Gang Starr

No More Mr. Nice Guy

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You don't hear much of Step in the Arena on Gang Starr's first album. In fact, aside from some scrupulous lyrical stances by Guru ("Manifest," "Positivity") and some of DJ Premier's hallmark brilliance behind the turntables, this Gang Starr isn't instantly recognizable as the duo who would soon become one of the most respected rap groups of the 1990s. The Gang Starr of No More Mr. Nice Guy still has a leg knee-deep in the old-school aesthetic. As a result, Premier's beats are quite a bit simpler and sometimes cruder than fans have come to expect (though they are still several cuts above the rest of the class), and Guru spends considerable energy talking up his own microphone skills and tearing down the next MC's (sometimes electrifying, as on "Gotch U"). That is not the same thing, however, as saying that No More Mr. Nice Guy is a subpar album. It is not, by any means. In fact, it's quite good in its own way, but it's also safe to say that the recording is not representative of the Chrysalis-era Gang Starr that devotees would eventually come to revere. Approach this album on its own terms, though, and it has a lot to offer, namely its early, tentative steps into the sampling of jazz. The most conspicuous attempt in this direction is the fine "Jazz Music," which was, nevertheless, reworked to much better effect a few years later for the soundtrack to Spike Lee's Mo' Better Blues as "Jazz Thing." The scratching showcase "DJ Premier in Deep Concentration" is an antiquated delight that dips into jazz as well, while the conscientious "Cause and Effect," the steely "2 Steps Ahead," and the uncharacteristic guest production from DJ Mark the 45 King on "Gusto" are all classics waiting to be rediscovered. Indicative or not, fans of the group will want this album, as will those with a jones for the original new-school revolution. More casual fans can probably start their collections with Step in the Arena, which is a required purchase. [The 2001 Wild Pitch Classics reissue adds three bonus tracks, the strongest of which is "Here's the Proof."]

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