Follow TV Tropes


Music / Gang Starr

Go To
Left: DJ Premier. Right: Guru.

"We just like cockroaches. Never dying. Always living."
DJ Premier, Moment of Truth album

Gang Starr was a Hip-Hop duo consisting of rapper Keith "Guru" Elam ("Guru" standing for Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal) from Boston, Massachusetts and producer Christopher Martin (aka DJ Premier) from Houston, Texas.

Gang Starr actually got their start in 1985. At this time, DJ Premier (then known as Waxmaster C) was not part of the group; instead, Guru founded it with DJ 1, 2 B-Down. In 1987 and '88, they released three singles on vinyl, one of which was called "The Lesson", on a label called Wild Pitch Records. The group finally split in 1989, though, and the only one left that carried its name was Guru.

However, that same year he got in contact with DJ Premier, who sent him a beat tape. He liked it so much, he invited Premier to be part of Gang Starr. He accepted.

Along with a new single, "Words I Manifest", the duo released their debut album No More Mr. Nice Guy. The next year, a former DJ, Duff Marlowe, signed them to Chrysalis Records. The album (and subsequent albums) popularized the usage of jazz samples in hip-hop throughout the early-mid '90s, effectively creating what is known as Jazz Rap.

Somewhere between Daily Operation and Hard to Earn, they created the Gang Starr Foundation, which isn't a rap group per se, but a group of individual rappers the duo liked and wanted to sign. Its initial lineup was Jeru the Damaja, Big Shug, Lil Dap, and Melachi the Nutcrackernote .

Also during this time. Guru began his Jazzmatazz series of albums, taking the "Jazz Rap" tag to its logical conclusion by working with jazz musicians and singers to create a true blend of jazz and hip-hop.

After a four-year gap, the duo finally released their fifth album, Moment Of Truth. Around the time the album was being made, Guru was charged with gun possession. The album is somewhat centered around this. note 

Gang Starr disbanded in 2003 after their last album The Ownerz. It's said that the two had a falling out, causing Guru to leave the duo. He continued to release solo albums after this.

In 2010, Guru died of multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer, shaking the hip-hop community to its foundations. DJ Premier did a tribute mix on his radio show called Live at Headquarterz in his honor.

These days, Premier, aside from hosting the aforementioned radio show, continues to produce for underground rap artists from all over the world, occasionally goes on tours (globally, even. He's played shows in Paris, Athens, and Osaka), and heads an underground label called Year Round Records. He has also started a collaboration project with Royce Da 5'9" called PRhyme. Do not compare them to Gang Starr, as Royce will have you know he does not intend to replace Guru.

In 2019, pigs flew, and a new Gang Starr single dropped out of nowhere: Family & Loyalty, featuring J. Cole. Even more shocking was the announcement of a brand new album from the duo: One Of The Best Yet, the group's first new album in nearly two decades, featuring unreleased vocals from Guru, a bevy of special guests, and new beats from Premier.

Not to be confused with the 1980s cartoon Bravestarr.



  • Added Alliterative Appeal: "What I'm Here 4" has two examples:
    MC's muttering menial madness, they get mobbed
    • And:
    You got a fly one bring one, or else I come to fling some
    Exquisite exotic exciting type shit
  • Alternative Hip Hop
  • Author Appeal: The many jazz samples used throughout their discography comes from Guru being a huge jazz fan. See also "Jazz Thing" and "Jazz Music".
  • Boastful Rap: "I'm the Man," "You Know My Steez", and "Mass Appeal", just to name a few.
  • Brooklyn Rage: They aren't Brooklyn/NYC natives (Guru is from Boston's Roxbury district, and Premier hails from Houston, Texas), and are more laid back than most rappers, but they were based in the borough nonetheless, and could be just as tough and menacing when the situation calls for it.
  • Call-Back: The opening of Step In the Arena references "Premier and the Guru" from No More Mr. Nice Guy.
  • Creepy Monotone: Guru was known for his subdued delivery, but it "Take It Personal" takes it to downright chilling levels.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Guru promised to deliver one to anyone who dared challenge him in a game of basketball in "Now You're Mine".
  • Darker and Edgier: The sound of Hard to Earn in places. See New Sound Album below.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: No More Mr. Nice Guy featured more analog drums compared to the looped breaks of Arena and Daily Operation, and Guru's delivery is more energetic, as opposed to the more laid-back style he would go on to use.
    • Earlier still, "The Lesson" features a minimalist drum machine-driven beat typical of rap at the time and even louder delivery from Guru, reminiscent of acts like LL Cool J. DJ Premier had also not joined the group yet.
  • Et Tu, Brute?: Discussed in "Betrayal". Also touched on briefly in the first verse of "Moment of Truth". "All 4 tha Cash" is also about this.
  • Fun with Acronyms: Guru (Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal)
  • Gossip Evolution: Discussed and criticized in "No Shame in My Game". Also criticized for a few lines near the end of "Take it Personal".
  • Grief Song: "In Memory Of..."
  • Hidden Track: The Ownerz has the "snuck in the middle of the album" variant in the form of "Hiney".
  • Hymn to Music: "Jazz Thing" and "Jazz Music" are tributes to Jazz and legendary Jazz musicians.
  • "I Am" Song: "Premier and the Guru", the opener of their very first album.
  • I Am Your Opponent: From "So Wassup?!":
    Now you're facin' me, I'm your ultimate challenger
  • Instrumental Hip Hop: "DJ Premier In Deep Concentration", featuring only DJ Premier on the turntables. Instrumental versions of Step Into the Arena, Hard to Earn, The Ownerz, & One Of the Best Yet were also released alongside their vocal counterparts.
  • Irony: "Mass Appeal", according to Premier, was created as a mockery of mainstream hip-hop, particularly the repetitive and unoriginal songs that frequently got radio airplay. It wound up becoming the group's biggest radio hit.
  • Jazz Rap: Not the first group to do it, but are one of the originators, nonetheless. Their first three albums are knee deep in the sound, and that's not even getting into Guru's Jazzmatazz side project. Even when the group's sound changed on Hard to Earn, Preemo was still flipping plenty of jazz samples.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: The victim who was robbed and shot by the Villain Protagonist in the second verse of "Just to Get a Rep" is revealed to have survived the ordeal, and quickly enacts revenge on said protagonist by shooting him in a drive-by, killing him.
  • Letting The Air Out Of The Sample: At the end of "Just to Get a Rep", the sample slows to a stop.
  • Lucky Charms Title: "The ? Remainz". The "?" is pronounced as "Question".
  • Lyrical Cold Open: Inverted on "What I'm Here 4"; the song ends with Guru saying the last line of the verse after the music has already dropped out.
  • Never My Fault: Criticized in "The Lesson".
    Stop blaming your problems on everyone else
    And deal with the person inside of yourself
  • New Sound Album: Premier said in an interview that he wanted Hard to Earn to sound less musical than the previous three albums, so to avoid Gang Starr being pigeonholed as a "Jazz Rap" duo. As a result, some of the beats sound more atonal and dissonant. Moment of Truth also counts since it was made after Premo developed his Signature Style.
  • Ode to Intoxication: "Take Two and Pass" is about smoking blunts.
  • Pre Ass Kicking One Liner: From "Now You're Mine".
    So prepare to suffer, boy, cause now you're mine.
  • Production Throwback: The third verse of "Moment of Truth" takes some of its lyrics from an unreleased song called "I'm Not Superman" and slightly alters them.
  • Punny Name: Gangster —> Gang Starr.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: According to Premier, "Just to Get a Rep" was inspired by a real-life carjacking that happened to Guru shortly before. The day after, the happened upon the carjacker and pursued him. Eventually, the jacker collided with another vehicle, killing him instantly.
  • Scare Chord: "Jazz Thing" has a couple in the intro.
  • Sequel Song: "Speak Ya Clout" is one to "I'm the Man", featuring the same lineup of artists, but this time in reverse order.
  • Shout-Out: From "You Know My Steez":
    • "Brainstorm" has Guru singing part of the Community Audition theme song, albeit a slightly altered version.
    • On "Mostly Tha Voice" Guru proclaims himself to be "more vicious than Sid".
  • Spelling Song: "The Planet", which has this as the chorus:
    I'm gonna make it god dammit
    Out in B-R-double-O-K-Lyn, The Planet
    • "Mostly tha Voice" from the same album is another example:
    My religion is rap
    R-E-A-L-I-T-Y, G
    • From "So Wassup?!"
    You say you're R-E-P-R-E-S-E-N-T-I-N-G?
    You're frontin', boy, come against me
  • Step Up to the Microphone: "Words from the Nutcracker" from Hard to Earn, entirely rapped by Melachi the Nutcracker from Group Home.
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: These lines in "Moment of Truth" reference this:
    Always, selfish jealous punks will wanna pull ya
    Down, just like some shellfish in a bucket
  • There Should Be a Law: From "Take it Personal":
    I flip lines and rhymes that never sound like yours
    There oughta be laws against you yapping your jaws
  • Three Chords and the Truth: "Same Team No Games" consists only of two musical notes, a drum beat, scratches, and pure lyricism from Guru and guest rappers NYG'z. "Brainstorm" is even more minimal, featuring only drums, some blips and sirens in the background, and Guru's vocals.
    • "The Lesson" also qualifies. It mostly consists of a drum beat, some scratching, and a repeated horn hit. A bassline and horn section is introduced a few of times later in the song, but it doesn't last very long.
  • Title Track: Hard to Earn is the only album not to have one. "Mass Appeal" retroactively became this on their second compilation album.
  • Word Purée Title: "DWYCK", which comes from an inside joke.
  • Xtreme Kool Letterz and Letters 2 Numbers: As with many hip-hop acts, they tended to do this with their song titles. Examples include, "What I'm Here 4". "She Knowz What She Wantz", and "Deadly Habitz".