With over ten years in the game, and several classic albums under their belt, what else can be said about Gang Starr? Perhaps the shining achievement of their career is the fact that Gang Starr truly are “the most consistent” or “the last men standing” as the media has pegged them, and it’s a combination of these two elements which has allowed them to hold the crown as New York City’s underground kings. Birthed in the 80′s, shaped in (and survived through) the 90′s, Gang Starr is still in the game in 2003, and still delivering perhaps the most anticipated albums in hip-hop every time they drop. So heads up, longtime fans and newbies alike, Gang Starr is back, and has a contender for major label album of the year with The Ownerz.
The Ownerz bangs 19 tracks deep, brilliantly crafted by DJ Premier, and hosted by the one and only Guru. The opener, “Put Up Or Shut Up”, is vintage Gang Starr, with Preemo’s chopped, low-end Brooklyn basement beats, taking it back to the era of Daily Operation, as Guru’s monotone flow sets off the LP. “Sabotage” follows, where Guru pens a classic street tale, over an incredible Premier track, propelled by rolling cymbals and beat-up funk loop. The pair of singles drop in next, as Guru and Jadakiss trade mics over “Rite Where You Stand” (Jada’s verse = fire), as well as the infectious “Skillz”, as Guru’s hypnotic hook drives Preem’s inter-stellar track. Ring in “Deadly Habitz” next, as Guru breaks down his various issues over beautifully jazzy horns reminiscent of Premier’s “Ex To The Next Girl” sound. At only seven tracks into the album, the average Gang Starr fan will be sold – this is another dope album from Guru and Premier.
The second half of the album is no different. While set off by the passable “Nice Girl, Wrong Place”, Guru gets right back on track on “Peace Of Mine”, breaking down the evils of industry, as the lone voices in a corrupt major label world of fake thugs and shiny superstars. Further animosity is spit on “Who Got Gunz”, where Fat Joe lazily recycles some Notorious B.I.G. lyrics (Jay-Z style), but M.O.P. saves face with more hilarious over-thugged out energy (“our guns sing like Bilal!” Get it? “Bilaow”! Classic.) The album closes on a somber note, with “In This Life…”, where Snoop Dogg’s smooth voice compliments Guru’s own as the two reflect over mellow Premier beat. “Zonin” continues the tradition, and the heartfelt “Eulogy” seals the package as Guru and Premier remember the dead.
While The Ownerz falters from time to time (“Nice Girl Wrong Place”, “Militia 3″), and is not Gang Starr’s best album to date (you can fight amongst yourselves over which one is), it’s damn consistent, and so far, the most refreshing album of the year. Just when you think hip-hop has turned its back on you, hip-hop’s golden boys return once again to restore faith in a lost art. Hopefully more artists, labels, and fans will take notice.
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