August 12, 2009

Gang Starr - Moment Of Truth (March 31, 1998)

Guru and DJ Premier, recording as the duo Gang Starr, released their fifth album, Moment of Truth, four years after their well-received Hard To Earn. They found themselves awakening in a hip hop world that was much different than what they had left behind.

Okay, so that's not exactly true. Chris Martin (DJ Premier) had kept himself busy, producing for as many rap artists who would have him, and in doing so, he carved himself a niche as hip hop's go-to guy for New York boom bap complete with scratches, hard drums, and no horns (as compared to Pete Rock, the other hip hop go-to guy, albeit one that loves horns as if they were his own children). Keith Elam, otherwise known as Guru, also found himself exploring Gang Starr's jazzy roots in an even deeper manner, releasing a second volume of his Jazzmatazz series to general critical acclaim, although most of his fans only knew him from his work with Premier and wanted to hear him in that fashion exclusively, a trait that continues to haunt Guru today.

Moment of Truth ended up being the duo's most commercially successful to date, selling more than five hundred thousand copies and actually getting them some MTV airplay (thanks to a radio-friendly single, which I'll get to in a bit). I've always regarded Moment of Truth as the one Gang Starr album which I could listen to from start to finish (sort of) without losing interest. Anybody want to know if this disc still holds up today?


Moment of Truth immediately launches into its first single, which was a fucking monster back in 1998, and it still sounds refreshing today. The drum hits will rock your car into oncoming traffic, which doesn't make this the safest song to listen to, but whatever. The only misstep with this track was the THX-1138-inspired video, which was a little much.

The intro is contrived as hell, but this simple-sounding track helps to elevate Guru's lyrics to another level. He takes on society's ills with incredible clarity. This probably will never bang in your ride, but it's still pretty good.

I first heard this on the soundtrack to Caught Up. It comes off like a Hard To Earn leftover in both its slightly dated sound and feel. This is not a criticism. Guru's goofy observation “Your bitch don't really got no ass/She just poked it out” still makes me laugh today. There's a strange “remix” of this song floating around on the Interweb featuring Big L: I put that word between quotation marks because I highly doubt it was an official mix.

The radio-friendly track which was probably forced upon Guru and Premier to justify an actual album release. It's not bad (the beat sounds like something Primo would have given Nas had Moment of Truth not been recording at the time), but I never really cared for the singing on the hook. (“All My Life” it ain't.) I love how Primo decided to end the song with a profane diatribe against fake-ass rappers and those who reveal the secrets of where producers get their obscure samples, which reminds me of when every illusionist was attacking the Masked Magician.

A flat-out awesome collaboration with the Wu-Tang Clan's Rebel INS, recorded back when he was actually underrated and not completely average, as he seems to be today (save for on Raekwon's “House of Flying Daggers” - I liked his performance on there, it reminded me of Rae's earlier “Guillotine (Swordz)”). Primo seems to aim a bit too blatantly for a Wu-esque flavor, but Guru still finds his voice extremely quickly.

6. JFK 2 LAX
Guru spins his version of the events that occurred after airport security guards found a gun, with the serial numbers filed off, in his luggage. He turns song into an impassioned speech to the listeners, stressing the importance of believing in yourself. Considering that he was still arrested for carrying a gun with filed-off serial numbers in an airport, that was an interesting way to twist this. The track is only merely alright, though.

Hannibal Stax doesn't outshine Guru on here, but he gives him a run for his fucking money with an impressive showing on here. The answering machine interlude at the end is more to set up the next track than it is anything else (read: you can skip it).

The theme of this track is established in a hilariously profane manner: “They say it's lonely at the top, and whatever you do/You always gotta watch motherfuckers around you”. Over a beat that sounds pretty tame by Gang Starr's standards, Guru extrapolates on the topic of karma and taking responsibility for your own actions.

After a brief Guru-led interlude, Gang Starr and M.O.P. Continue their beautiful working relationship (which also resulted in the Mash Out Posse's “Salute Pt. II” and a song from the soundtrack to Blade). Lil' Fame and Billy Danze take the reigns relatively quickly, as Primo's boom bap is a more snug fit for them, but Guru handles himself well.

This song is the tits. Freddie Foxxx's comeback began here, with his verse dominating everything else on here, but Guru and Big Shug also sound as good as ever. But, yeah, “The Militia” is the Bumpy Knuckes show all the way. Even those of you two who hate DJ Premier and Guru should listen to Bumpy's verse for the sheer entertainment value alone. This shit is awesome.
After a (really) long interlude (the identity of the performer is left a mystery, and the liner notes don't really help), Guru expands on “Just To Get A Rep”, an older Gang Starr track. This pseudo-sequel works, thanks to Keith's mastery of the mic today versus back in the day when the first song was released, but to be fair, he's always sounded pretty confident. I wish that DJ Premier had added more flourishes to this beat, though.

I didn't care for this song.

The lone track produced (mainly) by Guru switches up the flow of Moment of Truth tremendously. Guru's song for the ladies sounds entirely out of place on here. I used to skip this shit back in the day, and in hearing it today, I'm left wondering exactly what kind of blackmail material Guru had over Primo's head to coerce him into including this shit on here. The worst song on the album by far.

Oh, good, a geography lesson. A strait is a narrow body of water that connects two larger bodies of water. Not that you would ever learn that by listening to this song. After a brief interlude, Moment of Truth picks up where “The Rep Grows Bigga” left off. Guru's boasts, coupled with Primo's scratching and drum choices, help bring the listener back into their world. This is not bad at all.

Guru addresses a friend regarding, once again, the importance of taking responsibility of your own actions. Clearly, Guru feels that what hip hop is lacking is accountability.

Guru's first two verses verge on overkill, layering threats upon other threats until the whole sandwich collapses. And yet, this still works. “Make 'Em Pay” is probably best known as the track where guest star/expert fry cook Krumbsnatcha mixes up his corporate pizza chains (“like Pizza Hut, I gotta stay Noid-ed”), but his entire contribution is kind of bland anyway, so treat this as a Guru solo song and move on.

One of the goofiest songs in the whole Gang Starr catalog, or at least the one with the strangest hook. This track is overly materialistic, which is unlike Guru and Premier. This may be why guest G-Dep wound up later signing with Puff Daddy's Shiny Suit Records Bad Boy Records for a short time. The beat is good, but nobody buys a Gang Starr album to hear a song about fucking shopping and stopping at the Orange Julius, unless it's a metaphor for something, and on here, it clearly is not.

As far as I can tell, Scarface (of the Geto Boys) is truly the first Southern rapper to appear on a Primo beat, Ludacris be damned. Primo slows down the party to appease his guest's audience, and Guru adapts nicely with his storytelling. Face probably won over a lot of East Coast heads with his verse on here. Good work, you two.

The beat and the hook remind me of Jurassic 5's “Thin Line”, which was pretty distracting for my listening experience. (Of course, this song came first, but whatever.) It also doesn't help that this track isnt that great.

A combination of a rap album outro, shout-outs to lost loved ones, and an actual song. Primo and Guru provide a heartfelt tribute to their fallen friends and family, and in doing so they present us with a touching way to end the album.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Moment of Truth is easily Gang Starr's most accessible work. The album contains some of the greatest songs of their career. Nothing on here hits as hard as “Mass Appeal” or “Code Of The Streets”, but Moment of Truth is a far more consistent album than the rest of Guru and Premier's catalog. Guru's rhymes border on preachy moon more than a few occasions, but his lyrical skill shines through, and DJ Premier is on top of his game with the production work. This one holds up extremely well to the scrutinizing eyes of time.

BUY OR BURN? By all means, pick this shit up as soon as possible. Over half of this twenty track album fucking knocks. How many other albums released in 1998 can you say that about?

BEST TRACKS: “The Militia”; “Above The Clouds”; “You Know My Steez”; “Betrayal”; “New York Strait Talk”; “Work”; “Make 'Em Pay”; “In Memory Of...”; “Robbin Hood Theory”; “Moment Of Truth”; “The Rep Grows Bigga”


Other Gang Starr work can be found here.


  1. Tst, tsk Max, listening to CL2 before it drops.
    Oh, and this is the 3rd best Gang Starr Joint
    behind Daily operation and Hard to Earn

  2. all the tracks knock classic album

  3. best gang starr album ever!!!! in my opinion is better than Hard To Earn

    1. Same! And 'Nothing on here hits as hard as “Mass Appeal” or “Code Of The Streets”'? Really? The Militia is friggin' awesome, way better than code of the streets. In my opinion

  4. took me a long time to warm up to this album. Very nice review, this is half smiles.

  5. Good review. "Moment of Truth" and "Above the Clouds" top 10 Gang Starr songs of all time. And yes, Freddy Foxxx murdered Militia ("Gloria Gainer all you MF's, I will survive"). Keep em' coming Max.

  6. lol how the hell u dont like What Im here 4???? that track knocks!!! but great fucking review though, gang starr is the shit

  7. Hey Max, stumbled across your site recently - liking the song by song breakdown, proper way of reviewing albums. Love this joint, spot on review - nice work, keep em coming!

  8. i always thought "what im here 4"'s beat was nice, just that guru shoulda spoke on some sorta topic rather than approached it with the agreesive emcee shit, defo ruined the track for me aswell.
    an i think guru really stepped up the lyics for this one, still came off akward and preachy at times tho.

  9. never did cop this album but i did get full clip: a decade of gangstar...speaks volumes that all the big tunes from "moment" are on there... definitely will hafto go find that

  10. krumbs verse on make em pay was one of the best of all time and summed up what true school hip hop thought about that shinny suit era

  11. Nice review, Max! A classic album, timeless value.

    P.S.: On BETRAYAL: although I am a big big Geto Boys fan, I gotta say that Scarface sounds here old, fat, boring, fat, fat, old and tired. I expected this song to be faster and harder, but Face wasn't in the right mood back then..

  12. Moment of Truth has always been one of those songs that I can just listen to anytime anywhere...

    This cd got me hooked onto DJ Premier before I ever knew who he really was (even before I knew he was also called Primo).

  13. I find it strange that you champion Freddy Foxxx's verse on The Militia, considering the only reason it could be considered good is because it's so much longer than everyone else's verse, which is the very reason you denounced Cappadonna's verse on Winter Warz. And this is coming from someone who questions Cappadonna's very existence in hip hop, never mind as a part of the Wu.

  14. RIP Guru

  15. This album is on another level. Some music just takes you places... this would be that kind of music.

  16. Sorry but dont agree with youre views on JFK 2 LAX. I felt that songs beat had some really great jazz vibes whilst accomodating Gurus raps with ease. One of the best tracks on the album for me but hey thats just my opinion.

    It's great to read real reviews of real hip hop broken down song by song. Keep up the good work.

  17. Great frickin' album...could of been even better if a few tracks were left off

  18. really good album, but i felt there was a clear drop off in quality over the second half. If some songs had been cut in that section, I would be able to listen to it straight through

  19. Max.

    Fuck you.

    This album was PERFECT.

  20. Max, you piece of shit. What I'm Here 4 is one of the best hip hop songs ever made.

  21. JFK 2 LAX is fucking brilliant!!!! Guru turns a real problem that could've ended his fucking career into a systematic deconstruction of the problems facing black youth in America. Fucking BRILLIANT!!!

  22. I was going to tell you how stupid you are for not liking JFK to LAX & what I'm here 4, but the last 2 people to comment have already done it. I think you should stop, you struggle to understand the music.

  23. In my humble opinion, She Knows What She Wants is nowhere near as bad as The Mall. Even though it was pretty shitty.