Less than six weeks ago, Hip-Hop Heads suddenly learned that a Gang Starr album was on its way. DJ Premier had spent more than a year producing songs around previously unreleased vocals from his longtime creative partner, Guru. The MC/producer had passed away in 2010, nearly seven years removed from the duo’s previous LP, The Ownerz. Now, approaching a decade since Guru departed, Gang Starr’s legacy lives on through One Of The Best Yet. The new collection of songs and interludes involves some of the group’s closest affiliates, along with some noteworthy Rap peers that stand for the duo’s everlasting message.
Earlier this week, a New York Times report by Paul Cantor revealed that this TTT/Gang Starr Enterprises LP may be the first of two potential albums from the group. Regardless of when and where these verses were recorded, O.O.T.B.Y. has messages that feel destined for the Rap group that Guru (as “Keithy E”) had co-founded in 1980s. The J. Cole-assisted “Family And Loyalty” plays like a decree to the Gang Starr brotherhood, complete with Big Shug in the video (as well as Guru’s son). Shug was with Guru back in the first iteration of Gang Starr, in mid-1980s Boston. He remained a fixture in Gang Starr Foundation after Premier and Guru had carried on the group together, meeting in New York City later in the decade
Like “Family And Loyalty,” album closer “Bless The Mic” is another prophetic reminder of the Gang Starr bond. “Whether wrong or right / A lot of people fight / But I’m here the mic,” Guru raps in what has become the chorus. Those words carry perspective for a complicated period between 2003 and 2010 for the two men. Guru’s verses flaunt the kind of wisdom that Elam loved serving “dumb rappers” on songs like “Speak Ya Clout” and “Just To Get A Rep.” For this listener, it is hard to imagine the song recorded to any other beat. It has that tailor-made chemistry that outlasted trends in Hip-Hop, a changing business model, and so much more that the industry witnessed between 1989 and 2010. Through their respective mediums, these men are communicating with each other, getting the last word to their brilliant history.
One Of The Best Yet also allows proper sendoffs from affiliates like Jeru The Damja and Group Home. These artists became Gang Starr’s proteges, eventually stepping away on later albums. “What’s Real” with Lil Dap and Melachi The Nutcracker has that trip down the New York back-streets. Royce 5’9 joins the moment, a disciple from the dark imagery of Group Home, and Preemo’s more recent beneficiary, thanks to PRhyme. As he did so well during the mid-1990s, Jeru hits the pocket of “From A Distance” with his nimble flow and distinct brand of lyrical substance. Billy Danze and Lil Fame give the M.O.P.-assisted “Lights Out” two shining verses. Freddie Foxxx and Shug honor “The Militia” series with a fourth installment, with some fresh raw denim bars, over-top some crisp scratches and pounding percussion. Bumpy Knuckles warns that out of love for Guru, he will “never let Solar rest” in an impassioned display of menacing rhyming in the tradition of 1998’s career-changing Moment Of Truth appearance.
Pre-album single “Bad Name” stands tall within this body of work. Guru’s love for Hip-Hop culture permeated everything he did. Repping for fallen comrades Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur, Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal’s call for better behavior in the community sounds brand new and relatable. Those sentiments echo on “So Many Rappers,” as well as the brief-but-potent “Bring It Back Here.” So many of these songs defy feeling 10-plus years old, a testament to Guru’s pen and plausibly, the behind-the-scenes surgery of Premier. This group had intricate ways of making its albums in Calliope and D&D Studios from the very beginning. Now, with Guru’s ashes at the control panel, that chemistry still bubbles at Queens’ HeadQCourterz, named after another fallen Gang Starr family member.
Gang Starr’s impact on Hip-Hop cannot be understated; DJ Premier and Guru’s love and brotherhood can never be undone. Heads have known these facts for decades. One Of The Best Yet is a pleasant reminder for your speakers.