Gang Starr

Hard To Earn  Hear it Now

RS: 4of 5 Stars


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The two-man Gang Starr crew, DJ Premier and Guru, has gotten lumped into the jazz-rap category – back in '89 it was the first to pair hard bop with cool hop – but it has since avoided becoming a slave to that one rhythm. Despite the hype, Gang Starr have used many different forms of black noize to express themselves like no one else.

Hard to Earn is the group's fourth album. It's a boom-boom-static revelation that bops cool and confident like a mack. It offers rugged and multilayered orchestral maneuvers – cinematic urban blues, tracks full of strafing noise, bouncy beats, gooey grooves and moody chanting that seems to evoke spirits. Wordwise, it gives up screams of protest, assertions of selfhood and no-bullshit examinations of the world.

"Tonz o'Gunz" deplores our society's lack of gun control. But, yo, things are like that (mad chaotic), so Guru says he packs steel just to feel relaxed. Then in "Code of the Streets" and "ALONG-WAYTOGO," he packs more comments about the state. On "The Planet" he draws an arc from his Beantown hometown to the streets of Brooklyn, N.Y., and his crew's lofty position on the charts. It's all there: the dues he paid, the "ill shit" he experienced, the homies he encountered along the way. Elsewhere, like on "F.A.L.A." (which stands for fuck around, lay around), the rapper drops braggadocio that'll make the ladies scream, "Oooh!" and the fellas go, "Ow!"

Since swaggering into the music industry, hip-hop is said to have spawned lots of ugly things. Steady-tryin'-ta-get-down trendoids aren't usually listed among them – but they ought to be. Some artists have succumbed. The result is that their once-brilliant poses become farces. Others, like Gang Starr, have brazenly defied trends, and the result is an achievement like Hard to Earn. (RS 683)


(Posted: Jun 2, 1994)


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