The fact that Gang Starr has been putting out albums since the late ’80s isn’t as important as their vitalty is. De La Soul has been around for just as long and has a similar fan base, but even that heralded outfit has been sputtering of late. Guru and DJ Premier, the duo who comprise Gang Starr, though, have remained consistent since their early-’90s bar-setting classics Step in the Arena and Daily Operation. And with The Ownerz they prove they can still work it with the best in hip-hop.
A big part of the reason Gang Starr has remained relevant, and perhaps why they’re so admired, is their ability to straddle the line between mainstream and underground while keeping their hands in several different projects. It’s this on-the-toes attitude that allows them to produce quality jams with established stars and the fresh faces on the block. As The Ownerz indicates, not every track is a winner, but their average one is not to be reckoned with.
The first single, “Skillz,” could see the duo earn the mainstream acceptance they deserve while maintaining the underground stature they have earned. It’s the kind of song that will get lodged in your head without relying on the typical over-the-top bling-and-babes-obsessed bullshit that has taken over the airwaves in recent years.
“In this Life…” features help from the one and only Snoop Dogg and is another album highlight. It showcases the duo’s dexterity with guest emcees. Since Primo laid down some beats for Snoop’s latest LP, Paid tha Cost to be da Bo$$, it is only fair that the favor be returned. Although he has been a household name for years, Snoop will never be content to simply rest on his laurels, and he comes through with a verse that is tight and completely his own, complementing the Starr’s unique style.
Other guests pop up and come through with homeruns, like newbies NYG’z and H. Stax on “Same Team, No Games.” But guests Fat Joe and Jadakiss fall well below the mark on separate tracks. Fat Joe’s gang-bang obsession weighs “Who Got Gunz,” which also features MOP, down to the point of annoyance, and Jadakiss’ too-big-for-his-britches-style tanks “Rite Where U Stand.”
The great thing about Gang Starr is that they are like a dependable best friend — you always know what you’re going to get. Guru and Primo are the epitome of consistency in the ever-changing world of hip-hop, and with The Ownerz, they are able to stay relevant in the 21st century.