GANG STARR

Full Clip: A Decade of Gang Starr (Noo Trybe/Virgin)

Longevity is one of the rarest qualities in a rap group or crew, measured not just by the time span in which the artists release material but also by how much integrity the group's music can maintain. A general rule in the hip-hop underground states, "It might blow up, but it won't go pop," "it" being the musical product. Blowing up is good — becoming famous, building a reputation, making money — but if the artist starts to get greedy, accommodating the flavor of the month in a bid to cash in, ignoring the culture that brought him or her to the public eye in the first place, that's when "it" goes "pop." De La Soul coined the term on their second album in 1993, and they stick by it. Gang Starr is one of few other groups that have been around for four or five full-lengths and have yet to forget about the underground.

The duo, emcee Gifted Unlimited Rhymes Universal, known as Guru, and DJ Premier, are individual standouts in the genre who have proved worthy of their monikers. As a lyricist, Guru is very much aware of his effect on the listener. He rhymes about what goes on in the ghetto in a factual monotone. In tracks like the siren-laced "Tons of Guns" and the story-style "Just to Get a Rep," he talks about the inevitable violence among ghetto youth. In "Who's Gonna Take the Weight" he asks impoverished people to take responsibility for their own fates while Premier cuts up frantic horns by Maceo Parker. Guru uses his position as a famous rapper to educate and positively influence his audience, and Premier concocts dark drum and jazz combinations that swing harder than Tarzan on a wrecking ball. His beats have backed the voices of everyone from Notorious BIG to Too Short to D'Angelo.

Full Clip is a Gang Starr fanatic's fantasy: 24 of the dopest tracks from each of their five albums and four other tracks previously only available on 12-inch singles, and three new cuts have been selected for a double CD or quadruple LP. The four pieces of vinyl make the pressing of each track essentially the same quality as that of a 12-inch, which really caters to the hip-hop deejay, not to mention that most of these classics were out of print on wax in the U.S. The collection is not a celebration of greatest hits but of great endurance: For 10 years the group has consistently turned out tremendous street-rooted beats and lyrics despite the mainstream's desire for simple, pop-y production and party rhymes. Guru lets you know on "The ? Remains": "(I'm) denouncin' all the unrealistic, fake gangstas, fake mystics/so let me make this specific/you're nowhere near us, the original gifted ... (the fakes) can't deal with the realism."

 
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