Review Summary: Aiyyo, what the FUKK is this shit that y'all are listenin to
Nowadays on the radio man? You call that shit hip-hop?...
All you DJ's are lettin the program directors handcuff you
And sit there and tell you how to mix?! YOU FUKKIN ROBOTS!
Gang Starr is an old school hip hop group that adapted well to modern sounds and continued making superb music in the 21st century. The group consists of recently deceased and legendary emcee Guru, and the man that produced Illmatic
, DJ Premier, who is widely considered the best DJ of all time. Although this album is far from as enlightening and enjoyable as their previous album, the timeless classic Moment of Truth
, it does continue Gang Starr’s tradition of never putting out a single bad album, and it does have a number of quality tracks with superb beats that are on level with some of Gang Starr’s classic material.
Emcee Guru distinguishes himself from emcees in modern rap for a handful of reasons. As Guru’s name implies (Guru means Teacher in Hinduism) he never raps about trivial topics, and drops knowledge constantly on most tracks. Similar to other old school emcees, notably KRS-One, Guru is not the type of rapper to repeat subject matter and focus on making the songs catchy by perfecting the flow. Instead, he prefers a relatively simple and old-school style of rhyming, keeping his raps slow paced, which has the byproduct of making his lyrics distinctly audible. He drops a small amount of knowledge on this album (the most conscious track, by far, being “In This Life..”) but this ends up being one of Gang Starr’s least conscious albums. Some will appreciate this difference because these songs generally sound catchier and less distorted than most of their older material, but the subject matter (on most tracks) is noticeably shallower. The likely reason is that this album was primarily made for Gang Starr to cement their legacy through a number of braggadocio tracks and diss tracks that could be used to silence critics from the grave.
DJ Premier is the master of making something out of nothing. By using prolonged horns and a deep thumping bass, Guru adds huge amounts of energy to The Ownerz
, to create fast paced boom bap beats that sound like they are theme songs to a gun shoot out. If you made a CD with just one clip of every sound Premier used on this album – it would be under two minutes long! Modern and casual hip hop listeners may find these beats slightly repetitive or “samey”, while old school fans will enjoy them for being raw and gritty. DJ Premier has never abandoned the style of using one extremely catchy sound/sample as a break, then playing the break over and over throughout the track. This comes from a restraint that Premier inherited by being raised in a time before today’s technology was available, when all producers had was two turn tables. He continued to find a way to excel using this style well into the 21st century by turning simplicity into a hardcore atmosphere reminiscent of the street life hew grew up in. More than any other DJ, Premier does an excellent job of matching up the beat with Guru’s style and is always on point with his beat drops, a skill that is entirely lost in most DJs today, which helps give every one of Guru's monotone rhymes an extra bit of needed enthusiasm.
This album is not a good starting point for someone new to Gang Starr (I would recommend either Moment of Truth – their best album, or Daily Operation – the first album in which they adopted their modern style), but, for those who enjoy Gang Starr and haven’t heard this album, it is a necessity that you hear this. While this album doesn’t flow as a whole nearly as well as some of their previous works, there is something for everyone on this album, except FUKKIN ROBOTS!
RIP Keith “Guru” Elam (July 17, 1961 – April 19, 2010)