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From the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.

Step In The Arena

Gang Starr

1991

Step In The Arena
Album Summary

Step in the Arena is the second studio album by hip hop duo Gang Starr, printed as a 1990 release, and commercially released on January 15, 1991. In 2007, it was named the greatest hip hop album of all time by IGN.com. HipHopDX called it "the album that cemented Gang Starr as a timeless tag team."

Wikipedia

Rating

3.17

Votes

8599
Genres
Hip Hop

Reviews

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Tue Feb 16 2021
5

This is one of the most important hiphop albums ever produced even though a lot of folks outside of the scene haven't heard of it. In a time when hiphop was fracturing and trying desperately to find out what it was and what it could be, Gang Starr brought heavy, intellectual, clever lyrics over deeply funky boom-bap beats. The influence of this album can be felt in modern artists like The Roots, Sho Baraka, Nappy Roots, and Blackalicious. Musical significance aside, it's just real damn good. Just DAMN good. An absolute pleasure to listen to.

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Wed Feb 24 2021
2

“Step in the Arena” by Gang Starr (1991) Never heard the album or this duo, and my familiarity with the hip hop genre is quite limited. Musically, the producer in the duo, DJ Premier, puts together a fine background, providing solid rhythms and scratching, with some tentative forays into sampling. I’m sure this was innovative in 1991, and likely very influential, but it doesn’t seem to stand the ‘test of time’. Guru’s voice lacks expressive range, and in rapid phrases he frequently mumbles to retain the tempo. His tone is subdued, letting the startling nature of the words carry the artistic freight. That’s appealing. In terms of meaning, his lyrics are marked by self absorbed boastfulness, with an expansive range of metaphors from gladiators to those who covet luxury vehicles. It’s illustrated in the title track, “Step in the Arena”, which compares rap competition to lethal one-on-one combat. But the lethality serves no goal other than entertainment. There’s no consideration of the moral standing of the purveyors and consumers of these nihilistic spectacles. The meaning is “I’m the best” and that is to your detriment. He seems to want his listeners to want to adopt the same attitude. Here’s a significant line indicating that he is aware, even in 1990, that the rap/hip hop world was overpopulated with junk: “Abreast of the best in this rap mess Oversaturated market full of wackness” There is a form of intellect on display here. Skillful use of internal rhyme and other poetic devices without being mechanical. This is not doggerel. Plus, Guru is a keen observer of his culture. In “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?”, Guru advances key themes of the message of the Nation of Islam. After an opening sample of a couple of lines from Malcolm X, Guru declaims, “I was raised like a Muslim”, which is highly unlikely, given his solid middle class background, but the selective appropriation of NOI themes continues. Ultimately the lyric lacks persuasiveness, chiefly because it is so self focused. Guru needs to enter the heart of the listener. These lyrics generally lack drama. There’s plenty of violence, and elaborate imagery, but little storytelling, redemption, conflict resolution, or artistic closure. It’s simply a catalogue of unanswered questions and unsolved problems (unless the answers and solutions boil down to “give everything to me”). The poetry usually evokes little emotion other than pity and perhaps fear. The one grand exception to this bleak assessment is the track “Just to Get a Rep”. It tells a powerful tale of a man who unnecessarily uses lethal force on a victim merely to enhance his own reputation. The victim recovers and returns to kill him, also motivated by the desire “just to get a rep” (reputation). The poetic composition powerfully invites the listener to consider whether it’s worth it. Of course it’s not. But one wonders how many listeners were persuaded in that direction. Not the greatest hip hop, in my admittedly limited experience. 2/5

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Tue Jul 20 2021
5

Some of the smoothest rhymes and rhythms I've ever heard. This album has aged like a fine wine. I imagine it was considered rather intense when it came out, but in the rearview, it is so mellow and enjoyable. I never wanted it to end.

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Thu Jan 20 2022
1

This is not the album to convince me that hiphop is worth my listening time.

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Sat Jan 30 2021
4

Loving the cool flavour and rhythm of this album! I have heard some tunes by Gang Starr before, but totally forgot about these guys. The first full Step In The Arena listen was a lot of fun chillin' in the crib, and then kickin' it a 2nd time in the car on an hour drive to hike in the woods was smooth as well. Banjo was salivating on that drive, so I assume he was diggin' too. The song Take A Rest represents most what I am enjoying from this record. Thanks dudes, it was refreshment after the desert of yesterday's album!

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Thu Apr 08 2021
5

This is the finest example of old-school hip-hop I've heard yet. The sound is clearly indebted to the East Coast, and while there's not as much Southern innovation as say, Outkast, touches exist. The production and turntablism is insanely good. The flows are all relatively familiar ones from the era, but they're convincing and use enough tempo and theme variation to remain fresh.

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Tue Oct 26 2021
4

Hip hop with a purpose. Lyrically sound - good beats. Fun to listen to. Can definitely hear their influence in a lot of later hip hop. Only a few songs didn’t age as well because of that early 90’s “starter jacket” type feel. (Not that it’s a bad thing - just sounds dated today) Fave tracks: “Check The Technique” “Step In The Arena”

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Thu Feb 03 2022
1

I simply don't like rap. These two definitely don't have the most annoying voices in rap, so this is at least 1.5 stars instead of 1, but I'll still round it down for being super boring. I didn't make it past the fifth track. The pseudo-intelligent-sounding lyrics don't help either.

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Mon Aug 31 2020
5

Probably prefer Moment Of Truth but man, this is some great stuff. Just To Get A Rep is up there with the best they've done.

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Sat Jan 30 2021
5

Perfect! Brings me back to my love of hip hop. The rhymes and rhythms created by the rappers’ deliveries is east coast at its finest!

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Tue Jul 27 2021
5

I don't think anything Guru touches could be less than a 5. Absolutely love GangStarr and Guru is one of the best MCs of all time. 5/5

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Thu Jan 27 2022
5

A fantastic rapper and one of the best producers create an album full of brilliant, classic hip-hop tracks.

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Wed Feb 23 2022
5

You Gotta be kidding me, this is a top 10 hip-hop classic for me. Right up there with Illmatic, 36 Chambers and Low End Theory. Banger after banger on this Jawn. Straight fire!

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Fri Mar 04 2022
5

Never took the time to check out Gang Starr, but this was a pleasant surprise. It's hit and miss for me with hiphop and rap, but this hit me for sure. Smooth and groovy, just the way I like it.

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Thu Feb 18 2021
4

90s hip hop will always have a special place in my heart. It may not be for everyone, but this album demonstrates both great 90s hip hop production from DJ Premier, and great lyricism from Guru, in a collaboration that has gone on to be considered among the best for it's time, and onwards too, considering the latest releases from Gang Starr (posthumously from Guru). I have never heard this debut album, but I see why Gang Starr became so popular. This has everything you want out of that era, the jazzy samples, the social commentary topics, the little humorous skits, and the real chemistry that both artists demonstrate working together. The only reason I wouldn't give this a 5/5 is because I prefer other albums from that time (Tribe Called Quest do this all better IMO) but it's still fantastic.

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Tue Mar 15 2022
4

It may be that rap albums hit some kind of pinnacle in the early 90s where the clean lyrics and fun rhymes grew into something more complex but also more raw in its content. Maybe that was an East vs. West type of thing. Notably, the album's sound includes a lot of jazz elements, simple beats, and a very modest yet effective DJ. Lyrically, it comes off as an inviting narrative to 'come and sit while I tell this story' and the listener is indeed compelled to do just that. Where rap music eventually turned into various outlets of strong expression, this album is way more conversational in its delivery and less confrontational. "Just To Get A Rep" or "Execution Of A Chump" stand out as the implications of violence that this portion of the hip-hop culture draws much of its emotion and content. Thing is, previously mentioned, the listener is compelled to hear this out. Over time, this subject matter has lost its importance because of its marketability and most people see it for that thirty years later as though Gang Starr knew that "Just To Get A Rep" is a reality moving forward. The album may have more musical reasons for being on this list, but for this listener and perhaps because of an old soul, this album creates a nostalgic desire for 21st century rap/hip-hop to come back with that authenticity. An authenticity that perhaps Gang Starr prophetically touched on in "Form of Intellect" with "...oversaturated market, full of wackness" and "get real, get deep, so you can keep involved, resolve and solve, so you can make the calls". If one pays attention to the current entertainment industry, the power figures in rap/hip-hop seemed to have heeded this advice. They may have come up from the streets per se, but they did not stay there. These men and women are now moguls in their own right, kings and queen makers of that world. "Step In The Arena" is a challenging album, maybe even a bit preachy but that's the value here and perhaps a more philosophical reason this album is on the list.

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Mon Nov 28 2022
4

Gang Starr - one of best yet. But maybe not yet fully developed at this stage. Similar vein to Eric B & Rakim and Boogie Down Productions, a quality duo with classic samples and awareness in the lyrics. The album just got a bit macaroni cheese for me: I like Macaroni, I like cheese but after 50mins of nothing but macaroni and cheese I need something else in the mix to spice things up.

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Thu Jul 08 2021
3

Good album. I liked all the songs except 'Love Sick' (and even that one was ok). I can see myself listening to this again, now just to decide between 3 and 4 stars...

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Mon Mar 08 2021
2

Nothing other than production stood out to me

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Mon May 24 2021
2

It's rap and nothing special

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Thu Nov 11 2021
2

Not a fan of Gangster rap. Lyrics were clean which is interesting.

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Thu Dec 02 2021
2

I'll give credit due when its due. Gang Starr have good rapping vocals and their sound isn't cheesy like a fair chunk of rap/ hip hop music around that time. There are a couple of decent songs here too. But as a whole this was as interesting as a ham sandwich, has the essential elements but nothing enticing for me.

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Fri Apr 14 2023
2

Good rhymes but I was underwhelmed - it lacked energy for me

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Wed Apr 19 2023
2

Ok but didn't really do anything for me

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Wed Jul 07 2021
1

Oh the longing for Mozart this album causes .....

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Fri Feb 11 2022
1

If this is the greatest hip hop album of all time, then I should probably stop giving hip hop a chance.

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Wed Feb 10 2021
5

Some of the most solid roots of all good hip hop

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Sat May 08 2021
5

Really enjoyed this album. Need to revisit it again!

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Sat Mar 13 2021
5

Incredible. End to end amazing vocals lyrics and production. Love it.

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Sat Jan 30 2021
5

AWESOME. consistent and complete hip hop album

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Wed Jul 14 2021
5

GANG STARR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Mon Jan 25 2021
5

A revelation - really enjoyable

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Fri Mar 26 2021
5

Never listened to it all the way through, very good

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Wed May 12 2021
5

Old school hip hop at its finest

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Fri Jun 18 2021
5

Wow, the lyricism and flow are amazing. I think Check the Technique or Lovesick was my favorite, but honestly I enjoyed every track. I will be purchasing this and adding it to my collection :)

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Thu May 13 2021
5

DJ Premier!!! Super smooth old skool hip hop, very very good

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Fri Jul 09 2021
5

Ohhhh Shit, Gang Starr 4 Life!!!!

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Wed Oct 13 2021
5

The prototype for 90s group gangster rap. Smoother than NWA but harder than west coast G funk, it's super awesome.

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Thu Nov 18 2021
5

Okay więc jest bardzo dobrze. Mam wrażenie, że jeden z moich nowych ulubionych albumów hip hopowych. Nawet nie wiem co mówić bo wszystko mi się podobało. Ulubione kawałki: check this technique take rest say ur prayers just to get a rap step in the arena.

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Mon Dec 27 2021
5

Very cool album! I’m really trying to discover more rap so this really helped.

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Wed Jan 19 2022
5

18th January 2022 Listened on the way to book club at the standard. 90s hip hop. Love it.

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Wed Feb 16 2022
5

Wow c'est très bon. Je vais certainement réécouter l'album. 5

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Mon Mar 07 2022
5

Classic hip-hop that I had never heard before. I loved it though, and will definitely hunt out more of their stuff. Execution of a chump, and the meaning of the name were my favourites first time through, but I will revisit it to pick up the lyrics and flow of some of the denser tracks too

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Fri Apr 08 2022
5

Immaculate flow with a classic sound and classic beats. A genuine time capsule.

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Mon May 16 2022
5

Incredibly important hip hop record smooth beats and dangerous rhymes a truly enjoyable listen, influenced many artists like the roots etc

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Tue Jul 05 2022
5

I liked it. Reminds me of ATCQ

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Thu Jul 14 2022
5

90s Hip-hop are one of my favourite genres. So safe to say this went down very well.

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Mon Aug 29 2022
5

East Coast Hiphop,old school,smooth and tense,real Classic!

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Wed Sep 14 2022
5

Never heard Gang Starr before but this is amazing. Great flow. Old school hip hop Reminds me of J5 or Abdominal...

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Sun Sep 25 2022
5

This is why I downloaded the app

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Mon Sep 26 2022
5

This is a band at the top of their game. Guru is greatly missed

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Tue Nov 01 2022
5

Listens: 2 Enjoyed: fuck yeah Never really delved into Gang Starr but fuck this is a great album. I don't think there is a single skipable track

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Thu Nov 03 2022
5

Always had a soft spot for these guys was shocked to hear Guru passed had no idea. At a time when hip was going going gangsta these guys did something different something jazzy. Hi class

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Wed Nov 09 2022
5

One of the best Hip Hop albums ever released. Breaks, samples, lyrics all working together.

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Thu Dec 08 2022
5

5 I absolutely did not expect this to be hip hop nor did I expect it to grab my attention right off the bat. The subject matter throughout reminds me of NWA and Eminem and subverts my expectations at seemingly every chance it gets. The beats and samples are so cool and distinct enough that I can easily tell the difference between songs but never so distinct as to betray the style of the album. Low-key and smooth, this has that pure 90s sound that would fit in perfectly on a Tony Hawk soundtrack (may have been on one, honestly). Front to back I loved this. This is exactly the type of album that made me want to do this challenge in the first place. My appreciation of hip hop is now a bit deeper.

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Sat Jan 07 2023
5

Love it when you come across a gem like this in this project. First listen - Heard of them but don’t recognize any of this LP but not just an LP that I’ll listen to again but this will be with me for the rest of my life. I hope. I can’t fault this. Intelligent, loose, upbeat hip hop. I’m not one for lyrics but these are brilliant. Vocal delivery, beats, turntable scratching melody, jazzy bits and oh my oh my the bass. This is quality, taking hip hop back to its routes. The sort of LP you learn all the lyrics to without even trying. It holds your attention on 1st listen all the way.

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Wed Jan 11 2023
5

90s rap is just always pretty good

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Sun Jan 15 2023
5

This is right in my lane. Great record.

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Tue Jan 31 2023
5

The album sounds like a product of its time but the beats and rhymes are 5/5.

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Thu Jun 08 2023
5

The flows and the beats are absolutely remarkable on this. Stand-out. Some great use of some classic samples. Why are these boys not better known?

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Thu Jun 22 2023
5

I cheered when I saw today's album, I love Gang Starr. Wonderful beats with jazz and soul samples, chill vibes and the rapper with the best voice (RIP Guru). Undeniable classic.

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Fri Aug 25 2023
5

OK, this is one of the rare times I agree with this list - This is one of the 1001 essential albums of all time.

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Wed Nov 08 2023
5

One of the better rap albums I’ve heard. Something I’d actually revisit as a non-rap fan. Great beats, smooth vocal delivery and lyrical content many cuts above what you get today. Once they sampled the guitar line in “Up On Cripple Creek” by The Band, this went from 4 to 5 stars for me.

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Wed Mar 03 2021
4

Don't normally listen to hip hop but this was enjoyable.

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Mon Jul 05 2021
4

Another great album that is outside of my normal wheelhouse. I'm not sure which school of hip hop this one falls in, but I like it. Would definitely listen again. 4 stars.

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Thu Jan 21 2021
4

Really great album that flies under the radar! This is up there with Eric B and Rakim, but might actually be better! Great flow, and hits hard.

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Thu Jan 21 2021
4

Fav Song: Check the Technique

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Tue Mar 16 2021
4

I think I like early rap better than late 90s and 2000s rap. I think it had a different sound and purpose. And I think my own feelings of “I don’t like rap” from that time period were probably colored by my influences.

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Mon Jul 12 2021
4

and, for whatever reason, i liked this one way more than Ready To Die, which was yesterday's pick. just felt right

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Thu May 27 2021
4

I think I have learned from this challenge that I like hip hop! I guess I also associated rap with like Snoop Dog and 50 Cent and PDiddy and whatever was in the 90s/00s charts which was really shite. This though- there's great beats in this, love the 90s sound, dunno the right terms but like the sampling and scratching. The rapping is pretty chill and smoothly rhythmic, lulling and poetic.

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Wed Mar 24 2021
4

A little too long for this early 90s style, but I really enjoyed this album. Jazz beats and great wordplay make this a great departure from the previous hip hop we’ve listened to.

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Wed Feb 24 2021
4

I really enjoy this era of hip hop. Arrested Development, Public Enemy, De La then prearranging taste of music to come in the following years.

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Fri May 21 2021
4

Was für einen Unterschied Kopfhörer machen können! Zuerst dieses Juwel über Boxen und nicht besonders laut gehört - ganz nice, aber nun wirklich nicht aufregend. Hörte man bisschen so weg. Dann am späteren Abend noch mal mit - basstarken - Headphones, und oh my God: Primo, das biste ja! Dichte Samples, aber knochentrocken und locker gestreut, luftig, reduziert und (rate mal ...) jazzy. Schon fast jeepig, aber andererseits wahnsinnig kultiviert. Gurus Rapstyle - ja, das machte man damals so, mit dem Preaching und der Berichterstattung und der Consciousness. Vielleicht heute bisschen dated (im Gegensatz zu Premiers wirklich immer freshen Beats), aber trotzdem I like it. Wirklich schöne (wieder-)Entdeckung!

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Fri May 21 2021
4

„But yo I don`t look for hassles, my rhymes are like castles“ Gang Starr‘s soft power ist so heilsam genrefern, dabei stark und mit ordentlich Rückgrat gegenüber „the weak stuff you heard from those creampuffs“. Und wie ausgeglichen, gar aus männlicher Sicht feministisch „Lovesick“ mit toxischer Eifersucht umgeht, hab ich im US Rap auch noch nie gehört. Die Beats wirken anfangs altbacken, nehmen mit der Dauer an Schärfe zu, bleiben aber lässig und manche bass line könnten die Beastie Boys eingeschnürt haben, wie im ohnehin handwerklich großartigen „Take A Rest“. Sanftmütige 4.1

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Thu Jan 28 2021
4

Nearly a five after a couple of listens, laid back rap, like Erik b and rakim

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Wed Feb 17 2021
4

90's East Coast Hip Hop, yes please

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Thu May 27 2021
4

Really nice hip hop album, very chill

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Wed Jul 14 2021
4

DJ Premiere is the be of the greatest producers of all time and Guru is a great MC but there are better Gangstarr albums.

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Tue Apr 06 2021
4

Again, one song, but it's a bloody good one! Must have been hugely different from other rap when it was released.

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Wed Apr 21 2021
4

Very consistent album filled with some nice beats and some good lyrical flow

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Wed May 19 2021
4

Great album. I enjoyed it and will listen again.

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Thu Jun 24 2021
4

Solid hip-hop. Lyrics along the lines of "Watch me rap better than you" which I prefer to the "I'm going to kill you" vibe. Samples were catchy but repetitive within a track.

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Wed Jul 07 2021
4

Niet mijn kopje thee, maar door de pure eenvoud van de muziek pakt het me stiekem toch. Ik zal het niet gauw zelf opzetten, maar waardeer het toch met 4 sterren omdat ik wel kan horen hoe goed het is

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