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.
Koston actually has pretty solid song selections in his parts, covering a lot of ground between Slick Rick, G.G. Allin and Master P alone. His parts hit a string of blankstare song choices with the one from Menik Mati that sounded like it was a theme to some low-budget gladiator epic, and “I Wanna Live in Los Angeles” — the most-prone-to-getting-stuck-in-your-head song ever recorded, no matter how much you may hate it. He skated to “Now You’re Mine” (off Hard to Earn) for his last pre-Girl video in 101’s Falling Down promo, which actually came out in the same year as Goldfish. (Carroll skated to “Words From the Nutcracker” in Goldfish, which was on the same album, but didn’t feature Guru.)
Koston later skated to “No Shame in My Game” for the “PROfile” segment in 411’s first ever Best of… edition.
There’s a solid batch of Gang Starr songs throughout a lot of the earlier 411s. In the same Best of… issue, Jeron Wilson skated to “The Illest Brother” for his “Wheels of Fortune” segment. The “Chaos” section from Issue #5 is set to “Code of the Streets,” and features some highlights from Eric Pupecki, Mike Carroll, Jeremy Wray, and Ryan Hickey nolling over a bench at the old Union Square in San Francisco. Perhaps more importantly, in the following issue, the first documented ollie down the Love Gap made its way to a VHS tape under the sounds of “B.Y.S.,” in the Love Park contest segment. In the same issue, Eric Ricks (Chrome Ball post on him here) skates to “2 Deep,” a song with a chronically overlooked remix. (I am fairly sure Premier didn’t do it, so maybe that’s why.)
Chris Hall skated to the “DWYCK” beat (Guru said in a 1998 interview that it was his favorite song to perform) over the vocals from “Just to Get a Rep” in Skypager, which means that a nineties skate video never featured the legendary “Lemonade was a popular drink and it still is” bit, one of rap’s greatest non-sensical lines, from a guy who wasn’t exactly known for tossing out non sequiturs. One could only hope that the next volume of Boom Bap Trap Shit will feature a “DWYCK” and Gucci Mane “Lemonade” blend.
Edit: One of our readers pointed out that Julien Stranger skated to “DWYCK” in Skypager, with the original vocals.
Mandatory “dude with great style and New York footage in his part” inclusion: Scott Johnston from Mad Circle’s 5ive Flavors, skating to “Here Today, Gone Tomorrow” off Step in the Arena.
Which brings us to our final video: Chad Fenandez AKA Da ‘Nandez AKA C. Fro AKA Hair’s “Rookies” section from 411 #23, edited to “Mass Appeal.” Over the years, I think I’ve heard people cite “Mass Appeal” as their favorite Gang Starr song more than any other, and while I like it, it’s certainly not on any sort of shortlist.
On a personal level, “The Planet” takes that “favorite” title. We initially considered it for the Eli Reed State of Mind re-edit, given the too-literal “Boston dude in New York” parallels, but it ended up not working, and the chances of people listening to rap lyrics while watching skate videos are slim. However, someone who is from Boston, but living in New York, should edit their next part to it, and wait for some astute ears to catch onto the next-level-ness of the lyrics relating to the individual.
Related: Our good friend Christian Banks wrote a brief piece on growing up, skating, and Gang Starr last year when Guru initially passed.