April 19th marks one year since Keith “Guru” Elam passed away. While there are plenty of sites to read about the impact of his music on a grand scale, the fact that Gang Starr probably occupies the upper tier of “Most Songs to Appear in Skate Videos Throughout the Nineties,” if you were to tally up individual artist appearances (at least as far as rap is concerned), will receive zero mention.
If you’re currently in your late-teens or early-twenties, you most likely began skating in a period bookended by Fulfill the Dream (1998) and Yeah Right (2003). In a time before the internet became a daily onslaught of new music, and you had to ration your money between skate videos and actually purchasing CDs (or scouring Limewire, Kazaa, or whatever spyware-infested file sharing service you chose to use back then), skate videos themselves provided a window to music / rap that wasn’t necessarily on BET, MTV, The Box, etc., or older songs that you were too young to have experienced when they were actually released. You didn’t necessarily have to be one of those kids who organized their first iPod by skate video title as opposed to album, but it’s hard to deny that videos played a much larger role in shaping music discovery ten-plus years ago than they do now, when everything is available. Without the internet, or the presence of an older, more knowledgeable sibling, skate videos introduced plenty of nine, ten, and eleven-year-olds in that period to rap that did not necessarily begin with shiny suit era Bad Boy and end at Jay-Z. (Although it is a shame that skate video soundtracks shunned the “Tunnel Banger” sub-genre at its height.)
One of those key moments was Steve Olson’s part in Fulfill the Dream, which introduced me, and a whole bunch of kids just like me, to Gang Starr, as our formative years of becoming pop culture / musically aware occurred in that four-year drought between Hard to Earn and Moment of Truth.
“Above the Clouds” came from what would be the last great Gang Starr record, but there was an extensive period preceding 1998, when the group’s music was in a whole grip of 411s and a slew of memorable company video parts as well.