I remember watching Rap City one evening when a video came on called “Just To Get A Rep” by a group I’d never heard of before. There was an MC and a DJ which was still pretty popular in 1991. The song and the beat were both potent and I enjoyed it to say the least. The DJ went by Premier and later to most fans as simply Premo. As great as the production was and I’m a huge fan of samples, especially jazz samples, this wasn’t the highlight. The star of this video was the MC, who went by the name of GURU. Of course I didn’t know their names at the time because as the video was going off, Gang Starr flashed across the screen. Man, the video was in Black and White and it was gritty. I’m a sucker for good storytelling as well so this alone was refreshing. GURU had a voice that you couldn’t ignore. I had an instant love for their sound so I went to the Record Store later that week to find out more about this duo. Back in the early 90’s, going to the actual Record Store was a big deal. It was an experience that is non-existent today but trust me; actually walking around looking at album covers (Vinyl, Tapes and/or CD’s) throughout the store soaking in the vibe was magical to a hip hop kid.
After being directed to the section where Gang Starr’s music could be found, I noticed there were two albums from these guys. I was there to find the album that had “Just To Get A Rep” on it. The album with this song was called Step In The Arena. On a side note, I ended up listening to this album for probably a month straight in my Walkman. I still know every word to every song from Step In The Arena more than 25 years later. I promise you, this is no exaggeration. Ok, back to my Record Store experience. What I learned was two years prior, Gang Starr had released their 1989 debut No More Mr. Nice Guy. I had no choice but to purchase both. I thought the debut was dope and I still listen to Manifest to this day, even though Step In The Arena became my “go to” album along with A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory. Over the next decade I became a huge follower of the Gang Starr Foundation. I appreciate the great music found on Group Home’s Livin Proof and Jeru Da Damaja’s The Sun Rises In The East. With that said, it was GURU who kept my attention with his knowledge, lyrics, persona and overall respect for the craft of MCing and hip hop in general.
As I write this piece, Gang Starr’s Mass Appeal is blasting from my speakers. GURU never disappointed me with his approach to crafting songs. GURU was a true fan of music. You could tell that his influence contained a lot of history from musicians from various genres. You can see this vividly in his Jazzmatazz Projects. During Gang Starr’s run of tremendous albums, GURU released several Jazz influenced solo projects with various artist from Jazz, Hip Hop, Alternative and Soul. Youtube the track JUST ME featuring N'Dea Davenport as a reference. These ventures make GURU one of the most diverse and well rounded Rappers in the history of hip hop in my humble opinion. Gang Starr (Premo and GURU) loved Jazz and you could hear it in their sound even though to me, Premo is the King of Boom Bap. The only other group at that time who had similar samples to me was Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest. Eventually Souls Of Mischief, The Pharcyde, and Digable Planets followed similar footsteps.
GURU is also one of the most underrated MC’s of all time. His performance on Gang Starr’s Daily Operation, Hard To Earn and Moment of Truth were stellar. I always appreciated MC’s who took their time and put out quality. GURU is overlooked when greatest MC’s are discussed from a historical perspective. I have been guilty of this crime in the past as well. I’m actually ashamed by this error. I put together the 30 Greatest MC’s of All Time two months ago on this very website and omitted GURU. To be honest, it was an oversight but GURU has been overlooked for over 2 decades. My college roommate is a huge GURU fan and told me he should be mentioned with Rakim, KRS, KANE and the other great MC’s from the Golden Era. GURU put enough quality work in and earned his stripes. The institution of Gang Starr is monumental. The influence is not just the beats and production of Premo. GURU held his own over amazing production and as a duo, not many can compete. You could argue that from a body of work perspective, GURU and Premo are the greatest duo in Rap history. If not, they are in the same arena as EPMD and Mobb Deep.
GURU also reminded me of Chuck D as they always presented themselves as “Grown Men”. GURU never came off like a clown, corny, desperate, a fraud or anything that would disrespect our genre. GURU was as authentic of an MC as I've ever heard and nothing was forced or out of place. GURU dropped knowledge and was one of the fathers of the "Intelligent MC". As I write this paragraph, I’m listening to a track called What You Expected by DJ Honda featuring GURU. Man, this is how hip hop is supposed to sound! I can’t imagine hip hop without Gang Starr! I can’t imagine Hip Hop without GURU! GURU should be celebrated. GURU passed away on April 19, 2010 at the age of 48. True hip hop fans understood the huge loss that was suffered with his death, but not the casual fans. When you think about Rap Legends that have passed away, names such as Biggie, Tupac, Big L, Eazy E, Big Pun and Heavy D are generally mentioned but I miss GURU just the same. If you're a younger hip hop enthusiast I would recommend researching Gang Starr and GURU. If you truly love hip hop, you should have something from his legacy in your catalog. God bless and rest in peace to the Gifted, Unlimited, Rhymes and Universal one…….
Top 20: Gang Starr's Greatest Songs (R.I.P. Guru)