Here’s an Amazing Piece Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Gang Starr’s Hard to Earn

Gang Starr’s Hard to Earn album turns 20 years old tomorrow (3/8). To celebrate the landmark LP, Nahright & Up North Trips have put together a phenomenal piece that features a track by track breakdown of the making of the album by DJ Premier, himself. Check out an excerpt and a link to the full article below.


Here’s an excerpt with DJ Premier detailing his and Guru’s thought process as they were thinking about making Hard to Earn:

Getting Started

DJ Premier: “With Hard to Earn, one of the things that I was going through sonically was, it was right around the time that Guru started doing Jazzmatazz, and we kept getting categorized as ‘jazz rap.’ Which is why Guru did Jazzmatazz, because wanted to protect Gang Starr from being categorized like that, because we felt like we were a hip-hop group from day one.

“All I was doing was using jazz samples because no one was doing it. I was like, ‘We used every James Brown sample.’ So we were at that point, and I was like, ‘No one’s using jazz samples, and a lot of them are instrumental.’ And I’ll never forget when Rakim said, ‘I hook a beat up, convert it into hip-hop form.’ So I was taking sounds that no one was using, putting hard drums [with them] and making melodies. And it went with Guru’s vocal style. Guru called me a ‘beat tailor.’ So I was tailoring the beats to his voice.

“Being that Guru was getting aggravated with us being labeled that, I said, ‘I’m gonna strip this album down,’ just to show that I could use things other than jazz samples. We both wanted to show that anything I use is going to be a hip-hop beat. We said we were going to make it as raw as possible, and less musical, on purpose, just to show we’re good on any track, together.

“One thing I liked about EMI is they never interfered with any singles we chose [or the music we put on our albums]. They weren’t with ‘Just to Get a Rep’ [as the first single] when we got signed, because they thought we were gonna be a ‘jazz rap’ group, because of the ‘Jazz Thing’ record we did for Spike Lee for Mo’ Better Blues, which pretty much was the reason we got signed. So when we turned in ‘Just to Get a Rep’ as our first single, they were like, ‘This is not what we want.’ They wanted a Digable Planets ‘Cool Like Dat,’ or US3, because that was also poppin’ at the time. But we were like, ‘No, this is what we really are.’ So there was a misconception. But, they let us release all our singles—‘Who’s Gonna Take the Weight?’ and all that stuff—and never gave us a problem until The Ownerz album, because the staff changed. But prior to that, they never got in our way. And I loved that about Chrysalis and EMI, and Virgin. They let us choose our records.”

Click here for the full article.

Related: DJ Premier Explains the Meaning of the Gang Starr Logo (Video)