25 Years Later, Listening To Gang Starr Remains A Daily Operation (Video)
Twenty five years ago today (May 5, 1992), Gang Starr’s two-man crew of the late Guru and DJ Premier released their third album, Daily Operation. Less than a year and a half prior, the Brooklyn, New York-based pair proved that they were a 1980s Hip-Hop group on a heavy upward trajectory in the ’90s. Step In The Arena was an album that showed Gang Starr was more than just a talented MC and DJ battery—they were a brotherhood. Daily Operation, however, revealed that the Chrysalis/EMI Records act was aiming for legendary status—and they had their crew with them.
For the ’92 affair, Preemo and Gifted Unlimited moved their clubhouse. They set up shop in the now defunct D&D Studios in Midtown Manhattan. There, in cramped upstairs space, the Gang Starr Foundation put wisdom, weed smoke, and wonderful music into the air, as they would together for the next decade-plus. That vibe was a strong one—on all fronts. The same season that made introductions for Kris Kross, Spice 1, Das EFX, and Arrested Development showed that Hip-Hop was filled with colorful possibility. Gang Starr were not out to redefine themselves or Rap, only upwardly enhance.
Since the years before Premier entered the fold, Guru’s outfit was about a soulful message to the streets. Daily Operation amplified that. “Soliloquy Of Chaos” was a nighttime trip through the Rotten Apple underbelly, while “The Place Where We Dwell” celebrated Brooklyn’s cultural complexities long before it was a accepted in the Rap mainstream. “B.Y.S. (Bust Your Shit)” was Guru dancing around the ring with fast gloves and a stylish delivery on the mic. He was cocky, confident, but always symbolically accessible (“I get much fan mail, and I always respond“). These were not Rap stars; these guys were plugging away at a dream, on a road paved with dues paid.
More than 15 years ahead of Drake, Guru had a vulnerability that permeates the culture today. “Take It Personal” and “Ex-Girl To Next Girl” never showed weakness. In the end, the Speaker is always on top. However, Guru refused to play like he was unaffected, whether from break-ups or betrayal. This would become a prevailing theme in Hip-Hop later (Tupac to Ghostface Killah, Nas to Drake), but Guru injected a humanity into his songwriting. The circumstances refused to be formulaic. Guru could shift between the come-up to the payday, lust and satisfaction, predator and a consolation to the prey. He and his partner liked to get lifted (“Take Two And Pass”), stay woke (“Conspiracy”), and stay in the company of attractive women…the illest brothers, indeed.
A huge part of cool style lived in the beats, too. 1992 was a time when people questioned N.W.A.’s future without Dr. Dre, and paid attention to Juice Crew MCs making albums outside out Marley Marl’s House Of Hits. Preemo went from Gang Starr’s silent half to a true artistic partner in the eyes of the public. While the two previous albums flashed greatness, Christopher Martin hit a legendary ’90s stride on tracks like the booming bass-driven “Take It Personal.” “Hardcore Composer” took a drum and bass loop and built it into a dynamic sonic landscape. “I’m The Man” laid down three punchy tracks for Guru, Lil Dap, and Jeru The Damaja, respectively (a motif they would uphold on Hard To Earn). This was an intersection of hard Jazz and brash Hip-Hop. Yes, the music could be smooth, but the volume, sounds, and flare was never tucked back or toned down. Everything was elevated. In a way, Preem’s vision proposed what-if “The Bird” or Mingus ever cracked White Owls and Phillies in half in the backseat of a Bed-Stuy-bound Nissan Pathfinder.
In hindsight, Daily Operation began a triptych of Hip-Hop albums from one act arguably as strong as any. 1994’s Hard To Earn and ’98’s Moment Of Truth progressively built on the Gang Starr blueprint. The “updated formulas” were constant, and rich. As Hip-Hop changed, New York changed, and their bond and success mounted, Guru and Premier complemented each other brilliantly. From this album, Guru’s guest role would be sought out by Heavy D & The Boyz and De La Soul, while his Jazz heroes agreed to collaborate. Preemo’ would be recruited by KRS-One and Too Short, while he soon became the trusted hands to develop Nas, Mobb Deep, and Biggie Smalls.
While Daily Operation may not always come up as the ultimate Gang Starr album (and it does), this 25 year-old LP remains a keystone in their legacy.