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Gang Starr

The most influential MC-and-DJ tandem of the 1990s, Gang Starr set new standards for East Coast rap with a pair of early-'90s touchstones, Step in the Arena (1991) and Daily Operation (1992), whose appeal has only grown over the decades. Beginning with these classic releases, both listeners and critics heaped mounds of praise upon Guru and DJ Premier -- the former because of his socially conscious lyrics and no-nonsense stance, the latter because of his DJ-style beat-making and jazzy sound. Following Step in the Arena and Daily Operation, Premier became one of New York's most demanded producers, crafting hits for the city's finest MCs, including the Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Jay-Z, and KRS-One. Guru likewise collaborated with plenty of well-known artists -- Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd, N'Dea Davenport -- on his solo debut, Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1 (1993), and its series of follow-ups. Following Hard to Earn (1994) -- the duo's fourth Gang Starr collaboration overall -- Guru and Premier began focusing primarily on their solo projects, reuniting infrequently -- too infrequently, many fans felt -- for albums such as Moment of Truth (1998) and The Ownerz (2003). During this period of solo activity, Gang Starr became increasingly recognized as a touchstone, one that critics and hip-hop purists frequently cited as a standard-bearer for streetwise, socially conscious East Coast rap.

Guru (born Keith Edward Elam on July 17, 1966, in Boston, MA; died following a battle with cancer on April 19, 2010) and Premier (born Christopher Edward Martin on March 21, 1966, in Houston, TX) began working together in 1989. Guru had founded Gang Starr a couple years earlier, in 1987, and had already established a working relationship with Wild Pitch Records. The partnership of Guru and Premier as Gang Starr led to a formative debut album, No More Mr. Nice Guy (1989), and its featured single, "Words I Manifest." The DJ-spotlight track "DJ Premier in Deep Concentration" is another highlight of the album, which spent years out of print. Between albums, in 1990, Guru and Premier contributed a song, "Jazz Thing," to the Mo' Better Blues soundtrack. Gang Starr subsequently moved to Chrysalis Records for their second album, Step in the Arena (1991), on which they perfected the approach of their debut, that is, a stark, hard-hitting jazz-rap production style, complete with Premier's masterful DJ cutting, over which Guru's battle-rap-hardened yet smoothly delivered lyrics -- often thoughtful, sly, and streetsmart -- take flight. Gang Starr's third album, Daily Operation (1992), furthered the duo's approach stylistically; widely considered an East Coast rap classic, it's arguably Guru and Premier's finest work, along with its predecessor.

Beginning in 1993, Guru and Premier began working separately. Guru's debut album, Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1 (1993), took the so-called jazz-rap style to a new level, featuring jazz musicians such as Lonnie Liston Smith, Branford Marsalis, Ronny Jordan, Donald Byrd, and Roy Ayers, along with guest vocalists such as N'Dea Davenport (of the Brand New Heavies) and MC Solaar (of French rap fame). Meanwhile, Premier produced six tracks for KRS-One's solo debut, Return of the Boom Bap (1993); moreover, in 1994 he proceeded to produce three tracks for Nas' debut, Illmatic ("N.Y. State of Mind," "Memory Lane [Sittin' in da Park]," "Represent"); two for the Notorious B.I.G.'s debut, Ready to Die ("Unbelievable," an unreleased remix of "Machine Gun Funk"); five for the self-titled debut of Branford Marsalis' Buckshot LeFonque project; the entirety of Jeru the Damaja's debut, The Sun Rises in the East; and also a handful of remixes for various artists. Amid all of this activity, Guru and Premier found time to record their fourth album, Hard to Earn (1994), which was more hardcore-fashioned -- as was the style at the time, in the wake of Death Row's uprising -- than past Gang Starr albums and, also unlike past efforts, featured guest rappers. The album spawned the duo's biggest hit to date, "Mass Appeal," their first to break the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (peaking at number 67).

Following Hard to Earn, Guru and Premier resumed their solo activity. Guru released Jazzmatazz, Vol. 2: The New Reality (1995) and a various-artists compilation, Guru Presents Ill Kid Records (1995), while Premier produced the bulk of Livin' Proof (1995), the debut of Gang Starr affiliates Group Home (a duo comprised of Lil' Dap and Melachi the Nutcracker, who both had been featured on Hard to Earn). Also in 1995, Premier produced three tracks on KRS-One, the rapper's second solo album; and two tracks on Hold It Down, the third album by Das EFX; as well as assorted remixes and one-off productions. While Guru remained more or less inactive during 1996-1997, releasing no solo albums, Premier stayed busy, producing the entirety of Jeru the Damaja's second album, Wrath of the Math (1996); five tracks on Bahamadia's debut, Kollage (1996); six on M.O.P.'s second album, Firing Squad (1996); three on Jay-Z's debut, Reasonable Doubt (1996) ("D'evils," "Friend or Foe," "Bring It On"); one on Nas' second album, It Was Written (1996) ("I Gave You Power"); two on Jay-Z's second album, In My Lifetime, Vol. 1 (1997) ("A Million & One Questions," "Friend or Foe '98"); two on the Notorious B.I.G.'s second album, Life After Death (1997) ("Kick in the Door," "Ten Crack Commandments"); four on O.C.'s second album, Jewelz (1997); two on Rakim's solo debut, The 18th Letter (1997); two on the Lady of Rage's debut, Necessary Roughness (1997); and more.

In 1998, after four years between albums, Gang Starr returned with Moment of Truth, their first album to chart number one (on the R&B/Hip-Hop album chart, that is; it peaked at number six overall, still their best showing commercially to date). Moment of Truth was a significant departure from past Gang Starr efforts, very much contemporary in style; for example, the album features numerous guests (Inspectah Deck, Scarface, G. Dep, K-Ci & JoJo, M.O.P.) and bore little trace of the duo's jazz-rap beginnings. The lead single, "You Know My Steez," became the second Gang Starr hit to break into the Billboard Hot 100 chart (peaking at number 76). A double-disc retrospective, Full Clip: A Decade of Gang Starr (1999), subsequently marked the duo's ten-year anniversary. In the years that followed, Guru and Premier continued to focus on their own work. Guru continued his Jazzmatazz series, beginning with a third volume, Streetsoul, in 2000; he also released solo rap albums, beginning with Baldhead Slick & da Click (2001). The next Guru release, Version 7.0: The Street Scriptures, arrived in 2005 on his new label, 7 Grand Records; the album featured beats by Solar, who would prove to be an important contributor on additional 7 Grand releases. The fourth volume of Jazzmatazz, including the typical array of guest vocalists and instrumentalists, was issued in the summer of 2007, along with the "raw" companion disc Guru's Jazzmatazz - The Timebomb: Back to the Future Mixtape. Guru 8.0: Lost and Found, the rapper's next 7 Grand full-length, followed in 2009. Premier continued his production activity, working with superstars such as Jay-Z, Nas, and Common, as well as underground rappers such as Royce da 5'9", Termanology, and NYG'z; he even dabbled in mainstream pop, most notably working extensively with Christina Aguilera on her double-disc album Back to Basics (2006).

As for Gang Starr, Guru and Premier did reunite for The Ownerz (2003), a celebrated return to form, but the reunion proved short-lived, leaving back-catalog collections such as Mass Appeal: The Best of Gang Starr (2006) to fill the void. Sadly, Guru died at age 43 on April 19, 2010 after battling cancer, suffering a heart attack, and for a time falling into a coma. ~ Jason Birchmeier
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Mass Appeal: The Best Of Gang Starr (Explicit)

1. Manifest

2. Step In The Arena

3. Put Up Or Shut Up

4. Skills

5. Code Of The Streets

6. Ex Girl To Next Girl

7. Soliloquy Of Chaos

8. The Militia

9. Above The Clouds

10. Check The Technique

11. Royalty

12. Love Sick

13. Take It Personal

14. Now You're Mine

15. Just To Get A Rep

16. B.Y.S.

17. Mass Appeal

18. Dwyck

19. Natural

20. Tha Squeeze

x

Track List: The Ownerz (Explicit)

1. Intro

2. Put Up Or Shut Up

3. Werdz From The Ghetto Child

4. Sabotage

5. Rite Where U Stand

6. Skills

7. Deadly Habitz

8. Nice Girl, Wrong Place

9. Peace of Mine

10. Who Got Gunz

11. Capture (Militia Pt. 3)

12. PLAYTAWIN

13. Riot Akt

14. (Hiney)

15. Same Team, No Games

16. In This Life

17. The Ownerz

18. Zonin'

19. Eulogy

x

Track List: Full Clip: A Decade Of Gang Starr

Disc 1

1. Intro

2. Full Clip

3. Discipline

4. Words I Manifest (Remix)

5. Ex Girl To Next Girl

6. I'M The Man

7. Mass Appeal

8. Jazz Thing (Video Mix)

9. The Militia

10. Tonz 'O' Gunz

11. Royalty

12. Who' Gonna Take The Weight

13. You Know My Steez

14. Above The Clouds

15. Just To Get A Rep

16. Dwyck

Disc 2

1. All 4 Tha Cash

2. Step In The Arena

3. Work

4. Soliloquy Of Chaos

5. Take It Personal

6. Speak Ya Clout

7. Gotta Get Over

8. 1/2 & 1/2

9. The ? Remainz

10. Code Of The Streets

11. So Wassup?

12. Now You're Mine

13. Betrayel

14. B.Y.S

15. Credit Is Due

x

Track List: Moment Of Truth (Explicit)

1. You Know My Steez

2. Robbin Hood Theory

3. Work

4. Royalty

5. Above The Clouds

6. JFK 2 LAX

7. Itz A Set Up

8. Moment Of Truth

10. The Militia

11. The Rep Grows Bigga

12. What I'm Here 4

13. She Knowz What She Wantz

14. New York Strait Talk

15. My Advice 2 You

16. Make 'Em Pay

17. The Mall

18. Betrayal

19. Next Time

20. In Memory Of...

x

Track List: Hard To Earn

1. Intro (The First Step)

2. Alongwaytogo

3. Code Of The Streets

4. Brainstorm

5. Tonz 'O' Gunz

6. The Planet

7. Aiiight Chill ...

8. Speak Ya Clout

9. DWYCK

10. Words From The Nutcracker

11. Mass Appeal

12. Blowin' Up The Spot

13. Suckas Need Bodyguards

14. Now You're Mine

15. Mostly Tha Voice

16. F.A.L.A.

17. Comin' For Datazz

x

Track List: Daily Operation

1. Daily Operation

2. The Place Where We Dwell

3. Flip The Script

4. Ex Girl To The Next Girl

5. Soliloquy Of Chaos

6. I'm The Man

7. 92 Interlude

8. Take It Personal

9. 2 Deep

10. 24-7/365

11. No Shame In My Game

12. Conspiracy

13. The Illest Brother

14. Hardcore Composer

15. B.Y.S.

16. Much Too Much

17. Take Two And Pass

18. Stay Tuned

x

Track List: Step In The Arena

1. Name Tag (Premier & The Guru)

2. Step In The Arena

3. Form Of Intellect

4. Execution Of A Chump (No More Mr. Nice Guy Pt. 2)

5. Who's Gonna Take The Weight?

6. Beyond Comprehension

7. Check The Technique

8. Love Sick

9. Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

10. Game Plan

11. Take A Rest

12. What You Want This Time?

13. Street Ministry

14. Just To Get A Rep

15. Say Your Prayers

16. As I Read My S-A

17. Precisely The Right Rhymes

18. The Meaning Of The Name

x

Track List: No More Mr. Nice Guy (Explicit)

1. Premier & The Guru

2. Jazz Music

3. Gotch U

4. Manifest

5. Gusto

6. DJ Premier In Deep Concentration

9. Conscience Be Free

10. Cause And Effect

11. 2 Steps Ahead

12. No More Mr. Nice Guy

13. Knowledge

14. Positivity

16. The Lesson

Comments

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Old school jawn
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WATTS 4- LIFE DEEP E/S 103RD..
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Trentonsfine s t p r t 5 % n a t i o n 4 e v e r d e a t h t o a l l d e v i l s b l a c k a n d w h i t e ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
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eags231
fire
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jyemaya
#r.i.p.guru
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Lyricist= THE MIGHTY GURU.. One of the most underated.. Much LOVE GURU N RIP FROM THE WEST.. The Bay
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Hhh
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Group home lil ni gga
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G-a-n-g to the the Starr son, you took this ish too far son. Guru is truly in his own category. Ya got DJ Premier, they got me hooked on cats like Jeru the Damaja, Lil Half Dead. And Full Clip? SICK!!
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Ya know summ'n
This cat ? MAD RESPECT! that's from a skinhead from Texas.
This guy fuckn kills IT
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enriquealdap e
One of the gods of rap
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Look up what the nwo is...its on the back of the dollar bill...once u know what it is...learn who the royal families are....then realize everything we know is a lie...flouri d e makes us stupid n not question things.....g m o s are bad n cloned animals are evil work....and whats in all this positive music of poison and things killing us along with the game being fake and real ppl dont get paid....and how people who talk about thier plan gets taken out....like tupac...mlk. . . a n d jfk...thats right the p
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CALI NIGG'AS GOT MASS APPEAL !..........
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WATTS N**GA'S GOT THOSE
SKILLS
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Im above the clouds niggar
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calhill156
N,v,
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CHI-REAL
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Had a chance to meet GURU...in yhe Chi with Little Fame from MOP Chilling with my homies on the block 93rs and Cottage grove....rea l n**gas...muc h love...one of Chicago's finest
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orutra123090
Moment of Truth is my favorite Gangstarr album.
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Dlp15. The apparatuse gets blessed.
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Dlp.15. Poets of the late 20th century. Peace and blessings guru.
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When people look back at the late 20th century theyll look back at you and others like you guru who did it in the 90,s.
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Some say I'm trifflin, sometimes i rightfully am, forget ya man, ima leave you there right where you stand
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Word.
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The ? Remainz. Straight Heat!
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Gang Starr Always on Deck!
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Miss you Rasta
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A Hip Hop legend. Still pumping Gangstarr religiously. F*Ck DJ Solar..
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Amazing Persona Rip Guru.
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RIP Guru! One of the greatest!
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Two of biggest heavyweights in game w/o question!
Almost 3 decades now & DJ Premier is still doin' da damn thang; droppin' certified bangers like clockwork!
Forever grateful for extensive body of work Guru left for ALL of us & future generations to dig thru. Guru's signature monotone flow will live on for eternity yo!
R.I.P. to one & only, Guru...
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He don't believe en Cripps n bloods yo ..lol
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Rest inn Peace Sir GURU
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RIP Guru! Your spirit will always live on your tracks! One Love One Music One People
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Dude was dope. Legend.
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RIP Guru one of the best MCs.
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R.i.p. kieth Guru Elam Gangstarr 4 life f**k dj aolar
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NO ONE ORIGINAL LIKE THEM R.I.P GURU....
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My s**t
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sul7an
R.i.p guru a.legend that kept it 100/and never changed forma the money.u are
Missed
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Guru and Premier are pure originals. The jazzy beats and mono tone voice was like magic together. The perfect combination like 1200. Daily Operation is one of my all time favorites. They opened doors in hiphop and showed another perspective. RIP never forget
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RIP GURU you are truly missed......
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Love President Kennedy at the beginning of this track
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Ivikknoiiii
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RIP GURU
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Real s**t from tallhassee
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Guru is one mc I never got to see in concert. I know I missed a hot mc rock tha Mic! Rest well brother!
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I DON'T KNOW WHAT THA HELL THEY ARE PLAYING TODAY..BUT THEY NEED TOO DO IS LEND A EAR TOOO THIS S**T!!! RIGHT HEAR MUCH KNOWLEDGE!!! !
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Just to get a rep is still banging 25 yrs later. Rest in paradise Guru!!!
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Saw GangStarr live in Hamburg, Germany in 1998 when they were performing tracks from 'Moment of Truth'. So dope! Pretty sure they rocked tracks from Hard to Earn too.
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