Published Jan 01, 2006"We're still hungry," Guru says over speakerphone from New York, as his legendary DJ, Premier, audibly agrees in the background. "We never went platinum. Shoot, that's enough reason right there."
The duo still known as Gang Starr may never have moved millions, but though they first joined forces all the way back in 1988, during rap's much mythologized golden era, their lustre has never been tarnished either. While peers such as Public Enemy and KRS-One have become respected footnotes, the anticipation over Gang Starr's sixth album, boldly named The Ownerz, proves they finally graduated from the old school. In fact, their very lack of platinum may be the reason why.
"It was frustrating," Boston-born rapper Guru says. "But now looking back, our longevity is a result of us having to keep our heads above water and do separate projects just to make enough money to eat. We decided to give each other creative space. When Premier started getting hired to produce tracks, we saw that as people wanting to buy into the Gang Starr sound. So that was good for us. At the same time, we didn't want to get classified as jazz-rap so I created Jazzmatazz to protect Gang Starr because if you notice, everyone from that jazz-rap era isn't around either. You have to be prophetic in your thinking to last as long as us. It's almost like being a soothsayer."
Interestingly, Premier has always had more commercial success with his non-Gang Starr efforts, pumping out hits for the likes of Jay-Z, Nas and Biggie. But he has always saved his rawest beats for his partner Guru, and their new album demonstrates that Primo hasn't lost his touch though he argues most everyone else has.
"We feel that the culture is being rented by the masses of the industry that turned this billion dollar business into a weak-sounding art form," Premier says. "It doesn't sound as strong as it did when it was born because it doesn't sound like the ruggedness of the ghetto. The ghetto is even worse now because the economy is all out of whack from the governmental issues with Iraq and this whole Middle East thing. While that is going on, it takes a toll on your music, if you're serious about the music that you make. We make songs about having fun and just relaxing but we make a lot of serious records that deal with us being grown-ups. We don't have to rent our style, we live and own our style and we've never changed or compromised it just for the industry to give us a pat on the back, to get the awards and the money that we know we deserve."
Their last album, 1998's Moment of Truth, was their first LP to go gold, and the decade-long retrospective Full Clip, released the following year, introduced the group to the kids but Gang Starr still aren't taking any chances. The Ownerz has been considerably delayed rumour has it they re-worked it after some bad advance reviews, they say they wanted to put another single into the marketplace to try and finally get a platinum plaque. Guru and Premier know it won't be easy, but they also feel that their older, wiser perspective is one rap fans don't yet realise they are missing.
"You gotta expect a challenge," Guru says. "That's part of the shit people doubting you. People involved in it told me you can't go to New York, you won't make it. Look at those fools. Those are the same people that be asking me to put them on."