Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Gang Starr - Hard to Earn 2xLP 180g Vinyl


Respect the Classics/Virgin (2014, Reissue)

Every Wednesday, in honor of Ed Lover Dance Day from Yo MTV Raps, I take a break from rock and roll to write a little bit about hip hop. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop ruled my musical life. During this often called 'Golden Era' I discovered so much incredible music. As I am slowly replacing the CDs I've had for 25+ years with vinyl copies, I'm going to talk about some albums that had a really important impact on me during some very formative years.

For two albums, Gang Starr could arguably be designated as the greatest hip hop group of all time.  Daily Operation and this album, Hard Two Earn, comprise one of the hardest one-two punches in rap history.  While I think that Daily Operation is ever so slightly a stronger overall record, Hard To Earn has higher highs and is home to most of my very favorite Gang Starr songs.  One of those songs is the first I heard from the album, "Dwyck."  Dwyck was released as a video and single way before the full album did and I remember being kind of confused as I couldn't figure out where it came from.

I grew up in a rural town in northwestern New Jersey.  We couldn't get TV or radio over the air because we were way too far away from the local affiliates broadcasting out of New York City.  We had to have cable in order to get TV.  What I did was I spliced off the cable from my 9" television in my room and fed it into my stereo.  For reasons I can't totally explain, this allowed me to get all of the NY radio stations.  This is how I would listen to the Kool DJ Red Alert Show on KISS FM. During one of Red's shows, I managed to tape "Dwyck" off of the radio and for the longest time, that was the only version I had.  Even today, when I listen to the album version, my brain starts to hear the mixing and segue into the next song that was present on my tape.

"Dwyck" is but one of many incredible tracks on Hard to Earn.  "Mass Appeal," "Tonz o Gunz," "Speak Ya Clout" or "Now You're Mine" would probably be the best tracks on just about any hip hop album of the era, but on Hard To Earn, they're all fighting each other just to be the second best song on the album.  The best?  Well for me that has to go to "Blowin' Up the Spot." Over arguably the greatest beat of DJ Premier's career, Guru just blasts through word bending lyrics building rhyme on top of rhyme in a structure that probably doesn't make sense on paper, but in the song itself is essentially a masterpiece of self aggrandizing bravado.

1994 was the year that I started to fall out of love with hip hop as I was getting more interested in indie rock and punk rock.  But between this album and Casual's 1994 classic Fear Itself, the year definitely had two all time greats to help close out my participation in the golden era of hip hop.

Gang Starr - Hard to Earn (Youtube full album playlist):

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