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Gang Starr Feat. Big Shug & Freddie Foxxx - The Militia (Pete Rock Mix) (youtube.com)
From their 12'' single "The Militia" released in 1998

The most influential MC-and-DJ tandem of the 1990s, Gang Starr set new standards for East Coast rap with a pair of early-'90s touchstones, Step in the Arena (1991) and Daily Operation (1992), whose appeal has only grown over the decades. Beginning with these classic releases, both listeners and critics heaped mounds of praise upon Guru and DJ Premier -- the former because of his socially conscious lyrics and no-nonsense stance, the latter because of his DJ-style beat-making and jazzy sound. Following Step in the Arena and Daily Operation, Premier became one of New York's most demanded producers, crafting hits for the city's finest MCs, including the Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Jay-Z, and KRS-One. Guru likewise collaborated with plenty of well-known artists -- Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd, N'Dea Davenport -- on his solo debut, Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1 (1993), and its series of follow-ups. Following Hard to Earn (1994) -- the duo's fourth Gang Starr collaboration overall -- Guru and Premier began focusing primarily on their solo projects, reuniting infrequently -- too infrequently, many fans felt -- for albums such as Moment of Truth (1998) and The Ownerz (2003). During this period of solo activity, Gang Starr became increasingly recognized as a touchstone, one that critics and hip-hop purists frequently cited as a standard-bearer for streetwise, socially conscious East Coast rap.

Guru (born Keith Edward Elam on July 17, 1961, in Boston, MA - deceased on April 19, 2010 in NY) and Premier (born Christopher Edward Martin on March 21, 1966, in Houston, TX) began working together in 1989. Guru had founded Gang Starr a couple years earlier, in 1987, and had already established a working relationship with Wild Pitch Records. The partnership of Guru and Premier as Gang Starr led to a formative debut album, No More Mr. Nice Guy (1989), and its featured single, "Words I Manifest." The DJ-spotlight track "DJ Premier in Deep Concentration" is another highlight of the album, which spent years out of print. Between albums, in 1990, Guru and Premier contributed a song, "Jazz Thing," to the Mo' Better Blues soundtrack. Gang Starr subsequently moved to Chrysalis Records for their second album, Step in the Arena (1991), on which they perfected the approach of their debut, that is, a stark, hard-hitting jazz-rap production style, complete with Premier's masterful DJ cutting, over which Guru's battle-rap-hardened yet smoothly delivered lyrics -- often thoughtful, sly, and streetsmart -- take flight. Gang Starr's third album, Daily Operation (1992), furthered the duo's approach stylistically; widely considered an East Coast rap classic, it's arguably Guru and Premier's finest work, along with its predecessor.

Beginning in 1993, Guru and Premier began working separately. Guru's debut album, Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1 (1993), took the so-called jazz-rap style to a new level, featuring jazz musicians such as Lonnie Liston Smith, Branford Marsalis, Ronny Jordan, Donald Byrd, and Roy Ayers, along with guest vocalists such as N'Dea Davenport (of the Brand New Heavies) and MC Solaar (of French rap fame). Meanwhile, Premier produced six tracks for KRS-One's solo debut, Return of the Boom Bap (1993); moreover, in 1994 he proceeded to produce three tracks for Nas' debut, Illmatic ("N.Y. State of Mind," "Memory Lane [Sittin' in da Park]," "Represent"); two for the Notorious B.I.G.'s debut, Ready to Die ("Unbelievable," an unreleased remix of "Machine Gun Funk"); five for the self-titled debut of Branford Marsalis' Buckshot LeFonque project; the entirety of Jeru the Damaja's debut, The Sun Rises in the East; and also a handful of remixes for various artists. Amid all of this activity, Guru and Premier found time to record their fourth album, Hard to Earn (1994), which was more hardcore-fashioned -- as was the style at the time, in the wake of Death Row's uprising -- than past Gang Starr albums and, also unlike past efforts, featured guest rappers. The album spawned the duo's biggest hit to date, "Mass Appeal," their first to break the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart (peaking at number 67).
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