Gang Starr dropped ‘Moment of Truth’ after 4 years of absence in 1998.
It was up to Premo and Guru to show that they still had it in them. Rappers like Scarface (Geto Boys) and Inspectah Deck (Wu-Tang Clan) were some of the features on the album. And Moment of Truth became one of the most memorable hip-hop albums of the late ’90s.
The album begins with ‘You Know My Steez’, where Primo samples Method Man’s voice for an excellent hook. Guru talks about keeping up with time, but staying true to the roots (“And it’s always a message involved”) ‘Know My Steez’ is an iconic song, representing the album’s style; jazzy, powerful beats paired with Guru’s thoughtful rapping. Guru presents himself as a real rapper, defending hip-hop from bad influences (“I travel through the darkness, carrying my torch / The illest soldier, when I’m holding down the fort”).
DJ Premier, on the other hand, shows some serious skill; mixing two different samples into a catchy hook. The second song is a nice play on words on itself, ‘Robbin Hood Theory’, but the song has so much more to offer. The song starts with a small skit. Guru is talking to Elijah Shabazz (from Muhammad Mosque No. 7) about the youth of back then. After the “That’s keeping it – WRONG”, the beat transforms into an excellent typical Premo beat. Guru talks about giving back to the black youth. Guru’s making some amazing references to black history throughout the track — “Necessary by all means, sorta like Malcolm / Before it’s too late; I create, the best outcome.”
Where older Gang Starr albums such as 1989’s No More Mr. Nice Guy lacked diversity at times, Moment of Truth is never repetitive. This is primarily because of DJ Premier’s wonderful production; he’s got his own style, but he never fails to come up with something new.
Tracks like ‘Next Time’ and ‘What I’m Here 4’ are good examples of the diversity DJ Premier keeps on finding within his own territory. ‘Itz A Set Up’ is another interesting song that immediately reminds me of Premo’s 2007 hit song ‘Classic’. The chemistry between Guru and DJ Premier is clearly visible — The entire album coves over as one huge experience. Guru is clearly at his peak. The delivery is on point, the wordplay is sharp, and there’s always a message involved.
Another standout song on the album is ‘Above the Clouds’ featuring Inspectah Deck. Above the Clouds is one of those tracks in which everything falls into place. The intro is taken from Superman The Man from Krypton, “Part 2”, which is the B side of a children’s record. It immediately sets the tone. Guru spits some splendid political lines, such as “Look listen and observe / And watch another Cee Cipher pulling my peeps to the curb / Heed the words, it’s like ghetto style proverbs / The righteous pay a sacrifice to get what they deserve”.
The real star on this song is Inspectah Deck, however, as he delivers one of the best verses on the album. It’s raw, it’s aggressive, it’s smart (“I leave scientists mentally scarred, triple extra large / Wild like rock stars who smash guitars”) and very compelling.
One other track that I want to address briefly is ‘Betrayal’ featuring the legendary Houston rapper Scarface. Betrayal is one of the best examples of a story within a song in ’90s hiphop. Guru and Scarface talk about a kid whose father gets killed. He tries his best to become a professional basketball player, but gets shot on the street by a group of knuckleheads and ultimately dies.
The brilliance in Gang Starr’s work isn’t their ability to create mainstream hits or to make an album that completely changes the rap game; it’s their consistency. The entire album is filled with great, thoughtful songs.
The best song on the album is the title track “Moment of Truth” (in my opinion), as it captures the essence of their work perfectly. Rap at the time was dominated by topics such as hustling, weapons and sex, but Guru raps about something completely different; he thinks we shouldn’t judge people too quick. The song has a very interesting vibe, he’s talking about him waiting for his “Moment of Truth”, death, in most cases. Guru unfortunately found his moment of truth at a young age, as he died in 2010 at age 48.
Moment of Truth was the last album on Noo Trybe, which featured underrated artists such as Shyheim and AZ. Moment of Truth was a commercial success, eventually reaching the top 10 in the Billboard Hot 100 and selling half a million copies.
The ’90s were a time with a great amount of legendary hip-hop groups and duos, such as Mobb Deep, A Tribe Called Quest, the Beastie Boys, and the Wu-Tang clan. It would be easy to be forgotten among these giants, but Gang Starr is also recognized in the same league, and rightfully so.