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Gang Starr's second album is quintessential hip-hop and is easily one of the greatest rap albums of all time. In contrast to their 1989 debut, No More Mr. Nice Guy, which was filled with seriously uptempo jams, Step in the Arena slows down the pace, unveiling low, slow, and deceptively complex tempos along with some jazz-tinged loops and beats, all of which firmly established DJ Premier's slot in the producer hall of fame. Furthermore, the slower sonic pace proved to be a perfect fit for Guru's distinctive monotone flow. The album hits on every aural level, from the lumbering bass and blaring horn combo of the title track to the swirling sax blurts, unnerving siren, and kinetic scratch attack of "Who's Gonna Take the Weight" to the laid-back smooth jazz soul of "Love Sick." Guru's verbal volley can only be described as smooth hardcore, with no-nonsense lyrics that effectively strike a balance between the street and the intellect. Toss in tracks like the anti-hoodlum anthem "Just to Get a Rep" and the scathing "Execution of a Chump (No More Mr. Nice Guy, Part 2)," and you've got yourself a bona fide classic that sounds as fresh today as it did when it was first released.


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