Monday, March 07, 2005

Lookback Music Review: Moment of Truth by Gang Starr

This is the first in an occasional series. As you can tell by the name, it's all about looking back. The "Lookback" series of reviews (which could cover music, movies, books, and everything in-between) are not traditional reviews. I will give some background on what my life was like around the time I first encountered the album, movie, or book in question. I'll try to show what it meant to me at that time and what it means to me now. I won't be doing these on any sort of schedule. I'll do them whenever I feel like it (or whenever I get Blogger's Block).

For the first Lookback Review, I picked one of the albums that will forever remind me of high school. Gang Starr's Moment of Truth came out in 1998, four years after their last album, Hard To Earn. I can't remember exactly when in 1998 this album came out, but I think I was a Junior in high school. By that time, I got to the point where I cared a lot less of what people felt about me. I had been a fan of DJ Premier's producing for a while before this album. Who can forget classics he did like "New York State Of Mind" for Nas or "Kick In The Door" for The Notorious B.I.G.? I think that DJ Premier was at the top of his game when he produced the tracks for Moment of Truth.

That album came at a time when hip-hop was still reeling from the losses of 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. I still remember how people thought that 2Pac was still alive. Another thing that happened during this time was my gravitation away from gangsta rap. In the time after 2Pac and Biggie's deaths, it really started to lose its appeal. There were a few artists I still liked like Snoop Dogg, but I didn't get into artists like DMX. My gravitation towards non-gangsta rap could also be attributed to a friend of mine named Frank. Frank could probably be described as a real hip-hop head. His tastes went towards mostly East Coast hip-hop. I'll never forget how he bugged me for a long time asking if I had bought Black Star's album. I got kinda annoyed with that after a while, but I did eventually buy (and enjoy) that album.

I think I might have gotten a bit off-track, so let me bring it back to Moment of Truth. I had quite a few songs I really enjoyed from that album. I loved the first single (and the first song after the intro) "You Know My Steez." In fact, when I got to college and took a class on performing poetry, I performed the song a capella for my final project. Another of my favorites was "Above The Clouds" which featured Inspectah Deck of Wu-Tang Clan. However, the title song signifies exactly why I enjoyed this album. This song was filled with something refreshing and rare in hip-hop even today...maturity. The chorus always stuck with me: "They say it's lonely at the top/ But whatever you do / You always gonna have muthafuckas around you/ Nobody's untouchable/ No one's bulletproof/ But we all must meet our moment of truth." The album isn't completely somber and downbeat (it contains a song called "The Mall" of all things) but the more mature elements of it were the ones that really got to me.

In a lot of respects, this album lead me to liking a lot of the hip-hop artists I currently like. Would I be a fan of artists like The Roots, Talib Kweli, and Jurassic 5 if I hadn't listened to Gang Starr's Moment of Truth? Maybe. Who knows...I could've become a fairweather, history-challenged, shallow fan of the genre. I could've been satisfied with mindless, joyless crap. However, now, I ask more of the hip-hop I listen to (unless I feel like having dumb fun). Moment of Truth is just one of the albums by just one of the artists that lead my tastes in music to change.

Listening to it now, it's still one of the best hip-hop albums I've ever listened to. It's not perfect, but it may be the best album GURU and DJ Premier have ever done. It has a little more resonance for me now because I have gotten a little older and I am just a little more mature. Great music is timeless and I wonder about what resonance Moment of Truth will have for me when even more time has passed. Will the title song hit me too close to home when I'm in my 40's? Time will tell, I guess.

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