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Gang Starr - One of the Best Yet (Album Review)

Thursday, 14 November 2019 Written by Jacob Brookman

Photo: Martyn Goodacre

In the early ‘90s, Gang Starr were one of the best rap outfits in the game. Hailing from Boston and Houston respectively but very much part of the New York hip hop scene, MC Guru and DJ Premier lit up the airwaves with their brand of east coast jazz-rap.

The duo’s breakup in 2002 resulted in big quarrels and bad optics, which intensified with Guru’s death in 2010, and the subsequent claims on his estate by creative interloper DJ Solar. ‘One of the Best Yet’ is the result of Premier purchasing unused vocal stems from Solar, and piecing together a new Gang Starr record. The results are decent enough, but spiritually circumspect.

For fanboys and girls, the record should thrill. Tracks like Family and Loyalty are remarkably vivid evocations of the original Gang Starr sound, marrying elegantly assembled loops with hypnotic grooves and fantastic bars.

This track also features an excellent turn from J. Cole, and while the essential message is a little convoluted—“Diamonds are forever like family and loyalty.” (Word up: they’re not)—it is easily one of the strongest offerings on the album.

Bad Name is less impressive. Here, a spicy and catchy vocal-led motif is adorned by swinging beats and well placed horns. The challenge comes in the bars, and in particular the chorus: “Word to God, if Big and 'Pac were still here / Some of these weirdos wouldn't act so cavalier / We all know that the game has changed / It's crazy out here and rap's got a bad name.”

These lyrics are at best dated, and at worst ‘old man shouting at traffic’. There has always been trash talking in hip hop, but established rappers hating on the new generation is generally tiresome, especially when the rap scene described is already 10 years past. If you love that crisp and chunky ‘90s Gang Starr sound then this album should appeal, but posthumous hip hop albums always create problems for the listener. 

If they are good, as Faith Evans & Notorious BIG’s ‘The King & I’ (occasionally) is, then they suck agency from the rapper as an artist, instead recasting them as a mercenary wordsmith whose poetry is up for grabs. If it is bad, like Tupac’s ‘Loyal to the Game’, then the record becomes a disrespectful carnival creature, cobbled together by opportunists. ‘One of the Best Yet’ is not a bad album, but it doesn't quite feel right.

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