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John Peel’s Hidden Gems: Step In The Arena

LP: ‘Step In The Arena ‘(Chrysalis 1991)

Artist ‘Gang Starr’

Catalogue Number: A21755

This week we’re joined by fellow John Peel Archive team member and all round vinyl junkie Leon Nockolds, for a special review of Gang Starr’s ‘Step In The Arena’.

Step in the Arena was the second outing for Brooklyn based Hip Hop supremos Gang Starr, a duo that consisted of the late MC Guru and DJ/producer DJ Premier hailing from Boston, Massachusetts and Houston, Texas respectively. DJ Premier often refers to the Step in the Arena LP as “the first real Gang Starr LP” after recording their Debut “No More Mr Nice Guy” (An LP which also resides in John’s collection here) over a two week period in 1989. For it was on the Step in the Arena LP that Gang Starr started to define their trademark sound and DJ Premier came into his own in terms of production style and programming, this time handling the production of the entire LP without assistance.

Judging by the notes on the inner sleeve it would appear that John thought very highly of this LP, with four tracks obtaining the maximum 3 star “must play” rating and five worthy of a 2 star “should play” rating. (Also keeping his house in order by taking note of the word “sh!t” contained within the first verse of “Who’s Gonna Take the Weight“)

John aired the debut release from the album, the Jean Jacques Perrey sampling “Just to Get a Rep” in November of 1990. Throughout January and February of 1991, honouring the aforementioned star ratings he went on to play the upbeat tale of disposable artists “Here today, gone tomorrow” (For which Premier was later sued on account of the uncleared sample of Billy Cobham’s Crosswinds), the Pointer Sisters sampling account of betrayal “Execution of a chump“, the laid back “Beyond comprehension“, the European single release “Take a rest” and the stunning California Soul sampling “Check the Technique”, a stand out example of Premier’s wizardry behind a sampler, with the clever looping of the original drum section.

Interestingly, there are two one verse tracks on this LP (“Street Ministry” and “Say your Prayers“), which DJ Premier puts down to his experiences listening to punk and new wave artists like The Smiths, Psychadelic Furs, The Cure, Siouxsie And The Banshees, Dial House and Joy Division and was recently quoted as saying “I was into all that stuff. The Thompson Twins, just all this crazy stuff. And sometimes they would have a song that just had one verse. And then it’d fade out. So I took a lot of inspiration from that.”

For many outside of London, the John Peel show was one of the few places to hear some of the latest Hip Hop offerings at a time when it was going through one of it’s most important periods. With the likes of Lord Finesse, Main Source, a Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul all releasing classic albums around the same time, Gang Starr’s Step in the Arena LP sat neatly in amongst them and has gone on to be considered by many as one of their finest pieces of work and a very influential LP in Hip Hop’s rich history (as if we needed further evidence of John Peel’s ability to pick out a record that would go on to become a classic)

Gang Starr went on to release a further four LPs,1992’s Daily Operation, 1994’s Hard To Earn, 1998’s Moment of Truth and 2003’s The Ownerz with breaks between albums where Guru would work on his very successful “Jazzmatazz” LP series and DJ Premier would work on production for other notable artists. The Ownerz was to be the last record Gang Starr record before the untimely death of Keith Elam (aka Guru) in 2010. In 2012 DJ Premier is still very much an integral part of the Hip Hop scene, 23 years after joining forces with Guru to form Gang Starr in 1989, Premier can still be found producing records for many of Hip Hop’s heavyweights, releasing a recent compilation showcasing his new label “Year Round Records” and hosting a weekly radio show ‘Live From HeadQCourterz’ on Sirius Satellite Radio.


rip John Peel

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7 Responses to “John Peel’s Hidden Gems: Step In The Arena”

  • Comment from enigmatic

    …Guru would work on his very successful “Jazzmatazz” LP series…

    I detect sarcasm.!! It wasn’t..

  • Comment from rollo


    no sarcasm

    jazzmatazz volume 1 sold 500,000+ copies in europe…more than any gangstarr album thats success

  • Comment from roy


  • Comment from Kodokoala

    Step In The Arena WOW 😀 like this..

  • Comment from Phil Watts, Jr.

    “jazzmatazz volume 1 sold 500,000+ copies in europe…more than any gangstarr album”

    …aside from Moment Of Truth, which also sold 500,000+ copies.

    It’s cool how they went over Guru’s solo career without mentioning Whats-his-face or any of the shit that Guru did during the seven years after Gangstarr broke up.

  • Comment from rollo


    jazmatazz 1 actually sold more than MOT in Europe. Europe heads always loved and understood jazz more even according to Miles Davis

    both are stellar records

  • Comment from digz

    i love this album. it broke the world of rap wide open for me- still my favorite GS album

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