No one questioned Guru's claim that he was "one of the best yet." The Boston native had one of the most distinctive voices in hip-hop history. You didn't even need a whole bar to know that Gifted Universal Rhymes Unlimited was on the mic. Backed by beats from the almighty DJ Premier, Guru supplied glorious vocals on battle raps, intricate life stories and candid street commentary. The 43-year-old MC died on Monday due to complications from cancer. And despite the fact that the Gang Starr duo were estranged for the last several years, their legacy is concrete — one of the richest in hip-hop history. Here at MTV News, the hip-hop team listed our choices for 10 essential Gang Starr songs.
1. "Dwyck," featuring Nice and Smooth: The party record from 1994's Hard to Earn is timeless. We love the simplistic rhymes from the trio, like, "Lemonade was a popular drink and it still is," and Primo's beat is a signature hip-hop treat.
2. "Take It Personal": The phone rings on the beat; the song (from 1992's Daily Operation) is off the hook. With imposing precision, Guru pulls the curtain back and sees a backstabber for the scoundrel he is. "I can see through you, 'cause I'm the Guru/ What you gonna do when I start to step to you."
3. "Mass Appeal": No crossover. Gang Starr always kept artistic integrity, and on this Hard to Earn track, Guru admonishes the poseurs with lines like, "You're a son like Elroy/ And you'd be happy as hell to get a record deal/ Maybe your soul you sell for the mass appeal."
4. "Just to Get a Rep": "Stick up kids just out to tax." In this song on 1991's Step in the Arena, Guru's words take us to the frontlines, where misguided youths think that the way of the gun is the road to respect.
5. "Suckas Need Bodyguard": The aggression is turned up as Guru puts the heat on chumps in this Hard to Earn song. "My rhymes are a cargo, and yours are just a quarter ounce." The chorus pretty much gets the group's point across: "Fake MCs, they always act hard, but won't walk the streets without their bodyguards."
6. "Ex-Girl to the Next Girl": One of Guru's greatest gifts on the mic was his clarity in thought and articulation. His stories would unfold almost right in front of your eyes. Here, he shows some vulnerability as he navigates the relationship waters but finds triumph in the end. The track (from Daily Operation) gave an early indication of where he would later go with his heralded Jazzmatazz series.
7. "Royalty," featuring K-Ci and JoJo: After a four-year break between albums, the two underground kings returned with two-thirds of the legendary R&B group Jodeci for this inspirational track (on 1998's Moment of Truth) about striving for greatness. Guru even shouts out our very own Sway and his partner King Tech.
8. "Words I Manifest": Vintage, early Gang Starr. The duo came out of the gate promoting knowledge of self and establishing their roles in hip-hop. "I got tenacity, because I have to be/ The brother who must live and give with much insight/ Foresight to ignite, excite and delight."
9. "You Know My Steez": Gang Starr talk about their lauded musical modus operandi, an authentic representation of the essence of hip-hop.
10. "The ? Remainz": "This is a battle rhyme in case you haven't noticed/ You get replaced, you get demoted." The belligerence is beautiful in this 1994 track, as Guru and Primo once again answer the bell and silence any questions as to whether they've earned the title of hip-hop ownerz.
Five Essential Records From the Jazzmatazz Series:
"Loungin' " with Donald Byrd
"Trust Me" with N'Dea Davenport
"Keep Ur Worries" with Angie Stone
"Le Bien, le Mal" with MC Solaar
"Plenty," featuring Erykah Badu
What are your favorite Gang Starr and Guru songs? Share them in the comments below.