April 29, 2013

Will Hagle is fully clad and glad.

In 1990, Chrysalis Records’s biggest hit was Sinéad O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Although the label was based in England and had found most of its success with artists like Billy Idol and Blondie, it had recently acquired Gang Starr, the then-fledgling hip-hop duo from America’s East Coast. A press-kit video from that time, in which Guru and DJ Premier were slated to release their sophomore LP Step Into The Arena, has surfaced online in the form of a digitized VHS-rip. The clip is a rare find, as Chrysalis was sold to EMI in 1991 and Gang Starr only grew in popularity throughout the ensuing decade.

The video captures Gang Starr at a time when they were still trying to prove themselves. No More Mr. Nice Guy was largely ignored or considered a disappointment. Step Into the Arena had yet to be certified a classic and we were a full eight years from their high water mark, Moment of Truth. Guru seems genuinely enthusiastic about explaining the group’s history and recording process, while DJ Premier does his best Silent Bob impression. Guru even speaks on Premier’s behalf a few times, while Premier alternates between nodding in agreement, mugging the camera and shifting uncomfortably in his seat.

Chubb Rock appears to comment on Gang Starr’s pioneering of the jazz-rap genre, and Branford Marsalis chimes in to legitimize that statement. Twenty-three years later, however, Marsalis’s words have lost some of their significance. The fusion of jazz and rap has always seemed inevitable — a genre that’s based on sampling will eventually sample any other genre, especially one with vaguely similar roots and rhythms. Then again, it’s impossible to tell whether jazz-rap would’ve reached the height of its creativity were it not for Gang Starr or their contemporaries (Native Tongues, The Roots, Digable Planets, US3 — pick which one does not belong). This press kit is a reminder of the quickly-changing musical landscape during the late 80s/early 90s, and the major role that Gang Starr played in that development.

With Guru dead for three years now, clips like this will have to keep us satisfied — at least the inevitable posthumous guest verses and/or holograms start popping up.


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