Consistency. Diligence. Longevity. Not the characteristics we normally associate with a hip-hop world forever festooned with stunted career trajectories. But then, Gang Starr was no ordinary hip-hop group. Gang Starr represented all the above-mentioned and more; the one act in rap history whose name will forever be synonymous with "real hip-hop"—an oft-abused term entirely devoid of meaning in most contexts, yet still wholly applicable and inescapable when describing the legacy of the duo of Guru and DJ Premier.
There's no shortage of irony in this fact. Not because the combination of Guru's unmistakable monotone delivery and sophisticated street reportage and DJ Premier's groundbreaking, scratch-propelled production has ever represented anything less than the pair's complete commitment to authenticity. But because Guru and Premier began as such complete outsiders—products of Roxbury, Mass., and Prarie View, Texas, respectively, who studied from afar the goings-on in hip-hop's home base of New York City at the dawn of the "Golden Era" and were inspired to give a go at it themselves, reasoning, of course, that if they could make it there then ... well, you know.
Both moved separately to a then still grimy Gotham. Guru first, bringing the GS brand with him from his old crew from Boston; Premier after submitting a demo to NYC indie label Wild Pitch Records, which led to an offer to team with Guru. Together they paid dues, honed their craft, and won not only the respect of their Rotten Apple–bred rap brethren but of hip-hop fans worldwide. A remarkable string of classic and near-classic albums (Step in the Arena, Daily Operation, Hard to Earn) climaxed with 1998's cathartic Moment of Truth. By the time they'd unofficially called it a career (after 2003's The Ownerz), the partners had cemented their shared status as legends, dwarfing the careers of many of the artists who'd first inspired them.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011, marks one year since the tragic and untimely passing of Keith "Guru" Elam from cardiac arrest after a year-long bout with multiple myeloma that left him in a coma. He was 47. To honor the memory of the man also known as Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal, we celebrate the music of the group that was his and Premier's gift to us. Here is our list of the 50 Greatest Gang Starr Songs, a tribute to a catalog that continues to inspire others to follow the path of the chain and star. Gang Starr—now and always, one of the best yet.
Written by Chairman Mao (@chairmanmaonyc).