Artist: Gang Starr
Album: The Ownerz
Rating: 9 / 10
Reviewer: DJ MF
It’s been damn near FIVE years since Gangstarr has released an LP, assuming you don’t count the “Full Clip” best of compilation as a proper release. In that time, the understatement would be to say that hip hop has changed.
Changed how? Well, the obvious backpackeresque thing to say would be ‘it’s been commercialized dun!’, which would be true to an extent, but would also be ignorant of the fact that hip hop was commercialized back in 1998 too. No, the REAL change that has occurred has been the elevation of the bad MC to ‘dope’ status. The culprits are many, and I won’t name names, because they tend to be different for everyone, but if the past five years have taught us anything, it’s that talent rarely brings you success in the game of hip hop.
All of which makes the title of the latest offering from Gangstarr, “The Ownerz”, all the more suitable. Primo and Guru, as they have stated themselves :
“The concept of “The Ownerz” involves how people are renting and leasing hip hop, At this point in the game there’s a lot of people exploiting it, and calling the shit they’re doing ‘hip hop’ even though their music is watered down. But we feel strongly about the love that we have for this music, and that we’re true owners of a purer form.”
The thing that will strike you most about “The Ownerz” is probably how conventional it sounds – you won’t mistake this for anything but a Gangstarr LP. Maybe that’s why this LP was getting lukewarm reviews to start; with Gangstarr you expect a new wheel to be invented. Don’t get it twisted though, because although “The Ownerz” breaks no real new production or lyrical ground, I have complete faith that it will be one of the top 3 albums this year when it’s all said and done : if not THE best.
Why’s that? Quite simple. Top to bottom, this LP is consistent in its dopeness. From the bouncy opening of ‘Put Up Or Shut Up’ featuring Krumbsnatcha, to the closing track ‘Zonin’ which features Guru on some next level flow, there is not a ‘skipper’ track on “The Ownerz”.
In terms of production, Premier continues the slow evolution we’ve been witnessing these past few years. He’s still using the same drum kits, but the samples are getting far more soulful, and the way he’s integrating them is beyond genius, especially on tracks like ‘Playtawin’ and it’s pseudo-Just Blaze sound, to the unbelievable ‘Militia Pt. 3 (Capture)’ which uses what seems at first to be an awkward sample, but mixes seamlessly, giving a different but still related take on the ‘Militia’ theme.
Thankfully, Guru keeps up his end of the bargain, bringing his lyricism up a notch on the LP. This proves to be particularly important, considering that “The Ownerz” is chock full of guest appearances, so if Guru had slipped, it might have felt like a Premier compilation rather than a Gangstarr LP. Apart from the aforementioned ‘Zonin’, Guru is at his best on ‘Riot Akt’, rhyming his words of improvement and revolution over a mournful horn inflected Premier beat.
Of course, every Gangstarr album has THAT single :the one that immediately draws you in, and amazingly, “The Ownerz” has THREE. The first you’ve heard and seen on MTV/Muchmusic; ‘Skillz’. The second might just be the biggest surprise of my life, as on ‘Rite Where U Stand’, Jadakiss of all people, upstages Guru over one of the tightest Premier beats I’ve heard. Just stunning. And the third is the bouncy ‘Same Team No Games’ which features NYG’z and H. Stax spitting venom over a beat that has been in my head for well over a week now with it’s clipped synth piano sample.
Going back to the beginning of this review, you might remember that consistency was a word I used to describe “The Ownerz”. What I forgot to add in was ‘amazing’, because to just leave the description as ‘consistent’ would be unfair to Premier and Guru. There are LOTS of ‘consistent’ albums out there – and they’re usually consistently shitty. “The Ownerz” is consistently amazing. And considering the hip hop climate, that’s a miracle unto itself.