Step In the Arena
The Rubber Soul to Daily Operation’s Revolver, Gang Starr’s 1991 sophomore LP represents half of a two-album knockout blow that helped to define the sound of hip-hop in the early ‘90s. Step In the Arena presents a foundational formula: Take the juiciest parts of records from the ‘60s and ‘70s; loop them; add enough well-placed scratches to remind us of hip-hop’s roots; then get an MC to kick imaginative wordplay that draws on the laid-back styles of forbearers Rakim and EPMD. Gang Starr may not have invented the blueprint, but no other groups could match their skill in drawing succinct illustrations of hip-hop style. Expanding on the James Brown riffs that had dominated the late ‘80s, DJ Premier begins to dig deeper into his crates of vinyl for Step In the Arena, kickstarting a taste for obscure samples that would take hip-hop to new heights. And with his unhurried flow, Guru rejected the fast-rapping phenoms of the previous era and proved to his peers that speaking slow and low was the ultimate demonstration of control and confidence. There isn’t a weak track on Step In the Arena; it remains a milestone in the history of the genre.