Protect Ya Neck

You have got to have balls to sample Thelonious Monk, then drop some old-school big band and follow it up with lyrics about Ornette Coleman and Scott Joplin. But with a hip-hop record, that kind of hi-fi audacity is always two steps away from either the lowest kind of musical posing or true "beats-to-the-rhyme" type genius. And without a doubt, on Full Clip, Gang Starr’s double-disc greatest hits, Guru and his tag team partner DJ Premier always end up on the genius side.

Whether it’s a new joint such as the blazin’ title track on disc one, or an old gem like "Mass Appeal" from ’94’s Hard to Earn, Gang Starr maintains its soul, style and presence. That’s why Full Clip is solid; there are a few cuts that don’t really do it, but they’re still so well put together you can’t really knock ‘em.

Ten years of Gang Starr’s best shit means 33 examples of what New York sounds like. Forget that "Baldhead Slick" hails from Roxbury, Mass. And Primo was born and raised in Prairie View, Texas. This is how the East Coast rocks.

Peep "Step in the Arena" on disc two, off the 1990 album of the same name and hear for yourself. The live bass line flows on top of a fresh, jazzy beat, horns kick in and Guru gets ill: "Match up makes Gang Starr wanna snatch up/one or two phrases from the new book with new pages/of rhymes/that are built like a chariot/don’t vocals carry it?/ to the battle set/if a beat was a princess I would marry it."

Guru’s rhymes speak to the youth, assassinate sucka MCs and relish in the art of the game. Behind him, Primo makes soulful tracks with dope beats and classic hooks that "bridge the musical legacies of James Brown, Dizzy Gillespie and Kool Herc" (just like it says in the liner notes). Together, it ain’t hard to tell how they’ve held it down in this industry for 10 years and counting.

For the heads, this is the five-star album you’ve been craving since rap went south and talent went out the fucking window. For everybody else: yes it’s worth the cash, yes it’ll make your neck snap back, and yes … this is hip hop, the new code of the streets.