From the monthly archives:

April 2010

Guru is Gone: The 5 Best Gang Starr Songs

by Dave on April 23, 2010

in Musical

Photo by Jennifer Taylor Gang Starr is easily one of my top 5 favorite hip hop acts, evah. To die of cancer at age 43 is tragic whether you’re a streetwise rhyme spitter or a sanitation professional. Keith Elam will be sorely missed and I’d like to thank him for his exceptional work by listing my personal top 5 favorite Gang Starr tracks (not sure if there’s a specific order). Whether you’re hearing these for the umpteenth time or the very first – revel in the talent that was Guru (Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal) and Premier.

Click the song titles if you’d like to download the MP3.

5. Take It Personal
The first time I heard this was as a boarding student at Vermont Academy in 1992. My friend, Jamal, was from Brooklyn and had someone send him Daily Operation on cassette the day it was released. The tune blared out of his dorm room for the better part of a week and I’d never heard anything like the machine gun kick drums which make up the beat. The scratchy old time piano and manic scratching of the Brand Nubian sample on the chorus rocked my young world and does to this day.

"I can see through you, cause I’m the Guru. So what you gonna do when I start to step to you?"

4. Who’s Gonna Take The Weight?
The standout feature of this song is the borderline-nerve-grating steam whistle noise which DJ Premier manipulates throughout. This sort of sound would become a huge hip hop staple in the coming years. House of Pain, Cypress Hill and others were definitely influenced by this track and that’s a big reason why it makes my list. And I think there’s also an underlying message or something.

"I be plannin’ to be rammin’ what I wrote – straight on a plate down your throat."

This is one of the silliest songs and videos from the 1990’s “golden age” of hip hop – but goddamn it’s catchy, funky and has retained a place of honor on my iPod… since it was a walkman. A rare Gang Starr “party jam”, Hard To Earn ’s DWYCK features Nice n’ Smooth and references to everyone from Cassius Clay to John McClane himself. It’s an incredibly enduring classic. Period.

“Lemonade was a popular drink and it still is. I get more props and stunts than Bruce Willis.”

2. Words I Manifest
One of the singles off their first album, 1989’s No More Mr. Nice Guy , Manifest features a devastatingly catchy sample from A Night in Tunisia by Charlie Parker and was probably the first Gang Starr song I ever heard. The video sees Guru playing up his uncanny resemblance to Malcolm X, but thankfully he lightened up after the afro-centric 80s and settled for a baseball cap like everyone else. Such a great, early, seminal hip hop track.

“I suggest you take a breath for the words I manifest they will scold you and mold you, while I impress upon you…”

1. Mass Appeal My very favorite track from the classic canon of Gang Starr. Not an easy distinction to make but this song stands out for me amongst a slew of deserving options. DJ Premier is a master at sourcing stand out samples which no one has ever used, and the repeating riff he creates from a few keystrokes of Horizon Drive by Vic Juris is one of the best you’ll hear throughout the short history of hip hop.

”Word is bond I go on and on, for you it`s tragic, I got magic like wands.”

In closing all I can say is, “thank you, Guru”. My 15-year-old self thanks you, my 36-year-old self thanks you and I’m quite confident that when I’m old and as deaf as a doorknob… the hook from Mass Appeal will still be ringing clearly in my memories of one of the best there ever was.

More Guru Memorials Worth Reading:

  • DJ Treats: “I would go so far to say Gang Starr is the reason why I have a career as a DJ, and more importantly a full-time job in music journalism.”
  • Guru’s Brother: “At his bedside, I stood and stared at his overly frail frame, his head that he had kept clean-shaven for the last 20 years uncommonly covered with hair, his body connected to a sea of tubes and wires.”
  • Guru’s Personal Goodbye: “"I write this with tears in my eyes, not of sorrow but of joy for what a wonderful life I have enjoyed and how many great people I have had the pleasure of meeting."