Gang Starr’s sophomore album, 1991’s Step In The Arena that reached classic status upon release, is now getting reissued on 2LP 180 gram black vinyl on 28 June.
MC Guru and DJ Premier were one of the most influential MC-and-DJ tag-teams of 90s hip-hop despite being overshadowed by other ensembles who experienced crossover success. Even with their underdog status, Gang Starr laid the blueprint for grassroots hip-hop and stayed true to their mission of being “dedicated ministers of underground sound”.
Originally released on 15 January 1991, Step In The Arena took the template set by No More Mr Nice Guy and perfected it. At a time when gangster rap was ruling the airwaves, Gang Starr’s lyrical prowess and hard-hitting truths somehow felt even more cutting.
But Gang Starr were never ones to preach, if anything Guru’s monotonic delivery relayed a certain detachment from the street-smart tales he’d spit set against Premo’s scratch and sampled productions. “Brothers are amused by others brother’s reps/But the thing they know best is where the gun is kept,” he raps on ‘Just To Get A Rep’.
The entirety of Step in The Arena is stacked with classics, from the title track that reimagines battle rappers as gladiators with blaring horns, to the conscious-raising ‘Who’s Gonna Take the Weight? and the groove-laden and requisite love rap ballad, ‘Love Sick’.
Step In The Arena would make Source Magazine’s 100 Best Hip-Hop albums with the magazine writing, “Step in the Arena stands alone on a musical level, yet it also remains true to hip-hop’s underground heritage”.
Famed hip-hop writer Jeff “Chairman” Mao summed up Gang Starr better than most, writing Step In The Area balanced “message, muse and menace”.
While Premier would go on to become one of the most in-demand producers of all time and Guru became the vanguard of hip-hop jazz fusion, Step In The Arena stands as their one of their career pinnacles and sounds startling fresh today.
Step In The Arena will also be available on limited edition colour vinyl at later date via Urban Legends/UMe and is available for pre-order.
Step In The Arena can be pre-ordered here.