Gang Starr’s influence on Hip Hop



Gang Starr, photo courtesy of NPR

The Origin of hip hop can be dated back to 1973 in New York City. DJ Kool Herc threw a house party in the South Bronx. Using turntables, he created a way to isolate and repeat musical breaks. These tools are stepping stones for the creation and expansion of Hip-Hop.

People began to rhyme over these snippets. Kids would bring a boom box in the schoolyard, and start rhyming to a beat. This new genre started to take off as an underground cultural movement.

Gang Starr is a distinctive rap group, that took the industry in a new direction. The group’s original members included Big Shug and Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal or Guru. The group was formed in Atlanta, Georgia. Guru would write the lyrics, as MC Damo D-Ski would recite the rhymes with his unique voice. Two years after the release of the group’s 1987 single, “The Lesson”, DJ Premier was added to the group due to his knowledge of music and skills as a DJ.

The most significant aspects of why Gang Starr was such an iconic group have to do with the production of the music and the ability to provide detailed stories within each bar.

The use of sampling is one of the influential aspects of Gang Starr. Sampling uses or reuses certain musical elements such as rhythm, melody, or even full bars. These different aspects can be manipulated and can change the entire outcome of the crafted music. This plays a significant role in rap today, as melodies and vocals are often sampled and used throughout the genre.
During the early 90s, rap beats consisted of many R&B samples. While some may consider the use of sampling other music, as being unoriginal, it is quite the opposite. In an interview with genius, DJ Premiere, brings up the 1988 track by Stetsasonic, talking all that Jazz. “Rap brings back old R&B, and if we did not, people might have forgot,” Daddy-O says on the 1988 Track. Reusing older music creates a good mix between the past and present. During the interview, DJ Premiere acknowledges the fact that “these people created and put their blood, sweat, and tears into this music that we’re making and creating our own version, and converting it into a Hip Hop type record.” Premiere explains to Genius.

Both DJ Premier and Guru have college educations that have influenced their writing style and the meaning behind their music. This is displayed in their music with dense, multi-syllable lyrics to educate those listening.

Guru uses literary devices to explain different aspects of life and lessons he has learned through his years. To say Gang Starr was ahead of its time is an understatement. During the 1998 hit, “Moment of Truth”, Guru shares his thoughts as he was in the midst of a trial fighting for his freedom. While the reason for Guru’s trial is unknown, he is able to put his emotions into words and create vivid imagery.
“Now I’m contemplatin’ in my bedroom pacin’, Dark clouds over my head, my heart’s racin’, Suicide? Nah, I’m not a foolish guy

Don’t even feel like drinkin’ or even gettin’ high
‘Cause all that’s gonna do really is accelerate
The anxieties that I wish I could alleviate

These lines are a considerable paradox when thinking about rap music. Most modern-day rap songs are associated with glorifying drug use and addiction. Guru explains that using drugs as a coping mechanism only worsens his problems.

But wait, I’ve been through a whole lot of other shit before
So I oughta be able to withstand some more,
But I’m sweatin’ though, my eyes are turnin’ red and yo,
I’m ready to lose my mind, but instead I use my mind
I put down the knife and take the bullets out my 9

Despite Guru’s hardship, he realizes that he has gone through much worse. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary issue. Guru understands, while he is going through pain and hardship, suicide is not the answer. Mental health has had a huge impact on rap music, and Guru was one of the first to talk about having doubts about his life but not letting his hardships get the best of him. This resonates with listeners as it shows that hardships happen to everyone.

Gang Starr is an idiosyncratic and arguably the most influential rap group of all time. DJ Premiere’s unique take on creating beats and his use of sampling other pieces of music has created a tangent as to how the genre of Hip Hop will evolve. Guru’s impeccable rhyme scheme, flow, and incorporating meaningful messages within his rhymes raised the bar for how one creates and expands Hip Hop as a genre and culture.