Artist: Gang StarrTitle: Hard To Earn (CLASSIC REVIEW)Rating: 5 StarsReviewed by: Kidz In The Hall
Naledge and Double O, known as Kidz in the Hall, got the memo. All you need in this life of Hip-Hop is an MC and a DJ, respectively. Meeting up while attending the University of Pennsylvania, Jabari “Naledge” Evans, by way of Chicago, and Michael “Double-O” Aguilar, by way of New Jersey, decided to put their own stamp on the rap world. So before the comparisons of this latest underground sensation and Gang Starr get out of hand-for the record, their upcoming debut School Was My Hustle really is that good-AllHipHop.com had them speak their piece on why they feel Guru and Premier’s Hard To Earn is a classic. Why not, say, Step In The Arena or Daily Operation? “This is the album that introduced me to that format, to that sound,” answers Naledge. “Even when I went back and listened to other albums later on, none of them hit me harder.”
Word. Here’s the rundown:
“Intro (The First Step)”
Naledge: They introducing themselves like, “We about to show you what it takes to do real Hip-Hop”. Thats a bold statement to make. If you don’t know nothing about Hip-Hop, listen to what we doing.
Double-O: It set the album up perfectly.
N: It just makes sense. The song was trying to say you can spends years doing something and it takes somebody else six months, if they don’t really know what they’re doing. The beat is classic. To me the beat almost makes the song. That’s what I mean wit Premier being able to talk with the beat. A lot of times his production is what evokes the feelings. Whatever words he injects within the verses or within the hooks, a lot of times that creates the mood of the songs.
O: Because Guru, he’ll call himself the monotone emcee, Premier definitely tried to make it so the entire song came out without feeling flat, all the songs. With this song specifically, with what he’s talking about it’s almost like the tone that he has in the verses, it’s not necessarily a scary story but it gives you that type of Vincent Price thriller intro type feel that things are not all good.
N: Real eerie.
“Code of the Streets”
N: Production wise Premo murdered this. Guru did a good job in getting inside the beat, not trying to overpower it. That’s why Guru and Premier fit. Guru was being stylistic but he almost uses his voice as an instrument to get inside of the beat. This is a perfect marriage of their sound. Other than “Mass Appeal”, this song is the most memorable for me, on this album.
O: It was a done a lot back then, but particularly this song does not really have a hook. It’s a very quick break and then right back to what’s going on.
N: It lulls you in. It’s almost like how Phonte did that verse that didn’t rhyme and you dont realize that it doesn’t rhyme until the end.
N: [It] almost sounds like some old Ice Cube sh*t.
O: Yeah, it’s definitely that Hank Shocklee, wall of sound he tried to create out the box.
N: It threw Guru a monkey wrench. There’s a certain sound you expect, and this is not what I expected.
O: Records like this definitely help break the album out. Especially at this point, you’re talking about the third album, people might have been a little used to what they thought was the Premo sound. He’s done it again obviously with the Christina [Aguilera] album but its always dope when he just throws in that type of record that’ll throw you off.
N: A lot of Guru’s rhymes are stream of conscious to an extent. It’s not animated but a lot of times he switches from topic to topic but then he brings it back full circle and closes it out.
O: From a producers standpoint, what I love about Premo is that he [can] take any two bars from any record, it didn’t matter what he was sampling from, and make a dope joint. It just goes with their album, you have to make sure you don’t get stuck in the same vibe. You don’t want to make a monotonous record in any way. This is another one because they’re using a folk sample and it’s actually slower than the other records.
N: This is like perfect background music. Its one of those joints you might play in the office. You might hear somebody playing it. You don’t really notice it but its like the perfect meeting song.
N: Whatever happened to props? A lot of old records it’s like, “Yo this is Chuck D, I just want to say that so and so is dope as shit.” “Yo what up this is DJ So and So from Arizona and I just want to say KRS is the dopest.” Yo, that shit used to be dope! People giving you props on your records, that was some straight early 90s shit. “Ayo, this is the #1 soul brother Pete Rock…” [laughing]
O: People always think about the Native Tongues and that whole movement, but it was bigger than that. Everybody really, to a certain extent fucked with each other before the whole East/West thing. It was like the calm before the storm. People were just happy, I can make a living doing this.
N: It was still a block party vibe like, We all make good Hip-Hop. Everything has been so regionalized to where little shit like that, it’s like Damn, where is the feeling?
I identify with them too because they did the whole college thing and linked up through that.
"Speak Ya Clout"f/ Jeru & Lil Dap
N: This is the perfect album cut. They went from concepts back to just styling. This beat makes you want to rhyme.
O: If this was on the Wake Up Show right now, you’d have 16 MCs going back to back to back. It’s a gift for a real rapper to just have some shit like that, the beat will still come off as dope but the MC can just flow, period.
N: It was way more performative [sic] back then. Hip-Hop sounded like a concert. A beat switch up is the staple of a live show. You can imagine Guru and Premo switching the beat up and everybody going nuts.
O: Hip-Hop started in show form, and then came records. Now you don’t perform until you have a hit single, and then you just do some songs, then perform that single and the people will be ready for you to get off the stage.
N: Talk about styling Nice-N-Smooth! They said a whole lot of nothing and sounded really cool doing that shit. I think Smooth is the prelude to [Farnsworth] Bentley, the gentleman’s rapper.
O: This joint was a classic before it even got on this album. I think it was the B-side of two different records from the second album. [“Take It Personal”] and it was on Ex Girl to the Next Girl too. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you got into Hip-Hop because you brought an old school Hip-Hop CD or because you heard this when it came out and you was watching Video Music Box and seen them on the beach. You can be at a party in Malibu or you can be at a party at The Arc in Brooklyn, and everyone knows this record. That’s how timeless this is.
N: I don’t even got nothing to say.
O: This is just another testament to what Premo can do with a little bit of nothing. Premo defined what we think of the NY gritty sound, this is just another classic. Guru is able to rap on Premo records and still come off without being overshadowed.
N: It’s effortless. That’s why I fucked with Gang Starr so much. I remember in college freshman year you get stuck with people from different regions. I had kid from the Bay, a kid from LA, I’m from Chicago, and I was more into quote unquote underground, east coast hip-hop. Its one of those records you throw on when you having song battles. A motherfucker throws on E-40 and the m’f*cka throws on Cube, I’m like listen to this sh*t!
O: I love how you didn’t have to pose like you were the hardest, super gangsta dude in the world back then to comment on the dumb shit people do. It was way extra back then to have NYPD all around you and whatever. But again, it’s before 96, 97, after B.I.G. and Pac died…
N: Everybody scared.
“Now Your Mine”
N: A lot of people criticize Guru but he gives as much as slack as the beat gives him. Metaphorically, he’s pretty dope. For somebody today to listen to it they might not think it’s such dope metaphors, but people really forget what was going on at the time they made these records. If somebody were trying to tell me that they could put The College Dropout against a record like this I’m like you can try, but I just don’t know if in five years I’m going to listen to that record like I listen to this record. Everything today, it comes from shit like this. So it’s not even to point that record out saying it was bad or anything, it’s a great record, but it just shows how Hip-Hop has moved. Few people think long term now. They think for the big hit, the quick lick, get in get out like a robbery.
“Mostly Tha Voice”
O: From “Now Your Mine”, and now this, the mood is starting to change as you get to the end of the album. You start to get more of a, obviously he’s now more into the jazzy side, you got the upright bass sample, it’s starting to hit you now. You had your peak already with “DWYCK” and then with “Mass Appeal”, now it’s definitely going to be dope but let’s bring the feel down as we get closer and closer to the end of the album. If you were to end the album on a super crazy high point, it wouldn’t cover the full scope of what you needed to in trying to make a full musical piece.
N: It’s almost like an essay. You’ve got to have your intro, your body, and then your conclusion. Few albums really can accomplish. The artist always sees it like, “Yo, it’s so cohesive! This is going to change the game son!” But this sh*t actually accomplished what it was setting out to do. They came off as so, “We just doing what we do, what?!” We changing the game, if you want to listen, listen. If not, don’t do it.
“Comin for Datazz”
O: This is the last hurrah.
N: The point that was made at the beginning is being made at the end. It leaves you wanting more, to an extent.