Gang Starr

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Gang Starr
Gangstarr-08-mika (cropped).jpg
Gang Starr in 2003
Background information
Origin Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.
Genres East Coast hip hop, jazz rap
Years active
  • 1986–2003
  • 2019–present
Associated acts Gang Starr Foundation
Past members

Gang Starr was an American hip hop group, consisting of Texas record producer DJ Premier and Massachusetts rapper Guru. [1] Gang Starr was at its height from 1989 to 2003, and are considered one of the best MC-and-producer duos in hip hop history. [2] [3] They are recognized for being one of the pioneers of jazz rap. [3] Some of their top hits include "Mass Appeal", "Take It Personal", "Moment of Truth" and "Above The Clouds". [4]



Original & second group lineups

The original Gang Starr group was founded in Morehouse College by three friends from Boston, Massachusetts: Guru (then known as MC Keithy E.) who was planned to be a rapper/singer, Big Shug as the main MC and DJ Suave D (Shug's younger brother Dana) as their DJ. After Shug was imprisoned, Suave D quit the group, leaving Guru to enlist the services of MC Damo D-Ski and DJ 1, 2 B-Down (also known as Mike Dee) [5] with various producers, such as Donald D, J.V. Johnson or The 45 King helping out. Their earliest recordings were in 1986 where they made various demos. [6] In 1987 and 1988, Gang Starr released three 12" vinyl singles on Wild Pitch Records.

Breakup and partnering with DJ Premier

Gang Starr performing in Hamburg in 1999 Gangstarr-09.jpg
Gang Starr performing in Hamburg in 1999

In 1989, the group split for the second time and the only member willing to continue under the name was Guru. He got in touch with Houston, Texas native DJ Premier (then known as Waxmaster C) who sent him a beat tape, which Guru liked. He invited DJ Premier to join Gang Starr, relocate with him to Brooklyn and in that same year they released their first single "Words I Manifest" along with the album No More Mr. Nice Guy (1989). [1] In 1990, the group was signed to the Chrysalis record label by then A&R director Duff Marlowe, a former DJ and Los Angeles Times rap music critic. The label offered Guru and Premier unlimited artistic license and major-label distribution worldwide, a platform the group used to become one of the most influential hip hop acts of that decade. During their career Gang Starr helped pioneer the New York City hardcore hip hop sound. The Gang Starr catalog, especially Step in the Arena (1991), Daily Operation (1992), Hard to Earn (1994) and Moment of Truth (1998) are well respected among underground rap fans and critics. Their track "Jazz Thing" was featured on the soundtrack to Spike Lee's film Mo' Better Blues . [1] Gang Starr provided a track, "Battle", for the sound track of the 2002 movie 8 Mile.

After several albums and tours, in late 2002 DJ Premier left Europe to go back to the United States. Once again Guru was faced with continuing alone and became involved in a European tour in 2003–04 with an alternate DJ. In 2006, Guru indicated in several interviews that Gang Starr had reached its end. [7]

Guru's death

In February 2010, Guru suffered a heart attack, went into a coma, and died on April 19, 2010. DJ Solar, a long-time collaborator of Guru, said Guru chose not to go public with the diagnosis of myeloma that was made in 2000. [8] Guru appeared to have fallen out with DJ Premier seven years prior to his death and did "not wish my ex-DJ to have anything to do with my name, likeness, events, tributes, etc." [9] There is speculation that the letter was not written by Guru, but was composed by Solar. [10] The validity of the statement was questioned by Guru's family and his contemporaries. [11]

Post Guru

Soon after DJ Premier stated that there was a "posthumous Gang Starr CD/DVD project in the works," and most likely to have been released in 2014, [12] but nothing has been released. DJ Premier confirmed in late 2015 that he was working on a Gang Starr biopic with the cooperation of Guru's sister, Patricia Elam. [13]

In 2019, DJ Premier released a new single under the Gang Starr name entitled "Family and Loyalty" featuring J. Cole, to be followed with a new album titled One of the Best Yet, which was released on November 1 that year. [14] [15]


The Gang Starr Foundation was a loose collective of various people who have worked closely with the group, through either Guru's now defunct Ill Kid label, DJ Premier's production work or the management company that Gang Starr was represented by, Empire Management. Members of the foundation included Big Shug, Afu-Ra, Jeru the Damaja, Krumbsnatcha, Bumpy Knuckles, and Group Home.

Each episode title of the first season of the Netflix series Luke Cage , based on the Marvel Comics character, was named after a Gang Starr song. [16]


Studio albums
Compilation albums

Related Research Articles

Guru (rapper) American rapper from Massachusetts

Keith Edward Elam, better known by his stage name Guru, was an American rapper and record producer. He was a member of the hip hop duo Gang Starr, along with DJ Premier. He was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts.

Jazz rap is a fusion of jazz and hip hop music, as well as an alternative hip hop subgenre, that developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. AllMusic writes that the genre "was an attempt to fuse African-American music of the past with a newly dominant form of the present, paying tribute to and reinvigorating the former while expanding the horizons of the latter." The rhythm was rooted in hip hop over which were placed repetitive phrases of jazz instrumentation: trumpet, double bass, etc. Groups involved in the formation of jazz rap included A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, De La Soul, Gang Starr, The Roots, Jungle Brothers, and Dream Warriors.

<i>Gurus Jazzmatazz, Vol. 1</i> 1993 studio album by Guru

Jazzmatazz Volume 1 is the debut solo studio album by American hip hop recording artist Guru. It was released on May 18, 1993 through Chrysalis Records. Recording sessions took place at D&D Studios in New York. Production was handled by Guru himself, who also served as executive producer together with Duff Marlowe and Patrick Moxey.

DJ Premier American record producer and DJ

Christopher Edward Martin, known professionally as DJ Premier, is an American record producer and DJ. He is considered one of the greatest hip hop producers of all time. He was half of the hip hop duo Gang Starr—alongside the rapper Guru—and presently forms half of the hip hop duo PRhyme, together with Royce da 5'9".

<i>Daily Operation</i> 1992 studio album by Gang Starr

Daily Operation is the third studio album by American hip hop duo Gang Starr. It was released by Chrysalis Records on May 5, 1992. It peaked at number 65 on the Billboard 200 chart.

Fredro Starr American actor-rapper

Fred Lee Scruggs Jr., better known by his stage name Fredro Starr, is an American hardcore rapper, record producer, actor and author, best known as a member of multi-platinum hardcore rap group Onyx. Fredro Starr was discovered by the late hip hop star Jam Master Jay of Run-D.M.C. who signed Onyx on his label JMJ Records. Onyx went on to release three top selling albums before Fredro began his solo career. As a part of Onyx, Fredro Starr was nominated as "Favorite Rap/Hip-Hop New Artist" on American Music Awards of 1994 and won "Best Rap Album" on 1994 Soul Train Music Awards.

M.O.P. American hip hop duo from Brooklyn, New York

M.O.P. is an American hip hop duo. Composed of rappers Billy Danze and Lil' Fame, the duo are known for their aggressive lyrical delivery style. Although they maintain a strong underground following, they are mainly known for the song "Ante Up", released on their Warriorz album in 2000, and with which they have had mainstream success. The group has frequently collaborated with DJ Premier. Fame sometimes produces under the moniker Fizzy Womack, and has produced a significant number of tracks on all M.O.P. releases since 1996's Firing Squad, as well as work for other artists including Kool G Rap, Teflon and Wu-Tang Clan.

Jeru the Damaja American rapper from New York

Kendrick Jeru Davis, known as Jeru the Damaja, is an American rapper and record producer. He is known for his 1993 single "Come Clean" from his debut album, The Sun Rises in the East, ranked as one of the 100 greatest hip-hop albums of all time by the editors of He has worked extensively with Guru and DJ Premier of Gang Starr, whom he has known since he was in high school.

Freddie Foxxx Musical artist

James Campbell, better known by his stage names Freddie Foxxx and Bumpy Knuckles, is an American rapper and music producer from Long Island, New York.

The following list contains songs produced, co-produced or remixed by hip-hop producer DJ Premier.

<i>Step in the Arena</i> (album) 1990 studio album by Gang Starr

Step in the Arena is the second studio album by hip hop duo Gang Starr, printed as a 1990 release, and commercially released on January 15, 1991. In 2007, it was named the greatest hip hop album of all time by HipHopDX called it "the album that cemented Gang Starr as a timeless tag team."

<i>Hard to Earn</i> 1994 studio album by Gang Starr

Hard to Earn is the fourth studio album by American hip hop duo Gang Starr. It was released on March 8, 1994, by Chrysalis and EMI Records in North America. The album featured the singles "Mass Appeal",, "DWYCK", and "Code of the Streets". Guest appearances on the album include Group Home, Jeru the Damaja, and Big Shug. At the time, all were part of the Gang Starr Foundation, which made the album a stepping-stone for future DJ Premier-helmed projects by Group Home and Jeru. Hard to Earn received acclaim and commercial success upon release.

Afu-Ra American underground rapper (born 1974)

Aaron Phillip, better known by his stage name Afu-Ra, is an American underground rapper. Afu-Ra is a member of the Gang Starr Foundation, and has worked closely with its members, Gang Starr, Jeru the Damaja, Big Shug, Group Home, and others.

<i>The Ownerz</i> 2003 studio album by Gang Starr

The Ownerz is the sixth studio album by the hip-hop duo Gang Starr, and the last released during Guru’s lifetime. It was released in June 24, 2003, by Virgin. It was well-received critically and boasts four singles, "Skills", "Rite Where U Stand", "Nice Girl, Wrong Place", and "Same Team, No Games".

Gang Starr Foundation is a collective of east coast rappers led by the hip hop group Gang Starr. It was co-founded by Boston legend Big Shug. It was established in 1993.

Cary Guy, better known as Big Shug is a hip hop artist and actor from Boston, Massachusetts, a cofounder of Gang Starr and a member of the Gang Starr Foundation collective.

Mass Appeal (song) 1994 single by Gang Starr

"Mass Appeal" is a song by American hip hop group Gang Starr from the album Hard to Earn. The song reached #67 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #42 on the Billboard R&B chart. It was also featured on the soundtrack of the video game Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4.

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<i>One of the Best Yet</i> 2019 studio album by Gang Starr

One of the Best Yet is the seventh and final studio album by American hip hop duo Gang Starr, released on November 1, 2019. The album features previously unreleased and posthumous vocals from Guru, who died nine years prior to the album's release. The album features guests appearances from J. Cole, Royce da 5'9", Talib Kweli, M.O.P., and Q-Tip, among others.


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