Wednesday, July 3, 2013

32. Gang Starr - Moment of Truth

Adapting to the sonic terrain of late 90's hip-hop, Moment of Truth saw Gang Starr abandoning their jazzy influences in favor of a rugged and atmospheric sound. When Guru states "we have certain formulas, but we update 'em with the times," it never comes off as a plea for commercial acceptance. A paranoid and aggressive work would be the only way to honestly portray the MC's current head space; a state of high stress and anxiety resulting from gun possession charges.

Using his plight as a springboard for discussion about the urban social climate, Guru constructs a compelling street narrative, drawing parallels between the violence on the streets and corruption/jealously in the music industry. Though saddled with a gruff monotone, he hopscotches through rhymes nimbly, capably weaving together a complex metaphor or acerbically placing irony into his crime sagas. His direct diction breeds an unforced eloquence, one capable of stretching an individual rhyming syllable far beyond its intended shelf life (see "Triple beam dreams and drug schemes of mad cream/could be a sad scene when you go to that extreme").

DJ Premier's style of production matches the vocals in function and vigor. Beats are tinny, lo-fi drum blasts, coupled with sovereign horn and piano jabs, rearranged by Premier's own blend of twitchy scratching and sequencing. Choral loops get permanently lodged in the brain, as a dizzying array of vocal samples and film clips elaborate on the track's themes and express dominance. Strings and piano are brought in sparingly, mostly for ominous intonation, but the lion's share of the soundtrack focuses on quick cuts of memorable jazz and soul, compressed for highest potency.

The crux of this collaboration is the title track, showing Guru in a moment of reflection, wrestling with his own vulnerability and the spiteful behavior of his supposed confidants. Although he initially chose rage as a means of release, he's abandoned violence and self-medication, instead realizing that everyone has their own cross to bear ("actions have reactions, don't be quick to judge"). This deeply insightful bit of catharsis is accompanied by lush strings, ringing triangle and constant synth clap.

Moment of Truth was seen as a comeback album, but rarely do artistic endeavors intended to reintroduce an artist have such a multifarious body of ideas. It lyrically exceeded the group's already high standards and reinterprets their sound for their current lifestyle. It might feature a few too many guest appearances and the occasionally long skit, "but it's still Guru and Premier... and there's always a message involved."

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