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Gang Starr: History of the Hip Hop Duo

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Formed in Boston, Massachusetts in 1985, Gang Starr found much critical acclaim for their hip hop records early on in their career. The urban community really took notice in the early 90s with the album "Daily Operation," as Gang Starr's sound really exemplified the sound of Brooklyn hip hop at the time. The group's members also found success on their own, with Guru venturing off with solo work and DJ Premier producing with popular rap, hip hop and R&B acts. The duo broke up in 2006 but they continued to make music. Guru passed away 4 years later. In this WatchMojo.com video, we take a look at the history of Gang Starr.
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Take one dope MC, add a Primo DJ, and what do you get? One of the East Coast’s most influential rap duos. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’re taking a look at the history of Gang Starr.

Formation


Gang Starr formed in Boston, Massachusetts in 1985. Comprised of Keith Elam, otherwise known as Guru, as well as various DJs and producers, the group released three vinyl singles until splitting up in 1989. Since no original members wanted to carry on, Guru recruited DJ Premier, previously Waxmaster C, and together they dropped their critically acclaimed debut, No More Mr. Nice Guy that same year.

Second Album


Gang Starr then released Step in the Arena on Chrysalis Records in 1991. The hip hop album was an instant classic and garnered much praise from fans and critics.

Success on the Rap Charts


The group’s third album, 1992’s Daily Operation, touched on subjects like women, on “Ex Girl to the Next Girl,” and emotion on “Take It Personal.” In fact, that single reached number one on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart. The record is now regarded as one of the earliest representations of Brooklyn hip hop and Gang Starr’s finest work.

Solo Work


The members of Gang Starr then decided to focus on solo careers: Guru released his debut Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol.1, which was a blend of rap and jazz. Meanwhile DJ Premier produced for some of rap’s best, namely Nas, KRS-One and the Notorious B.I.G. This period also marked the formation of the Gang Starr Foundation, which was made up of several artists who often worked with and were associated with the group throughout their career.

Reunion


The duo reunited in 1994 to unveil Hard to Earn. This album was a change for the group as they left behind their melodic sound for a grittier, more hardcore vibe. It reached the second position on the Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart and spawned the single, “Mass Appeal,” which was a top ten hit on the Billboard Hot Rap Singles chart.

Solo Albums and Producing


During the next few years, Gang Starr went back to their solo careers. In 1995, Guru released Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol.2: The New Reality. Meanwhile, DJ Premier had become one of the hottest producers in the rap game, and this led to work with artists like Fat Joe, Jay-Z, M.O.P. and Rakim, to name a few.


Gang Starr Returns


In 1998, the twosome released what some called their comeback album: Moment Of Truth. The album featured a refreshed Gang Starr with a modernized sound and a stable of featured artists. It reached the Billboard 200 top ten and marked the first time Gang Starr debuted at number one on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums Chart. The gold-certified effort also generated the lead single “You Know My Steez,” which peaked at number five on the Hot Rap Singles chart.

Other Projects


The next few years saw the release of the double-disc collection, Full Clip: A Decade of Gang Starr and more solo and production work.

Last Album


Despite doing well with critics and on the charts, Gang Starr’s last studio album together was 2003’s The Ownerz. With a sound reminiscent of the group’s golden days, the record placed in the Billboard 200 top twenty and at number five on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums Chart.

Break Up, Solo Work and Death of Guru


However, 2006 marked the official end of Gang Starr, as the members went their separate ways. DJ Premier continued producing for some of hip hop’s biggest names as well as underground rappers. He even ventured into the mainstream by working with Christina Aguilera. All the while, Guru forged on with solo projects until his cancer-related death on April 19th, 2010.

Legacy


Since Gang Starr’s creation, their music has appeared in films such as “Mo’ Better Blues” and “8 Mile,” as well as video games like “Grand Theft Auto IV” and “Skate It.” Their ability to appeal to a diverse audience has inspired many imitators, but no one has ever come close to recreating the chemistry and style these icons shared. With DJ Premier’s production skills and Guru’s one-of-a-kind voice, Gang Starr was influential in so many ways and truly represented hip hop at its core.
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