It wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to consider Gang Starr the hip hop equivalent of the Velvet Underground. In regards to influence, both are recognized and respected wide and far as innovators. Each group worked in a style that stood far enough outside of the mainstream so as not to draw too much popular acclaim, but just accessible enough to gather a small, devoted following. Both also had a member who courted the mainstream. For the Velvets, it would be Lou “the original rock and roll pervert” Reed. For Gang Starr, you’ve got one the most influential mainstream producers of the 90's, DJ Premier. Even the monotone delivery of Gang Starr lyricist Guru echoes Lou Reed’s disaffected Noo Yawka street-level speech to an extent.
Of course, comparing Gang Starr and the Velvet Underground is about as pointless as comparing the theological teachings of the Pope and an Ayatollah. Do I really need to tell you the difference" My point is that you can relate anything to anything. And in the spirit of that dubious statement, let’s talk Tears for Fears, and Norm Peterson and New York hip hop.
is Gang Starr’s third album, and in many ways, predicts the direction of then-forthcoming hip hop classics like Illmatic
, Ready to Die
and Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)
. In fact, Daily Operation
is directly responsible for two of those, without question. Illmatic
and Ready to Die
bear the unmistakable mark of DJ Premier, who played a role in the production of both albums. But unlike those and other 1994 gems, Daily Operation
didn’t quite manage the same commercial appeal.
Together, the duo of Guru and Premier simply does not cater to the mainstream of any generation. The candid, outspoken nature of Guru’s rhymes plays a large part in this; his perspective is often presented in the form of scathing critiques on mainstream culture’s ills. On “Soliloquy of Chaos,” he vents about a street kid who causes a violent ruckus at a live performance, effectively quashing his chance to turn the place out. The first verse, told in a textbook narrative, leads into the second verse, a slightly abstract damning of street violence in general. “Conspiracy” is heavier on the straight-up preaching, which is perhaps one of Gang Starr’s biggest contributions to underground rap. For better or worse, I suppose.
Combine Guru’s heady rhymes with the fact that Premier has perhaps more grit here than anywhere else in his catalogue, and you’ve got a formula for a cult-hit. While Premier always sticks closely to a raw, elastic sound, he’s in especially full effect here. Daily Operation
hops from smooth jazz-inflected sampling to freestyle scratching to left-field, avant trickery, often on the same track. “Hardcore Composer” is the perfect instance; The track opens on a steady, laid-back beat with light scratching thrown in under Guru’s verses, only to slide into a sample that sounds like a piano pratfall. His standard fall back, however, is the perfectly cut loop as heard on “B.Y.S.” or “2 Deep.”
Like all the great hip hop duos, Premier and Guru build off and accentuate each other’s strongest characteristics. Since Guru excels at penning a strong verse but not so much at writing a solid hook, Premier fills choruses with well-placed turntable handiwork and clever vocal samples. “Ex Girl to Next Girl” captures this perfectly and shows off Guru’s ability to coin a sweet catchphrase. Same deal on both counts with “Flip the Script,” another token hip hop phrase that’s been employed by more than a couple MCs.
Arguably the greatest moment of Daily Operation
comes from neither of the group’s two members, though. “I’m the Man” is a posse track, or a small one at least. Guru and DJ Premier bring a couple of their boys on for the four-minute three-verse banger but it’s Jeru the Damaja who rips it in the end. After an nod-worthy Guru verse and a sub-passable note from Lil Dap, Jeru comes out in full glory, one minute of pure hip hop perfection. Premier shows off his versatility by switching up the track between every MC, which gives the song a live-take feel. And when the beat for Jeru pops in, a rollicking bass line coupled with brass stabs, it’s like akodhflksjdhflas. So he does it right:
MCs step up in mobs to defeat us when
We rock knots and got props like Norm Peterson
Lots of friends, lots of fun, lots of beers
Got the skills, kreeno so I always get cheers
Troop on like a trooper, no Tears for Fears
I'm a get mines cuz the crew'll get theirs
Cut you up like Edward Scissorhands
You know the program, I'm the mutha***in' man
Whether or not that scans perfectly from a poetic standpoint doesn’t really matter since Jeru’s flow explodes like a beretta blast to the forehead.
might not amount to much more than 18 tracks of influence to some, but a willing and schooled ear will hear not only seeds, but also the redwood trees themselves. Certainly Gang Starr’s impact on their genre is large but execution here is as flawless here as on anything that came afterwards. We're not talking nostalgic hero worship here. The Guru’s molasses-creamy lyrical mode comes as a step in the evolution of the unmelodic MC; although he lacks the energy and emotion of other rappers, his strength is as, he says, all in the voice. DJ Premier’s beats need no defense, they speak for themselves. Combined, it’s like Wonder Twins, without the sissy rings.
Don’t think you can relate" Anything to anything, baby.