Commemorating 20th Anniversary of g--- Starr masterpiece "Moment of Truth"

Started by Big Dangerous, Mar 27, 2018, in Music Add to Reading List

  1. Big Dangerous
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    Big Dangerous World Heavyweight Champion

    Mar 27, 2018
    Moment of Truth turns 20 on March 31 and I found this great article talking about the album

    It is one of my top 3 favorite albums ever

    g--- Starr ended one of the greatest hot streaks in hip-hop with its masterpiece
    Moment Of Truth
    Graphic: Jimmy Hasse.
    Clayton Purdom
    Yesterday 3:00pm

    Permanent Records is an ongoing closer look at the records that matter most.

    g--- Starr released six records between 1989 and 2003, and four of them are stone-cold classics. Quibbling about which one is the actual best is an all-time-great way to piss off a bunch of rap nerds. DJ Premier is on the short list for greatest producers in the history of the form, a microscopic technician whose deep crates and minimalist drums remain a definition of hip-hop purity, and Guru was his muse, the monotone master who rapped in sharp quotables. But there were other great MC-DJ combos out there; part of what makes g--- Starr’s great run so indelible is the albums themselves, which are designed with a front-to-back cohesion that stuck out during the glut of great hip-hop in the late ’80s and early ’90s. To release one 20-track album without a dud is a feat—but to release four in a row?

    Part of this has to be attributed to the holistic manner in which the duo conceived the records. In an interview commemorating the 20th anniversary of ’94’s Hard To Earn—see, they’re all worth commemorating—DJ Premier explained their creative process. Before he even started making beats, he said, “Guru would always give me a list of titles. He would have the whole album mapped out.” He’d have tiny notes saying the rough topic of the track—“‘Tonz ‘O’ Gunz,’ this is about all the guns in the streets”—or even describing which ones should be singles. We generally think of musicians just “creating music,” then coming up with packaging and titles later. In hip-hop, producers often bank dozens or even hundreds of beats for a rapper to comb through in search of a record. g--- Starr did this backwards, starting with titles, then beats, then verses. When we look at the g--- Starr discography, which some of us still do pretty much weekly, what we’re looking at is something uniquely designed, each track list telling a self-contained story and each album title conveying a message specific to its moment. Step In The Arena was the moment Premier and Guru proved themselves; career-ender The Ownerz was designed as a capstone.

    I was thinking about this recently while relistening to Moment Of Truth, which turns 20 at the end of this month, and which is, infinite rap-nerd arguments be d---ed, their actual best album. Okay, okay: It’s my favorite, how about that. In ’98, it arrived at a weird time for hip-hop at large, when the roar of the East-West feud was fading and along with it the last vestiges of the mythic golden age. Producers were rifling through vintage funk and soul records for samples less and less in favor of the synthesized bombast of Swizz Beatz. In the South, the No Limit empire was ascendant, so much so that Snoop dropped an album with a Pen & Pixel cover. Method Man inaugurated the second wave of Wu-Tang solo releases by trying to rap like he was from the future. There were great albums being released—JAY-Z stepped out as a star on the smash Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, and Outkast achieved immortality on Aquemini—but these albums point to the strange period of flux hip-hop found itself in. Artists were either reaching back toward the past, or striving toward some hazy, post-millennial future.

    Moment Of Truth seemed uniquely aware of this. It was something of a comeback record for g--- Starr, arriving four years after their previous release, and at a time when their particular brand of hip-hop was becoming anachronistic. But for the duo itself, it represented a quantum leap forward. The jazz rap pioneered on early records gradually morphed into something denser by Hard To Earn, incorporating any sonic touchpoint that lit up Premier’s ears, but by Moment Of Truthhe was weaving together disparate elements into sonic tapestries of unsurpassed complexity. Sometimes this was toward purely rhythmic, almost mechanical ends; “Work” combines triumphant horn blasts, far-off sirens, plunking upright pianos, and drums that sound like they were recorded in an abandoned factory into a weird-a--- Rube Goldberg machine of a beat. But more often he was blending things toward a much richer emotional end, creating a woozy blanket of brass on “Next Time” that almost makes Guru’s battle raps and a scratched, spectral LL Cool J vocal clip seem mournful, even doomed.

    Throughout, Primo creates hooks like this, scratching together dense montages of lines from other rappers into custom-made choruses. (“You Know My Steez” alone cuts together Method Man, Public Enemy, Das EFX, and Grandmaster Flash.) He didn’t invent this technique, nor was Moment Of Truth the first time he employed it, but it adds to a sense of fullness to the record, a sort of imperative to its mission that’s complemented by the fullest guest list in the group’s discography. Inspectah Deck shows up to bomb atomically on “Above The Clouds”; Scarface thunders in like an Old Testament god on “Betrayal”; Krumb Snatcha’s verse on the swooning “Make ’Em Pay” got a hip-hop quotable from The Source, back when that was a head-turning plaudit.

    But for all Primo’s sonic invention, it’s Guru who steps out on Moment Of Truth, using this backdrop to release the most complex, fully authored lyrical performance of his career. He was 31 when the record came out, which is also, scientifically speaking, the exact moment that you are unequivocally old, but rather than keep trying to move from “Ex Girl To The Next Girl” he wrote a full album from that strange vantage point of non-youth. It’s a more remarkable text than it gets credit for, an 80-minute classicist hip-hop record about growing older, detailing the rare points in life when time stops swirling and you can see the past and future with something akin to clarity. There are times when that sounds like grown-man wisdom, as on “My Advice 2 You”; elsewhere, it comes out as crankiness, or at least concern, grousing about punk kids on “What I’m Here 4” and “Itz A Setup.” Sometimes it’s just a change of habits, rapping (multiple times) about the pleasures of taking a night off drinking; other times, it’s an earned weariness toward the bs side of the business, spoken from the other side of a record deal.
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