Review Summary: Gang Starr drop their magnus opus and one of hip hop's definitive albums.
Picture 1998: the hip hop landscape has changed dramatically since Gang Starr's previous release Hard To Earn. It went from a voice for the impoverished and oppressed youth to almost exclusively an outlet for money making and financial gain, at least mainstream-wise. Amidst this dramatic change, the now legendary and highly revered hip hop duo worked on their fifth studio release. The producer, DJ Premier, updated their jazz oriented sound and expanded it to include a more orchestral and occasionally ambient touch. Guru, the MCing aspect of Gang Starr, built on his previous efforts by speaking in trademark monotone fashion on more social issues. The combination of off kilter horns and an occasional wailing female vocal sample topped by a gritty drum beat blended with Guru's smooth delivery and superb rhymes proves to be an intoxicating mix.
Actually, labeling the entire album's production as a combination of off kilter horns and occasional wailing female vocal sample is quite an oversimplification as in reality, only "JFK 2 LAX" and "She Knows What She Wantz" fit this description. The sound is extremely diverse, ranging from the oriental, Asiatic "Above The Clouds" to the vague, spacey feel of "Betrayal", the aggressive, opaque sounding "The Militia" and smooth piano centered "What I'm Here 4". No two instrumentals on this album sound alike save a few exceptions, some may argue that this causes the release to sound inconsistent, unfocused but this is the last thing that'll come to mind while listening to Moment Of Truth. You'll be so buried in the incredible and if you will, 'dope' production that this isn't an issue.
Backing the stellar beats are Primo's slick scratches that form choruses, including the 'Let 'em know do your thing y'all/ Keep it live/ You know my steez' of "You Know My Steez" and chaotic showcasing "The Rep Grows Bigger" with 'The rep grows bigga/ Stay large/ Keep my workers under pressure/ Try to get the dough off/ Never make mistakes always come correct/ Stepped up to get your rep up'. Not all of the hooks are scratches though, K-Ci and JoJo sing "Royalty's" chorus and Guru will perform one of his own such as on "Moment of Truth" or "Betrayal".
Guru is at his best on this album as well, especially on the title track where he delivers his finest verses.
"Sometimes you gotta dig deep, when problems come near
Don`t fear things get severe for everybody everywhere
Why do bad things happen, to good people?
Seems that life is just a constant war between good and evil
The situation that I`m facing, is mad amazing
to think such problems can arise from minor confrontations
Now I`m contemplating in my bedroom pacing
Dark clouds over my head, my heart`s racing"
On nearly every song he gives an exceptional performance, whether it's the boastful "Royalty", prophetic stylings of "Above The Clouds" or the dark imagery of "Betrayal", all done in his trademark monotone fashion. Guru proves to be worthy of his moniker Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal.
No good hip hop album would be complete without great features, which in Moment Of Truth include: Wu Tang Clan's Inspectah Deck, Freddie Foxxx, Big Shug, Scarface and M.O.P. Rebel INS soundly outperforms Guru with his internal rhyming on "Above The Clouds", Scarface's deep voice proves to be a worthy addition to "Betrayal", Freddie Foxxx absolutely murders "The Militia" with witty punchlines delivered in an eccentric manner and the Mash Out Posse's wild unpredictably counters Guru's laidback style surprisingly well on "B.I. vs. Friendship".
Overall, a perfect 5/5. Gang Starr's Moment Of Truth is a quintessential hip hop album that is a must own to avid rap listeners and music fans in general. I recommend this to anyone who is a fan of good music.