Gang Starr is the legendary Brooklyn hip-hop duo of the now-deceased MC Guru and influential producer aficionado DJ Premier. Guru passed away in 2010 but not before he recorded a wealth of verses that found its way onto One of the Best Yet, the first project released under the name since 2003.
Before diving into specifics, this album is overall an astounding achievement. The way Guru’s verses and hooks are weaved seamlessly into the instrumentals, how focused the songs are and how smoothly the project flows is no small feat. And no, this is not comparable to family members of XXXTentacion and Lil Peep, both deceased rappers, releasing unfinished music with a bunch of lazily added, trendy features that only serve to grievously exploit their respective careers. As far as posthumous music is concerned, this is as polished as it gets.
The beats on this project are spectacular. As simple as they can be, they still come off as fresh and manage to revitalize the golden age of hip-hop of which their style was born out. DJ Premier captures the classiness and the grit of New York hip-hop, refining the sound for a modern audience that reminisces this era. It’s rare that an artist striving to bring this sound back does it with true justice. It also speaks volumes that an artist relevant during a previous era can still make tasteful music today (looking at you, Eminem).
There are plenty of instrumental highlights on this album. The opening track features a medley of older Gang Starr track interpolations that set the nostalgic tone for the album. “Lights Out” is a simple piano phrase weaved between orchestra swells and a whiny synth line, set to a powerful organic drumbeat. This description resembles a lot of instrumentals on this project, but they are all very distinct and captivating in their own unique way.
The track “Hit Man” featuring Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest sounds like a fusion of Gang Starr and Tribe’s respective sounds, contrasting dark keys beautifully with bright jazzy instrumentation. “Family and Loyalty” with J. Cole, who provides one of his best features in a year that he’s already been killing, has a catchy piano phrase that is both sad and entrancing. “So Many Rappers” has an earworm harmonious horn loop that eventually transitions into a gritty piano sequence, building momentum and making the song invigorating from start to finish.
What is most important about this album is that, track after track, Guru brings impassioned performances, thoughtful bars and amazing hooks to the table. His iconic, gravelly voice lives on in its prime form. While most of his flows are pretty relaxed, he still has a knack for heightening it when necessary. Songs like “Bring it Back Here” and “So Many Rappers” have some of Guru’s most ferocious flows on the project, and it brings variety to the album in a great way.
There are many rappers, both from the old school and the new school, that take a condescending attitude toward their peers in their lyrics. The content on this album can be described as such, but Guru displays such skills as an emcee that his arrogance is justified. On top of that, many of the lyrics come from a place of wisdom and experience, which comes through on “Business and Art” as well as “What’s Real.”
Overall, this was a classy, refreshing and incredibly enjoyable listening experience for someone who loves all kinds of hip-hop music. The few blatant issues this project has is that many songs have abrupt endings, and the project does have a choppy flow, which can probably be attributed to its main artistic voice having passed away. However, the songs at the core of each track are great, and the beats on this project rival any of Gang Starr’s previous material. Along with A Tribe Called Quest’s magnificent effort back in 2016, One of the Best Yet is right on the top-tier of comeback rap albums in this decade. It’s certainly one of the best yet of 2019.