Happy 25th Anniversary to Gang Starr’s Daily Operation, originally released May 5, 1992.
If Step in the Arena (1991) dispelled the musical myth of a sophomore jinx, and solidified Gang Starr as a force to be reckoned with throughout the ‘90s and beyond, the third installment of arguably the most acclaimed catalog in hip-hop proved that rap’s dynamic duo may have created the most remarkable formula within the genre.
Guru’s distinctly husky, monotone voice, eloquently delivering his often poignant lyrics. Coupled with DJ Premier’s early jazz-influenced production that developed into the gritty boom bap, with his patented cuts and scratches often replacing hooks and choruses. It was this powerful combination that pushed the Brooklyn-based tag team to the forefront of New York’s hardcore musical identity.
Well established by 1992, hip-hop’s version of John Stockton and Karl Malone returned in full swing, set to satisfy fans and crush competition. With few surprises, they unleashed their straightforward style of dope beats and substantive lyrics that made for some of the best music of the time.
Picking up where Step in the Arena left off with “Lovesick,” Daily Operation was led by “Ex Girl to Next Girl”, Guru’s confessions of escapades while being an eligible New York City bachelor: “Surviving in the 90's is a must so I trust / that everyone listen up as my vocals give thrust / I bust my rhymes first never chasing a skirt / do much work while other suckas need more time to rehearse.”
Leading the charge of their third testament of brilliance, Gang Starr showed that the epicenter of raw Brooklyn hip-hop was at the intersection of quality and consistency, with the hometown anthem “Place Where We Dwell.” Premo’s cuts and scratches while mixing what appeared to be the jewels of his jazz collection—including The Cannonball Adderley Quintet and Buddy Rich—should be chapter one in the manual of beat construction, complemented by Guru’s efficiency as a verbal tour guide, lyrically walking us through every crevasse of the borough.
Underrated in his own right and too often omitted from conversations and lists of upper echelon emcees, Guru makes an early proclamation of his high skill level with “Soliloquy of Chaos.” His jazz man vocals and precise delivery showcase his dimensions as a craftsman, as he provides intricate details of a night gone awry, assuredly making Slick Rick nod in approval at his proficiency in the art of storytelling.
The posse cut, “I’m the Man” serves as the formal introduction to Guru and DJ Premier’s extended family, later to be known as the Gang Starr Foundation. Lil Dap would eventually pair with Melachi the Nutcracker to form Group Home, while Jeru the Damaja, also featured, would go on to have a solo career, both acts being met with high acclaim. Adding another layer atop the already indulgent crew record, DJ Premier gives every emcee his own separate beat, showing us all that banging tracks were light work for a man poised to become the face of the East Coast’s anti-radio movement.
Obviously, having plenty of beats to spare, the album takes a brief intermission, with the DJ Premier instrumental “92 Interlude,” which leads into and introduces the highlight of Daily Operation: “Take it Personal.” Standing alone as possibly one of the five songs that define the signature sound of the group with an impeccable catalog, 25 years later “Take it Personal” still stands as one of the best examples of top-tier lyricism over flawless production.
“2 Deep” is the autobiographical song in which Guru sheds some light into the choice of the Malcolm X picture at the center of the album cover, and gives background to why Elijah Muhammad’s Message to the Blackman in America book was also seen placed in between the duo. The always insightful vocalist who later described himself as “a poet like Langston Hughes, who can’t lose,” shares his background with the Nation of Islam, Nation of Gods and Earths, and other groups he credits with his journey toward gaining knowledge of self.
From the late ‘80ss until the early 2000’s, Gang Starr held to their successful formula, like the Utah Jazz perfected the pick and roll in the ‘90s. Developing one of the most loyal fan bases in all of hip-hop, Guru and Premier satisfied their core audience with a consistent string of quality music that educated listeners on the depth of hip-hop culture. Lyrically, musically, and visually, Daily Operation is one of the more culturally rich albums to hail from the genre. The production is a tribute to multiple decades of black music, with Premier’s sampling of saxophones and piano chords reminiscent of the smoke-filled jazz lounges of the ‘50s and ‘60s, while his cuts and scratches transplant you to summertime park jams in the Bronx circa 1975. Guru’s low tenor rides the tracks, offering his day to day observations of the decay within the Big Apple, with a transcendent delivery that would have fit well a half century earlier during the Harlem Renaissance or alongside Gil Scott-Heron and The Last Poets in the ‘70s.
Like the rest of their work, Gang Starr’s Daily Operation raised the bar artistically upon its release in the spring of 1992, inspiring heightened cultural awareness and somehow making it all look easy, like just another day in the office for hip-hop’s greatest emcee/deejay combo.