There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
There are no wholehearted Gang Starr fans. Listeners love the New York duo’s music, but no one, it seems, holds Premier and Guru equally responsible for its greatness. Those who worship at the turntables believe Premier’s beats were the group’s foundation; admirers of Guru’s monotone flow contend that it was mostly the voice. Historically, the former have had the stronger case. Premier’s phenomenal mid-’90s freelance production work showed he could shine without Guru. But until now, Baldhead Slick had never laid down a hiphop album without his former DJ. (His successful Jazzmatazz series doesn’t exactly count.) Version 7.0: The Street Scriptures, despite the software-speak of its title, doesn’t present a new and improved Guru. But it does force the consistent, if co-dependent, lyricist to try someone else’s tracks on for size. New partner Solar’s style is less ecstatic than Premier’s dirtied-up jazz samples—just when things get gritty, he’ll throw in, say, a church bell. His more reserved approach means there’s less contrast between Guru’s voice and the tracks beneath it, but the results aren’t bad, just different. And the album introduces the new sound gradually. The opener, “No Time,” pairs a heavy bass line characteristic of classic Gang Starr with an acoustic guitar. “Step in the Arena 2 (I’m Sayin’)” doesn’t sound anything like the 1991 original in terms of the production, but Solar’s relatively unsyncopated beats and Kanye West– style vocal samples fit Guru’s indictment of weak foes almost as well. Six songs in, “Cave In” unwisely places Guru’s vox over that celebrated “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” bass riff, but the MC manages to ride the beat without falling into an old-school cadence. “I design the swing/Take you under my wing/I run you rap kids, you’re my underlings,” he rhymes with authoritative smoothness. “The G-U-R-U too grandiose for you.” By the time the album gets to its closer, “What’s My Life Like,” the sounds include soft congas and what sounds like a hunk of a Bach invention—a setting that suits Guru’s desolate series of mini narratives surprisingly well. All in all, Solar provides an interesting backdrop for Guru’s voice, which means Version 7.0 settles nothing: Anyone who thinks Guru is nothing special without a brilliant beat-maker behind him will have to wait for another album to prove it.