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Published:April 25th, 2010 11:55 EST
Four Underground Hip-Hop Classics from the Late Guru of Gang Starr!

Four Underground Hip-Hop Classics from the Late Guru of Gang Starr!

By John G. Kays


Keith Elam, often identified popularly as Guru from the innovative Hip-Hop Unit known as Gang Starr, (as you well know) passed away last Monday from melanoma cancer. I`ve been rotating many of these classic tracks of Gang Starr over the past few days to see what I can see, and to hear what I can hear. The history of Hip-Hop`s a mystery to me, gettin` edge-a-ma-cat-ed so seriously.

Here`s a bit of analysis of what I believe to be Underground Hip Hop Classics. They have other (such as: Full Clip, Mass Appeal, Above the Clouds with JFK and JFK2LAX) classics too, but I chose these four, which punched me in the smacker a scintilla more than other scattin` ballistic-ally charged ions of word matter, scratchin` madness and sampled pusillanimous panoply. No matter, ON WITH SHOW!


This instant hip-hop classic was on the 2nd Gang Starr record, Step In the Arena, which came out in January of 1991, on Chrysalis/EMI Records. The tune is built `round a repeating bass riff that briskly trots in 4/4. Guru weaves an account of young brothers who must make some dough for their senior reps. Stick up kids is out to tax, a line by Greg Nice, is sampled at the end of each measure.

Guru says things as a matter of fact, but these kids see the gold chains and want a piece of the cheese for themselves. Kids scopin` out richer brothers for robbery. Wants the loot, but wants to pull himself up by his boot straps and get a reputation. And back around the way, he`ll have the chain on his neck, claimin` respect, just to get a rep.

This has the feel of an actual scene in the papers. Guru lays out the lines like a newspaper man. The last verse has ten brothers surrounding a poor kid to get his rings and a Rolex. A kid named Shorty pulls out a 38 and decides to pop the poor kid just for macho kicks. The black and white video does it justice. Is that the Brooklyn Bridge in the distance? Not from New York, sorry!


Scratchin`, bass a thumpin`, & sampled siren `gainst Guru tellin` it like it is. It`s like you need to have steel just to feel relaxation. Don`t mince his words. Need guns in the ghetto to protect yourself. Tons o` guns real easy to get. Tons o` guns bringing nothing but death. Eerie pathos to the siren sample, with a tat-to-tat-at-tat backdrop flow texture riveting through. Guru`s like a reporter from the Projects paintin` the scene blow by blow, automatic gunfire sprayin` the projects as we watch dumbfounded from the suburban sidelines.

22`s 25`s 44`s 45`s, Mack elevens ak`s taking mad lives. I remember what it was like in the early 1990s. I would hear automatic gunfire awake me in the night, from my bed, an apartment in the Fair Park District of Dallas. Things were comin` apart from gang violence. Guru just explainin` what he sees, no more. Bloods and Crips invade Dallas `bout `92? No phony baloney here-black & white hip hop, real vinyl scratchin`, chromium guns piled high to the sky. Smell of gunpowder oozin` from ya speakers, the strong r getting` stronger & the weak r getting` weaker (Guru rubbin` off on me!). 


By 1998, when Moment of Truth was released, Hip-Hop had gotten a bit commercial for Guru. He reclaims his throne as the ruler of this genre, with power and braggadocio, oh so clever, flowin` with natural rhymes that roll out like silk off his prodigious tongue. So as I have in the past, I whup ass droppin lyrics that be hotter than sex and candlewax. This is legitimate Hip-Hop; a smooth R & B keyboard sample with pulsing beat throbs `gainst liberation lines.

Off the track, that`s what Guru is saying here. On the microphone you know that I`m one of the best yet, Some punks, ain`t paid all of their debts yet. It`s like he holds the Gospel, Man! Style more tangible, and images more real. For some time now, I`ve held the scrolls and manuscripts. Too many DJs and MCs, false prophets of Rap crowdin` in on Guru. Just protecting his territory; legacy preserved from the stool I`m sittin` on! 


A play on words, yes. Guru gets heavy on this one (from The Moment of Truth). Wants to level society of corruption. Squeeze the juice out, of all the suckers with power, and pour some back out, so as to water the flowers. Devilish forces are ruining the black community. Guru takes a militant stance much like Malcolm X, and wants to purge these exploiters from his culture. He wants control of his art too; hip-hop is gettin` polluted (1998) with Greedy Suckers.

Guru extols himself here, he`s a savior for his community. His creativity with words can liberate his Brothers. Design my thoughts like a sculpture. Guru is a Donatello with words. He`s a Pied Piper for the oppressed. I`m sent to be, leadin` the army of the century. By this theory, it`s okay to rob the rich, if you give back to poor. Slower pensive rhymes against DJ Premier`s loopin` sample key-tones. Nothin` short of nonchalance of street revolution.

This world is ours, that`s why the demons are leary, It`s our inheritance; this is my robbin hood theory "robbin hood theory.


New York hip hop is different from West Coast hip hop. Ya know this. We`ll see what the verdict is for serious students of hip-hop, I`m but a novice, but this isn`t cop-out Gangsta Rap! More organic. The form itself is on the decline. Gang Starr, as I see it, is a natural creative outburst that emerges forth from an unstable social condition that existed in the black community in the 1990s.

I like it much more than say, MC Hammer or Public Enemy. These songs are truthful, like news reports from the scratchy street. We will have to see how Gang Starr fits into the Bigger Picture of Hip-Hop? Gettin` more distance now from its introduction (DJ Cool Herc started it off). But just like we had Underground in Rock, so we have Underground in Hip-Hop, with Guru and DJ Premier.