1998 was an epic year for hip hop. You just had to be there to understand. So many classic albums dropped that year. DMX dropped It’s Dark and Hell Is Hot and Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood all in the same year. Jay-Z became a mainstream superstar with Vol. 2… Hard Knock Life, Outkast got Five Mics in the source for Aquemini and Lauryn Hill’s solo album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was the soundtrack for damn near every chick in high school and/or college.
March 31, 1998 was also the release date for Gang Starr’s fifth album titled Moment of Truth. Moment of Truth came after a four-year hiatus from their 1994 classic Hard to Earn. During that break, DJ Premier put in work producing some of the greatest hip hop songs ever, including “Ten Crack Commandments”, “Friend or Foe”, “I Gave You Power”, and countless more, while Guru dropped his second installment of his Jazzmatazz collection — Guru’s Jazzmatazz, Vol. 2: The New Reality.
Guru was also facing legal issues and Premier was actually thinking about quitting Gang Starr. Throughout the stress, Guru and Premier managed to complete the album. The end result, Gang Starr’s first gold plaque. This 20 track masterpiece was accepted with critical acclaim. The Source gave Moment of Truth 4 ½ mics.
On the lead single, “You Know My Steez”, Guru lays his distinct delivery and voice over a grimy, yet mellow beat laced by Premier. The two remind the fans that even after a four-year break, they’re still two of the best ever. Guru called the trash rappers who took up space and still take up space with these bars:
No more of the unpure I got the cure for this mess
The wackness is spreadin like the plague
MC’s lucked up and got paid but still can’t make the fuckin grade
How many times are wannabe’s gonna lie?
On the second single, “Royalty”, Gang Starr snatched up the Hailey brothers, K-Ci & JoJo. On this classic track, Guru drops jewels about knowledge of self and choosing the right woman.
As for the third single, “The Militia”, Guru and Preemo team up with Big Shug and none other than Bumpy Knuckles, better known as Freddie Foxxx. Bumpy’s verse is one of those monstrous verses that makes you say “Goddamn! Run that shit back!” The last few bars of Foxxx’s verse went a little something like this:
Beef with me hangs around like a unpaid bill
I push these lyrics through any MC, and make it burn
So the niggas who be rhyming next, will miss a turn
When you speak of who’s the dopest MC, I don’t come up
But when you speak of who’s the livest MC, I stay one up, what’s up?
I got stripes like you got strikes and bogus mikes
Do what bitch niggas do best – bite
Y’all niggas can’t make up a law that I don’t overrule, overthrow
Preem’ brought Bumpy this track so I’mma let you know
Before I slide I’mma leave you this jewel
Even mechanics walk around with they tools
It’s the Militia
This album also found Guru speaking on his legal issues on “JFK 2 LAX”. In the first verse, Guru summed it up perfectly how he got caught up in his situation:
The D.A. says they got me on a felony
I’m trying to live my life, so what the fuck is you telling me?
The streets are war, that’s what brothers carry weapons for
And I take the weight as I did before
The next thing you know, they got me on the radio
A rapper arrested, suckers showing me on video
Of course I know, that I’m a role model
But yo this rap life is real life sometimes it’s full throttle
Other classic gems include “Above the Clouds” with Wu-Tang’s own Inspectah Deck, “Betrayal” featuring the legendary Scarface, “What I’m
Here 4”, and one of my personal favorites “She Knowz What She Wantz”. But nothing hits home harder than the moving “Moment of Truth” track where Guru spills his heart over the melancholy sample looped by Preemo.
Gang Starr has created a timeless classic that will be remembered as not only one of the best albums of 1998, but in hip hop. Period.
Keith Edward Elam aka GURU
July 17, 1966 – April 19, 2010