Saturday, February 1, 2020

CD Odyssey Disc 1337: Gang Starr

For the second straight album, we take a trip into the land of rap.

Late last year Gang Starr put out a posthumous (for Guru) album of previously unreleased music. When I saw it, I shrugged. That’s because I’m not usually interested in albums that come out after an artist’s death; too often they’re the dregs from the studio floor, or, in an effort to work with limited takes and masters, have spotty production. However, listening to this next record reminded me that it is always wise to give a favoured artist another chance to impress you.

Disc 1337 is…The Ownerz
Artist: Gang Starr

Year of Release: 2003

What’s up with the Cover? Guru and DJ Premier stand in front of the Mansion of Bass! Check out those gate posts! This would be awesome if you lived there, but terrible if you lived across the street.

How I Came to Know It: I bought this about five years ago when I was digging through Gang Starr’s back catalogue.

How It Stacks Up: I have six Gang Starr albums. I had saved the lowest ranking for “The Ownerz” but it ended up being a pleasant surprise. Instead, I’m bumping “Moment of Truth” down a spot and giving “The Ownerz” #5. This is the final album in my collection, so here's the recap:

  1. Step in the Arena: 5 stars (reviewed at Disc 737)
  2. Hard to Earn: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 382)
  3. Daily Operation: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 508)
  4. No More Mr. Nice Guy: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 1155)
  5. The Ownerz: 3 stars (reviewed right here)
  6. Moment of Truth: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 988)
Ratings: 3 stars

I was really ready to be underwhelmed by “The Ownerz,” a record I consistently pass over in favour of other Gang Starr albums. I was even excited to save a little storage space in my overgrown collection. Alas, it was not to be. Despite my inclinations, I ended up having a very good time.

This is a rarity, as there isn’t much rap music released in the 21st century that catches my attention, but Guru’s flow is good in any year. His untimely death in 2010 was a real loss for music.

Guru’s style puts smooth first, so don’t expect a lot of furious spitting. He has lots to say, but it comes out soft and thoughtfully, much like his chosen subjects. Sometimes that will be political reflections on the state of race relations, sometimes observations about the sorry state of the rap music industry, and sometimes just a few sexy rhymes to get the attention of a lady.

DJ Premier employs a lot of jazz-infused scratches and samples, but “The Ownerz” has a harder, more aggressive edge when the song’s topic calls for it.

As with other later records in their discography (and generally what goes on in rap music of late), Gang Starr employs lots of guest vocalists. Jadakiss brings some great energy to “Rite Where U Stand” including:

“Let the .40 Cal give em a perm
This industry is like bacteria and my flow is a germ”

Usually I think of Guru when I think of “science nerd” rhymes, but here Jadakiss shows he’s down for a little biology.

My favourite guest is the ever-angry pugilist, Freddie the Foxx, who reprises his militia persona on “Capture (Militia Pt.3)”. No one is quite so angry as Freddie, opening his section of the song with:

“There’s one ripped out the frame, felony act
Everybody get the fuck up, welcome me back.”

Welcome back, Freddie – never change.

Riot Akt” is another bright spot, with Guru digging into race relations in America in a way that is thoughtful and provocative in equal measure.

Despite all these great moments, the album suffers from being slightly too long (56 minutes) and with way too many tracks (19). Admittedly, a few of these tracks are just skits, but those skits aren’t all that interesting. And some of those skits are built right into the track itself, which I didn’t appreciate either. “Hiney” is a half-skit, half-rap, an a capella free form track where DJ Premier goes on at great length about his dick’s…er…great length. It’s a novel song the first time you encounter it but doesn’t stand up over time. Get it? Get it?

Also, would it kill these guys to spell correctly? Incorrect spelling adds exactly nothing to the value of a song title and degrades language without purpose. And yes, this also goes for Prince, who I blame for starting the whole fad back in the eighties.

Anyway, I always admire how Gang Starr fuses jazz sounds into something that makes me enjoy the experience, and “The Ownerz” once again puts this skill on display. The album is bloated and a bit self-absorbed, but that’s hardly an uncommon malaise in rap records of this era. In the end the best moments outweigh the forgettable ones, even if they don’t outnumber them. As a result, the record earned its way right back into the collection yet again.

Best tracks: Put Up or Shut Up, Rite Where U Stand, Who Got Gunz, Capture (Militia Pt.3), Riot Akt, Same Team No Games

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