Moving like a hot-rod hooptie down a spooky back street, Gang Starr's fifth album, Moment Of Truth, is a musical-terrorist manifesto to hip-hop listeners whose revved-up feelings of joy and hope have started settling into symptoms of pre-millennium tension.
The 18-song set is Gang Starr's maiden voyage on Noo Trybe Records, and with its evolved rhyme schemes and extended textural depth, it's the group's most assured work to date. Since debuting in 1986, Gang Starr has consistently ranked among hip-hop's most respected, and Moment Of Truth confirms beyond a reasonable doubt that its mastery only increases over time. "It's all about evolution, revolution and rehabilitation," offers GURU, the crew's frosty-voiced frontman who says he became an even better MC today by staying steadily focused and practicing by himself as well as with members of his crew. "I find salvation in performing the art of rap," he explains. "It is serious to me, like going to war."
GURU's prolific producer-partner, Premier (who has supervised classic tracks for the likes of Jeru, O.C., KRS-ONE, Jay-Z, Nas, Rakim, The Lady of Rage, and the late Notorious B.I.G.), also constantly strives to increase buoyancy. "I feel people have high expectations of us," he says. "That's why I be wantin' to always still bring it right. Hip-hop as an artform is in chaos right now, and me and GURU feel a responsibility to protect it from being completely destroyed. It started as an alternative to gangs, as a way for people to free themselves. And now that it's a million-dollar industry, it's being exploited and controlled. We've always tried to maintain hip-hop's founding values, and that's something about us that will never change."
Sustaining the art within a crumbling artform, Gang Starr has recorded four previous albums: No More Mr. Nice Guy on Wild Pitch Records; and Step In The Arena, Daily Operation, and Hard To Earn for Chrysalis / EMI Records. These classic collections, praised for their heartfelt consciousness and soulful execution, exuded a sort of blunted science and clammy-palmed emotion. And although after the songs "Jazz Music" from No More Mr. Nice Guy, and "Jazz Thing" from the soundtrack of director Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues, the group was tagged as being "jazz rappers," Gang Starr's mode of expression has always stayed steadfastly focused at the heart of hip-hop and on building the next steps toward a culture that's more unified, mature and spiritual.
Chart-topping jams like "Just To Get A Rep," "Mass Appeal," the all-time classic "Dwyck (featuring Nice and Smooth)," and "Code Of The Streets" skipped and bounced like high-tension rubber balls as they vividly detailed varied street scenes, all the while stressing self-determination as a way of overcoming ghetto traps. "How to stay focused and eliminate obstacles that keep you from achieving your goals, and how to promote love while still being strong is what Gang Starr is about," says GURU. "A lot people aren't trying to see a future like me and Premier do. Our purpose is to let them know that, yo!, a future does exist."
Writing in the Village Voice, critic Greg Tate stated, "Gang Starr goes on the box when you want to hear the dopest sound of our time.... They treat hardcore as an evolved idiom with verities that speak for themselves."
Premier (or Primo, as his homies call him) rejects the commercial baggage that holds down so much creativity. "I don't care about the charts no more," he says. "I just care about the mutherfuckas on the street bangin' our music. It's for all the people still in the struggle that really don't like a lot of the shit that's being played now."
And GURU (whose moniker stands for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal) calls Moment Of Truth a survival kit for the urban junglist: "It represents the continuation of something that's supposed to be strong, opinionated, peaceful, loving and understanding--but with a warrior mentality," he explains.
Songs include "The Rep Grows Bigga," which colorfully describes that rich & shameless ghetto celebrity lifestyle; "Above The Clouds," a cut featuring Inspectah Deck of the Wu-Tang Clan, displays ill flows and ultimate skills; "Royalty," featuring K-Ci & JoJo; "Betrayal," featuring Scarface; "JFK to LAX," which elaborates on how Gang Starr gets mad love from NY to Cali, and how the struggle continues. The album also features other underground talents such as Krumbsnatcha on "Make 'Em Pay" and Hannibal on "The Set-Up."
Each jam perfectly embodies the Gang Starr logo--an eight point star attached to links of a chain. GURU says it symbolizes the principles of street knowledge, intellect and spirituality.
Both GURU and Premier attended college--GURU, a Boston native, attended Morehouse, where he acquired a degree in business administration; Premier, who hails from Brooklyn, studied computer science at Texas' Prairie View University. But they also matriculated on the rough-and-tumble streets of New York, where they originally met. "I put myself in a position to know what I was gonna be rhyming about," says GURU. "I felt if I was gonna do this, then I've got to live it."
And so as they advance down the hip-hop-highway, the members of Gang Starr maintain a keen sense of purpose, never swerving. Over the years, caravans of eager rap chaps have eclipsed them. But they remain unfazed. A steady, even course. "And you see those brothers passing us now? We're comin' up on 'em. Watch the wreck as we go by!"