Album: Step in the Arena
Label: Chrysalis/EMI Records
The greatest Gang Starr song of all-time is the 1991 single that definitively put the group on the hip-hop map, establishing Guru and Premier—two non-New Yorkers who'd made the pilgrimage to hip-hop's Mecca to ply their trade—as among the tightest and most distinctive musical partnerships the city would ever host. "Just to Get a Rep" isn't just an extremely well-crafted story rhyme; it's a street narrative with a conscience whose commentary lies in its detachment. It's also the creative blueprint for the best material the group would generate over its career. Guru exhibits his preferred three-verse compositional structure (first two verses largely on topic, the third with a narrative or thematic twist). Premier plucks a sample from obscurity (Jean-Jacques Perry's mod/moog funk instrumental "E.V.A.")—his magic touch making it iconic—and precisely slices a rap vocal for the song's hook (a Greg Nice line from Nice and Smooth's "Funky for You") till it's Gang Starr-owned, the original context irrelevant. The song ends abruptly, stopping dead amid suddenly winding-down synths, the tables turned on its stick-up kid protagonist. Street cinema has never sounded so perfect, and may never yet again.