NEW YORK -- After 10 years of jazzing up hip-hop in new and influential ways,
Gang Starr's Guru and DJ Premier say they have a lot to be thankful for.
For one, the duo count their blessings to have survived in an industry that churns out new rap
artists with abandon. To show their appreciation, the duo revisit their career on their upcoming
LP Full Clip: A Decade of Gang Starr (July 13), a collection of album cuts, singles, B-sides,
soundtrack material and three new songs.
The two-disc, 33-track set was assembled with the group's fans in mind, according to the
diminutive DJ Premier, one of hip-hop's most high-profile producers thanks to his work with
such big-name artists as Nas, D.I.T.C., Jay-Z and others. "We used to put out an album
every year," said DJ Premier this week as he and the hulking Guru sat in the conference room
at Virgin Records, their label.
"Most times, people after a four-year break really ain't feeling you no more once all these new
artists are out," he said, referring to the period between 1994's Hard to Earn and
1998's The Moment of Truth. "For us to have cut through that and we're still able to
make it in the market, it was like, let's give [the fans] something back to thank them."
Boston native Guru (born Keith Elam) and Texas import DJ Premier (born Christopher
Martin) came together in New York in 1988 to create an unprecedented brand
of hip-hop. Gang Starr combines jazz influences with straight-ahead lyrics in the style of rap
The duo spent time between the previous two albums working on side
projects, such as Guru's Jazzmatazz, and producing independent rappers
around New York. Full Clip boasts all 17 singles the band released
between 1989 and 1998, including a remix of "Manifest," the song that
helped put Gang Starr on the hip-hop map with its use of a bassline
from a Thelonius Monk jazz piece.
Jazz was the logical way for the duo to distinguish themselves from groups who were using
James Brown hooks, Guru said.
"My godfather is a crazy jazz buff," he said. "So when I used to go there [as a kid] to borrow
money to go to Funkadelic concerts and what not, he used to make me sit down in front of his
speakers and listen to jazz records. He'd say, 'This is real music.' "
The songs "Code of the Streets," from the film "Menace II Society," and "DWYCK," a 1994
B-side featuring fellow hip-hop group Nice and Smooth, also appear on the collection. The
album introduces "Full Clip," "Discipline" and "All 4 Tha Ca$h," songs recorded at D&D
Studios in Manhattan earlier this year.
"Full Clip" finds Guru playing the role of hip-hop wise man, condemning
those who rap "childish nonsense" and lie about who they really are. Meanwhile, DJ Premier offers a jazz-inflected
"I've always been one of those MCs that's been allowed to speak out on ... a type of MC,"
Guru, 35, said. "Not everybody can do it. ... It's like I'm not just a kid on the block without a
record deal. Now I'm ... 10 years in the game -- over 10 years really."
The duo shot a video for the album's first single, "Discipline," this week. "Just because I'm
rappin' don't mean I chase ass," Guru recites on the song. The track is
refutes stereotypes of black entertainers, Guru said.
"[Guru] actually left a message with me at 5 in the morning, calling from Florida, doing the hook
on the phone," said the 35-year-old Premier about the song's evolution. "And I was so tired
and my machine was up on full volume ... [and he's] singing the hook over the phone! But the
hook was dope. It's definitely another complete record."
Premier worked with D.I.T.C., a New York hip-hop collective, early this year.
In February group member Big L (born Lamont Coleman) was shot and killed as he left his
apartment in Harlem. Guru and Premier said the shooting affected them deeply; an excerpt
from a March tribute concert for Big L begins the album. On it, Premier shouts the words "Big
L, rest in peace" in the seconds before "Full Clip."
Incidents such as the murders of Big L and the Lost Boyz' Freaky Tah (born
Raymond Rogers) two weeks later made Guru more guarded, he said.
"It makes the chip on my shoulder bigger," Guru said. "My occupation
has hazards that come with it that don't come with a lot of other jobs.
I take it real seriously. So if somebody's coming at me with a vibe that
they're not taking it real seriously, then I'm going the other way."