Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Moment Of Truth

The first time I ever heard a Gang Starr song, it was from an unlikely source. I was watching a skate video called VG8 with my buddy Sampson and this dude Billy Prislin's segment was backed by "You Know My Steez". I had to look up the name of the video and who the skater was, but I'll never forget the imprint that song left on me.

It was one of those tracks that I fell in love with the first time I heard it. I didn't know much hip hop beyond what was on MTV and the radio at that point, but it was immediately apparent that what I was listening to was something different, deeper and more complex than what I thought rap music could be. Gang Starr was underground back then, and even though I probably didn't really understand what that meant, I liked the sound of it.

You Know My Steez is a typical DJ Premier track that has an bouncing, addictive beat punctuated by high tones that runs behind the verse. The chorus consists of mashup of a bunch of spoken parts from other songs (most notably Method Man saying the title, sampled from this tune) tied together with turntable scratching. Subliminally, I'm sure that caught my ear, but what initially stood out were the lyrics.

Guru rapped over the tracks with a steady flow and clever wordplay, dropping ear-grabbing lines without so much as raising his voice. He often referred to his own style as monotone - which was technically close to the truth - but his verses were never boring or droned on like the word tends to connote.

We were about 14 at the time and did what you did back then when you liked a song: went out and bought the CD it was on as soon as humanly possible. Obviously, the way we consumed music was a lot different back in 1998. If you heard a song you liked, you couldn't just bring up YouTube, listen to it again and click your way through the better part of the group's catalog. So there was a period of several days or possibly a week during which I couldn't get the song out of my head but couldn't yet buy the CD.

Maybe that waiting period made me enjoy it more than I would have if I discovered it now. It could just be the fact that we tend to cling to the music that we listened to during our adolescence. But I still think that Moment of Truth, with Premier's intricate tracks and Guru's melodic rhymes, raises a hip hop of a level of high art and is one of the finest albums the genre has to offer.

That original Moment of Truth CD is long gone. It was scratched beyond repair after a couple of years of heavy play and I bought a second copy. That one is gone too, misplaced sometime during college and that too was well-worn. I bought it off of iTunes after that, but maxed out the amount of computers I could link my purchases. I finally downloaded it again, hopefully for the last time.

Gang Starr had plenty of good material before that album and Guru and Premier have each produced a ton of it afterwards, but Moment of Truth is the one creation of theirs that boxed me right in the ears and changed the way I listened to music forever.

The reason for this post is that Guru, whose real name was Keith Elam, passed away yesterday after a battle with cancer (there's a more complete bio if you click the link). About a month ago, he was hospitalized after a heart attack, but made a full recovery and was released. I was hoping I wasn't going to have to write this post for a long time, but unfortunately he was fighting another battle that he couldn't quite conquer.

RIP Guru.

Actions have reactions, don't be quick to judge,
You may not know the hardships people don't speak of,
It's best to step back, and observe with couth,
For we all must meet our moment of truth.


  1. What's sad is on Sunday my girlfriend and I were going through my old CD's (I am 33 and she is 35) and found Jazzmatazz. Popped it in the PS3 and listened to it. Can't remember the last time I played a CD let alone that disc. Next day - Guru is dead.

  2. Nice post. I have liked Gang Starr for a long time and I have to say whether it is on the iPod or Pandora, I still listen to You Know My Steez, DWYCK, and Mass Appeal pretty much on a weekly basis.

    One of my all time favorites is "The Piece Maker" on Tony Touch's mix tape of the same title.

    RIP Guru