Sunday, November 8, 2009

November 8: Gang Starr, "Daily Operation"

Artist: Gang Starr
Album: Daily Operation
Year: 1992
Label: Alliance

Whenever a specific form of a particular genre dominates the music scene, it is often those artists that attempt to perform in the opposite manner that create the finest musical innovations. Largely due to being so detached from the mainstream sound, these artists are able to explore their style without any boundaries or fear.. This was perhaps no more apparent then in the case of the various forms of hip hop that emerged during the dominance of "gangsta rap" during the early 1990's. While artists like Dr. Dre and Notorious B.I.G. were poised to control the music charts, a number of artists who preferred a more intellectual, more musical approach to the style began to gain large followings all over the country. Within this movement, perhaps the most interesting style to emerge is the form that would become known as "jazz-rap." While artists like Digable Planets and Brand Nubian were making brilliant contributions, there was one duo that had a truly immeasurable impact, and paved the way for countless artists, the New York emcee/DJ team, Gang Starr. Perfectly presenting everything that it meant to perform "jazz-rap," it is nearly impossible to find a finer example of the style, and each of their records is an absolutely hip-hop classic. Finding the perfect balance in both sound and rhyming, it is Gang Starr's third record, 1992's Daily Operation that stands as their crowning achievement and remains one of the most impressive and influential albums ever recorded.

It is truly difficult to fully grasp the amount of impact that was created upon the release of Daily Operation. From introducing a few new emcees to proving the value of well written content in rhymes, Daily Operation was simply too good an album to be ignored. Though it was not initially heralded as the seminal record that it now stands as, many of the publications that did not understand the album at the time have since rectified their mistakes. spawned a pair of memorable singles, "Ex Girl To Next Girl" and "Take It Personal," both of which hit the top five on the now defunct "Hot Rap Singles" chart. The latter of these actually hip number one on the charts and has since become a classic of the hip hop genre. Daily Operation also gave the world their first exposure to an up and coming Brooklyn-based emcee, Jeru The Damaja. On the brilliant track, "I'm The Man," both Jeru and Lil' Dap take verses, yet it is the formers' rhyming that is the most memorable on the track (though Jeru also delivers brilliantly on the song, "No Shame In My Game".) The fact that Gang Starr gave such blatant time and "props" on their album to two unknown emcees serves as a testament to their character and the duo's want to promote the finest that hip hop had to offer. Even with the stellar performances by their guest emcees, Daily Operation solidifies Gang Starr's place as a pair of the finest performers in the history of hip hop.

Creating some of the most original beats and blending in some of the finest sampling in history, DJ Premier stands today as one of the most important figures in the history of music. Whether he was using simple, sparse beats as are found on "The Place Where We Dwell" or complex musical textures, as on "Take It Personal," DJ Premier perfectly blends together everything that made "old school" DJing amazing with a new, fresh style. Showing his deep knowledge and understanding of the history of music, DJ Premier samples everyone from Cannonball Adderley to Charles Mingus to Ahmad Jamal. Also using more "standard" artists like James Brown and Eddie Hazel, DJ Premier even finds ways to mix in his peers as their are samples from MC Lyte, Boogie Down Productions, and Brand Nubian found throughout Daily Operation. The fact that there is such musical diversity on a single album serves as a testament to the unparalleled musical creativity of DJ Premier, as well as helping to prove the fact that there are truly no limits as to what can be done within the genre. Furthermore, DJ Premier's work on Daily Operation solidifies the fact that the contributions of the DJ in hip hop can be just as important as the rhymes of the emcee.

Though many emcees throughout hip hop history have referred to themselves as "Kings," "Bosses", or "Gods" of the genre, there is only one performer who has ever donned the most exalted title, the other half of Gang Starr, Guru. By far one of the most talented writers and performers in hip hop history, Guru's smooth, clear, and clever delivery is absolutely second to none. Though there are more jovial moments on the record, Daily Operation contains some of the most astute and unrelenting social observations ever committed to record, and in many ways, Guru comes off as a more direct version of Public Enemy, preferring to speak, as opposed to shout. Throughout Daily Operation, Guru muses on a wide range of topics, from government hypocrisy to the virtues or marijuana use to issues with the opposite sex. Bringing clever and original commentary on each subject, there are few hip hop albums anywhere in history that have as much and as thoughtful lyrical content. Guru's writing expertise and social awareness shines brightly on every song, and his true genius is clear when he drops lines like, "...and every time there's violence shown in the media, usually it's a black thing so where are they leading a world full of ignorance, hatred, and prejudice, TV and the news for years they have fed you this..." Regardless of the subject matter, every rhyme found on Daily Operation is absolutely brilliant, and the combination of DJ Premier's orchestrations and the phenomenal emcee skills of Guru help to make the album a true classic.

Whether it is the contrast in musical styles presented by DJ Premier or the equally diverse subject matter delivered by Guru, the amount of talent and innovation found on Daily Operation is truly unparalleled elsewhere in the genre. Daily Operation is truly a masterpiece, and DJ Premier's ability to brilliantly blend together the mood and sounds of jazz music with the urgency and power of hip hop had never before been done, and it absolutely re-wrote the books on what could be accomplished within the hip hop genre. The presence of Jeru The Damaja only helps to increase the significance of the album, and his contributions are on par with the overall greatness of the rest of the record. Refusing to compromise any aspect of their art, Gang Starr proved that a "major label" was not only unnecessary, but often a hindrance in making truly great and authentic hip hop music. Truth be told, there is not a bad song anywhere on Daily Operation, and though no two songs sound similar, each track has at least one aspect that makes it memorable in its own right. This ability to create diverse, yet equally high-impact songs is the true genius behind Gang Starr and what enables them to remain one of the most highly respect acts in the genres' history. With unrivaled presentation in both music and rhyming, there has simply never been another record that compares to the power and sound found on Gang Starr's sensational 1992 release, the truly phenomenal Daily Operation.

Standout tracks: "The Place Where We Dwell," "Take It Personal," and "Conspiracy."

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