Gang Starr

tumblr_mglatdUuMp1repi21o1_1280Gang Starr is an old school duo consisting of two of the most legendary artists on the scene — Guru, the lyricist, and DJ premier, the king of beats. The group was founded in 85′ by Guru but at that time he was rapping with other producers. In 1989 DJ Premier (known as Waxmaster C at the time) sent Guru a beat tape which he liked and teamed up with him soon after. The first track they released together was “Words I manifest” (see below).

Guru is known to have one of the most distinctive voices in hip hop. It is smooth and encapsulating. Additionally, he has the gift of story telling, backed by clarity of thought and articulation. Being able to structure content in the form of a story, and intertwining wordplay and complex rhymes, is what distinguishes Guru from other well-rounded artists. While you go into a trance listening to his voice, the story unfolds right in front of you.

Guru had a heart attack in February 2010 and went into a coma. He died a couple months later. His legacy has been carried on by a group of rappers who worked closely with him and DJ Premier. They call themselves the Gang Starr Foundation.


Guru and Premier had a vision of rap that included organic, unique beats with smooth and simple rhymes. Premier spent years trying to get this sound right. As artists must do to get a foothold in the scene, they identified themselves with a very unique sound — a fusion of jazz and hip hop. But not traditional hip hop. It was a slow, verbose style more to the likes of spoken word. Jazz Thing was their first song of this type.

Afterwards their jazz-rap style faded to the background for a few years while the duo focused on other styles of hip hop (below). In 1993 Guru alone brought jazz-rap back to the forefront with a whole album called “Guru’s Jazzmatazz: An Experimental Fusion of Hip Hop and Rap”. I will dedicate a full post to this album and it’s two other volumes.


This is the first track Gang Starr recorded together. As most new artists do, Guru starts off by establishing himself. Unlike most, he does not do this by talking shit and acting hard. Instead, he elicits knowledge of himself and gives a strong description of his inner qualities. Just a taste of his articulate form to come.

“I got tenacity, because I have to be
The brother who must live and give with much insight
Foresight to ignite, excite and delight.”


Guru’s voice is so smooth, relaxed, and monotonous (in a good way) that it actually highlights the voice of his collaborators. In this popular party jam collaboration Nice and Smooth kick it off with some goofy rhymes. The second Guru comes on at 1:27 the whole tone drops down a notch.


Here is an example of Guru’s story telling abilities. What makes a good story teller is the simplicity of his rhymes. A good emcee has balance. Use too many complex rhymes and a big slew of advanced techniques while telling as story and the listener gets overwhelmed. Use too many simple rhymes in an abstract rap and the listener gets bored. Guru strikes the perfect balance.


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