January 27, 2008

Gangstarr - No More Mr. Nice Guy (1989)

Keith Elam, better known as Guru, and Chris Martin, who goes by the name DJ Premier when he's not singing in Coldplay and banging Gwyneth Paltrow, met up in 1989 to form one of the most formidable DJ/rapper combinations in the genre, Gang Starr. They're best known for mastering what is now considered the New York sound, thanks to Primo's magical ear that stays glued to the streets, and his knack for cutting up just the right samples over his preprogrammed drum breaks. This is not an easy feat, considering Guru hails from Boston and Primo is a Texas boy from way back (Houston, specifically, which begs the question: if Primo comes from Houston, then why are his beats so much better than any given Texas producer's?).

Keithy E The Guru and the former Waxmaster C teamed up after everyone else in Gang Starr abandoned Guru to pursue their own dreams. (Nice work, Jarobis!) Their debut album, No More Mr. Nice Guy, was released by Wild Pitch in 1989, and was met with critical acclaim, although nobody you know will actually have this album in their collections. It was overshadowed by almost every other rap album released in the same year, most notably De La Soul's 3 Feet High And Rising, but still sold enough copies to warrant a future career for one of the top three beatmakers in hip hop, thank you very much, and the guy with the most commanding monotone in recent memory. No More Mr. Nice Guy is, to be honest, usually put to the side by hip hop fans today, as the overall jazz influence and the simplicity of the beats and rhymes tend to be a turnoff to "heads", while the fact that these two guys had an album out in fucking 1989 makes newer hip hop fans vomit in disgust, as most of them were only three years old at the time.

Truth be told, this was an album I picked up only after going backwards through Gang Starr's discography, starting with their "comeback", Moment of Truth. The first song I ever paid attention to of theirs was the hypnotic "Mass Appeal", and as a collector, I was then forced to grab everything Gang Starr-related I could find, so this ended up in my hands while on one of my used CD shopping sprees that I don't do nearly enough anymore. Kind of like the Tribe discography, the debut was among the last of the catalog I snatched up, so it received the least amount of play in my household.

True story: I used to work for a call center that scheduled maintenance appointments for major appliances, although these appointments were usually cancelled because the technicians were incredibly absorbent douchebags. Keith Elam actually called in to set up an appointment for an air conditioning unit for a home in Florida, and it was the type of call where you could tell just from his voice that he worked his day job as Guru, although I had to confirm it anyway. Sadly, he called in the middle of a summer surge, when every fucking A/C unit in that area was dying, so all of our technicians were booked, but at least I can confirm that the way the he spits his rhymes is truly the way he simply speaks.

Well, that was a boring story. Moving on...
Thank God Guru dropped his original "Keithy E The Guru" moniker. That name ranked right up there with "Soulja Boy Tell 'Em", "Flo-Rida", and "Neil Young" in the hip hop history books.

A very subdued Primo beat. Guru's vocals are essentially exactly the same as they are today, although a bit younger-sounding, which is as it should be, considering this album is almost twenty goddamn years old. (The tears are starting to flow a bit.)

Guru's delivery on here reminds me of Ultramagnetic-era Kool Keith, but that's really more because of Primo's backing tracks and not because of Guru's lyrics about alien gynecologists and horses in hospitals.

This track is decent enough, but most of you probably haven't heard this one, since the remix (which appears later in the sequencing) is the more popular version, what with it popping up on best-of compilations and whatnot.

Actually not produced by Primo. The 45 King gives a much higher-energy beat, one that sounds like it would have been better suited for Big Daddy Kane or the like, to Guru to rock over, and he does an admirable job.

The centerpiece of No More Mr. Nice Guy, and a classic DJ track in and of itself. You know, if you're into that sort of thing.

I tend to be wary of albums that present a remix of a track before the original version appears. Primo, if you didn't like your original pressing that much, then why did you release it to the public?

Right off the bat, the beat sounds a lot funkier than the original. Also: longer! Also: better. (May be better known to most of my two readers as "Words I Manifest (Remix)".)


Guru comes off as the most antagonistic person you'll come across, on the list right alongside a guidance counselor in an inner-city school district that actually wants his/her students to do something with their lives. Not bad.

Full disclosure: I had to listen to this track twice in a row, because Guru's reference to farting completely took me out of the listening experience. if you get past that, you'll discover a decent song.

I kept being reminded of Lil' Kim's "No Time", which utilizes the same sample. Probably because of that fact, I found this song only barely passable.

The thing I like about Mr. Elam is that you can always understand exactly what he's talking about. I'm not sure exactly why that is, but I have a feeling it's mostly the (monotone) voice.

Doesn't even sound that much different than the remix.

FINAL THOUGHTS: No More Mr. Nice Guy introduces Guru as a rapper that deserves your attention, even though he's not the best or most loquacious rhyme spitter. It also presents DJ Premier as a future Force To Be Reckoned With, although fans of Primo's will be completely shocked by the low-key, jazzy beats provided on this disc; they don't contain the boom-bap that you're accustomed to. That said, most fans of today's garbage will find this album appalling, since the themes rarely depart from hitting on chicks, positivity, and random boasts. (Guru didn't rap about drugs, violence, or violence against women, the trifecta of what most people tend to believe make a rapper a capital-r Rapper.)

BUY OR BURN? This album is an acquired taste, and most people that are only familiar with Primo's more recent work will probably not even realize that the same guy produced the majority of this disc, but I'm going to go out on a limb and recommend a purchase. I paid two bucks for this, and you can afford to do the same; shit, you probably have two bucks in change underneath your car seat. You should also listen to it at least once, even if only so that you can truthfully tell someone else that you've heard Gang Starr's jazzier early work. And while you're at the store, you should also pick up some better examples of what Primo's capable of: Jeru The Damaja's The Sun Rises In The East and Group Home's Livin' Proof. And get me a soda while you're there. You know what I like.

BEST TRACKS: "DJ Premier In Deep Concentration"; "Manifest (Remix)";



  1. Damn, I was 4 when that came out and it still out ranks 75% of the bullshit that have came out since 2003 (aka the G-Unit, Crunk & Snap Dirty South, & Mixtape thug MCs era). It's still not fucking with De La. But I'm biased since De La Soul's my favorite group.

  2. Classic. Bought that sometime the month it came out on tape. I remember I didn't buy it the first time I saw it because dude was rocking the crazy leather pants. Hahaha. Those remixes were only added on later pressings of the CD by the record label. And as fucked up as Wild Pitch's business was it only makes sense that they fucked up the sequencing of the CD.

    Dope review, do more of the older joints, I enjoy hearing a younger fans opinions about the music I grew up with.

  3. Classikal shit rite here

    Pioneering artists

    - Tawsif.C@gmail.com

  4. A buy on this but not Step in the Area or Daily operation? Whats up with that Max?

  5. R.I.P Guru, one of the most consistent lyricists, and not a sellout


  6. i actually really liked the title track, maybe cos ive never heard lil kim- no time... (okay, i just looked it up, it sucks :(... )

  7. 2001 reissue got 3 bonus tracks (Here's The Proof, The Lesson, Dedication). The Lesson is from 1987(!) 12" of the same name, Here's The Proof - from Words I Manifest 12" (1989), Dedication is not found anywhere else.