger, but this is a throwback that carries huge swagger even in 2019.

Some of the commentary from those who grew up in the so called golden age of the 80s and 90s can be tiresome, and I’ve always been one of those who appreciates the now as much as the then.

The fact that the likes of Gang Starr have been sidelined has been nothing short of scandalous though, and this album will win them new fans too. Like the final A Tribe Called Quest album, it manages to get the tone pretty much right, but unlike Tribe, the vocals from Guru on this album sound as crisp as ever. The production too is classic Preemo and Gang Starr, and the album is incredible.

As was the case with many other dead rappers, there hasn’t been a flood of tacky cash ins since Guru died, and thankfully the dodgy
presence that is Solar seems to have faded into natural insignificance.

Gang Starr are a group who’s music will be studied forever, and the rich vein of jazz and soul that provided it’s backbone was so strong that many of the original sampled artists grew to be fans and collaborators of the two artists themselves.

Guru called himself one of the best yet. DJ Premier titled this final album after that phrase, and you can see why!

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