10 Best Gang Starr Songs Of All Time

Gang Starr Songs

Feature Photo: Mika Väisänen, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Our 10 Best Gang Starr Songs Of All Time looks at a group hailing from Brooklyn, New York, Gang Starr, formed in 1985. They were not just a hip-hop group; they were a movement. MC Guru, born Keith Elam in Boston, Massachusetts in 1962, and DJ Premier, born Christopher Martin in Houston, Texas in 1962, crafted a sound that seamlessly blended jazz samples, introspective lyrics, and boom-bap beats, paving the way for a new era of East Coast hip-hop.

Their 1989 debut album, No More Mr. Nice Guy, served as a manifesto, introducing their signature style and earning them critical acclaim. Tracks like “Words I Manifest” and “Jazz Thing” showcased Guru’s sharp wordplay and Premier’s masterful production, establishing Gang Starr as lyrical giants and influential trendsetters.

Throughout the 90s, Gang Starr reigned supreme. Albums like Daily Operation (1992), Hard to Earn (1994), and Moment of Truth (1998) became hip-hop staples, yielding iconic singles like “Mass Appeal,” “Take It Personal,” and “Full Clip.” Their collaborations with legends like Busta Rhymes and Nas cemented their collaborative prowess, while their lyrical focus on social issues and introspective reflection set them apart from the commercialized gangsta rap dominating the airwaves.

Their impact extends far beyond their own discography. Gang Starr inspired countless artists, from J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar to Jay-Z and Kanye West. Their influence is evident in the resurgence of boom-bap aesthetics and introspective lyricism in contemporary hip-hop. Awards like the Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group (“Moment of Truth”) and the BMI Urban Music Award for Song of the Year (“Mass Appeal”) are testaments to their enduring legacy.

But to truly understand Gang Starr’s magic, you need to delve into their music. Prepare to be transported to the gritty streets of Brooklyn, immersed in soulful jazz samples, and captivated by Guru’s insightful storytelling and Premier’s sonic wizardry. Now, let’s explore ten of Gang Starr’s finest tracks, a journey through the golden age of hip-hop and the unwavering legacy of a true hip-hop duo.

10. “Full Clip” (September 24, 1999, Full Clip: A Decade of Gang Starr, DJ Premier, Guru)

Released as the lead single for their greatest hits compilation, “Full Clip” embodies the essence of Gang Starr’s boom-bap mastery and Guru’s lyrical prowess. Premier crafts a head-nodding beat with crisp drums, jazzy samples, and a haunting hook courtesy of Donnie Hathaway. Guru, in peak form, spits fire, showcasing his storytelling skills and introspective wordplay as he reflects on his career and hip-hop’s evolution. The song peaked at #26 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #5 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, cementing its status as a fan favorite and hip-hop anthem.

9. “Moment of Truth” (September 22, 1998, Moment of Truth, DJ Premier, Guru)

The title track of their 1998 masterpiece, “Moment of Truth” finds Gang Starr at their most introspective. Guru delves into personal struggles and societal issues, questioning materialism and hypocrisy in a world obsessed with image. Premier’s atmospheric production amplifies Guru’s message, blending jazzy samples with mournful strings and echoing chants. The song garnered critical acclaim, winning a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group and solidifying its place as a hip-hop landmark.

8. “Above the Clouds” (September 22, 1998, Moment of Truth, DJ Premier, Guru)

This soulful collaboration with J. Dilla finds Gang Starr soaring above the negativity of the streets. Guru and Dilla trade verses, offering words of wisdom and encouragement, urging listeners to seek higher ground and embrace life’s possibilities. Premier’s uplifting production, featuring swirling keyboards and a soaring gospel choir, perfectly complements the message of hope and perseverance. “Above the Clouds” resonated with fans and critics alike, becoming a beloved track in Gang Starr’s discography.

7. “Code of the Streets” (October 11, 1994, Hard to Earn, DJ Premier, Guru)

From the iconic opening piano sample to Guru’s poignant storytelling, “Code of the Streets” paints a vivid picture of life in the inner city. Guru tackles themes of loyalty, survival, and the harsh realities of street life, weaving a cautionary tale about the seductive power of the hustle. Premier’s minimalist yet impactful production underscores the gravity of the lyrics, making “Code of the Streets” a powerful commentary on social issues and a highlight of Gang Starr’s socially conscious output.

6. “Royalty” (September 22, 1998, Moment of Truth, DJ Premier, Guru)

Sampling The Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” “Royalty” finds Guru celebrating the strength and resilience of black women. He paints them as queens, pillars of the community, and sources of unconditional love. Premier’s smooth production, featuring swirling strings and soulful horns, creates a celebratory atmosphere that reflects the song’s uplifting message. “Royalty” resonated deeply with fans, becoming an anthem for female empowerment and a testament to Guru’s respect for women.

# 5 – “Take It Personal” (September 12, 1994, Hard to Earn)

This fierce diss track aimed at Nas is one of Gang Starr’s most aggressive and confrontational offerings. Guru unleashes lyrical fire, targeting Nas’s personal life, career, and even his rhymes, delivering a scathing attack that is both sonically and lyrically powerful. Premier’s menacing beat builds a tense atmosphere with pounding drums, horns, and Guru’s gravelly vocals commanding attention. While controversial due to its personal nature, “Take It Personal” remains a masterclass in lyrical dexterity and showcases Gang Starr’s unapologetic edge. It peaked at #23 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and is considered one of the greatest diss tracks ever.

4. “Mass Appeal” (June 1, 1994, Hard to Earn, DJ Premier, Guru)

The lead single from their 1994 album, Hard to Earn, “Mass Appeal” is a quintessential Gang Starr track that showcases the duo’s signature sound. Premier’s beat is a head-nodding blend of jazz samples, funky bass, and crisp drums, and Guru’s lyrics are a celebration of hip-hop culture and the power of music to connect people from all walks of life. The song was a critical and commercial success, peaking at #11 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and it won a BMI Urban Music Award for Song of the Year.

3. “Take It Personal” (September 12, 1994, Hard to Earn, DJ Premier, Guru)

This diss track directed at Nas is one of Gang Starr’s most aggressive and confrontational songs. Guru takes aim at Nas’s lyrics, his personal life, and his career, delivering a scathing attack that is both lyrically and sonically powerful. Premier’s beat is a menacing blend of menacing horns, pounding drums, and Guru’s gravelly vocals. “Take It Personal” was a critical and commercial success, peaking at #23 on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, and it is considered one of the greatest diss tracks of all time.

2. “Jazz Thing” (June 19, 1989, No More Mr. Nice Guy, DJ Premier, Guru)

The lead single from their debut album, “Jazz Thing” is a showcase for Gang Starr’s signature sound. Premier’s beat is a smooth blend of jazz samples, funky bass, and crisp drums, and Guru’s lyrics are a celebration of jazz music and its influence on hip-hop. The song was a critical and commercial success, peaking at #52 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it helped to establish Gang Starr as one of the most innovative and influential hip-hop groups of the late 80s.

1. “Step in the Arena” (October 17, 1991, Step in the Arena, DJ Premier, Guru)

The title track from their 1991 album, “Step in the Arena” is a classic example of Gang Starr’s aggressive and confrontational style. Guru’s lyrics are a call to arms for all aspiring MCs, challenging them to step up to the plate and prove themselves. Premier’s beat is a menacing blend of pounding drums, menacing horns, and Guru’s gravelly vocals. “Step in the Arena” was a critical and commercial success, peaking at #63 on the Billboard Hot 100, and it is considered one of the greatest hip-hop anthems of all time.

Sources:

Charting information used in the analysis and research of the commercial success of these songs comes from Billboard Magazine Charts

https://www.billboard.com/charts/

Other sources for important factual information include the band’s website

https://gangstarr.global/

Further analysis is provided by the writer’s experience as a fan (a very big fan), educator, and music journalist.

10 Best Gang Starr Songs Of All Time article published on HipHopGroove.com© 2024

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