March 31, 2021

Gang Starr "Moment of Truth" (March 31, 1998)

Only a few rap groups have managed career-long consistency, among them A Tribe Called Quest (whose new album will come out in June) and Gang Starr. "Moment of Truth" (Noo Trybe/Virgin) is the latter's fifth album, its first in four years. The wait's been worth it, as DJ Premier once again brings his unmatched production skills to bear on rapper Guru's authoritative missives. At the start of the new album, Guru boasts, "We update our formulas. . . . The rhythm style is elevated, the style of beats are elevated. . . . There's always a message included." Indeed, messages stressing knowledge and self-determination are sprinkled throughout: "Take responsibility . . . make your moves right and exact . . . if we don't build, we'll be destroyed . . . each one teach one . . . cultivate, multiply, motivate/ Or else we'll die." In the title track, Guru admits to a looming depression fueled by both social history and personal weakness: "I'm ready to lose my mind/ But instead I use my mind," he says, further rejecting drugs and alcohol because "all that's going to do really is accelerate/ Those anxieties that I wish I could alleviate." Later, in "What I'm Here For," he rides a mesmerizing piano loop and declares, "While some choose greed/ I chose to plant seeds for your mental spirit and physical temple/ Bob your head to it/ There's the water, you've been led to it." "Royalty" teams Gang Starr with Jodeci's K-Ci and JoJo on an anthem that's both gently critical and unconditionally affirming. There are also several collaborations with other rappers, the most interesting being the orientally flavored, mystical-leaning "Above the Clouds" with Wu-Tang's Inspectah Deck, and "Betrayal," a languid "Mean Streets" parable about money, greed and lust that effectively teams Guru with former Geto Boy Scarface. (The WP article continues below, click play and keep reading...)

While there are a few questionable digressions -- "She Knowz What She Wantz" is lame and slightly misogynistic -- the most vituperative tracks are reserved for "wack" rappers and pretenders, from the back-on-the-block surge of "You Know My Steez" and Big Apple-centric "New York Strait Talk" to "The Rep Grows Bigga," which mixes verbal beat-downs on ghetto celebrity lifestyle with frustration over the distance between the group's commercial success and its artistic impact. Guru's raps seem particularly invigorated this time around -- the monotone delivery sharp, the flow smooth, the lyrics straightforward and uncompromising -- but it's still Premier's production that lifts "Moment of Truth" above the competition. Premier favors clean, distinct beats that avoid gimmicks and commercialism. With few exceptions, they draw the listener into the messages with clever, mesmerizing sonic textures that bear repeated listening. - The Washington Post (4/15/1998).