Episode 87: Vikki Tobak and Joseph Patel on Gang Starr’s “Hard to Earn” (1994)

Episode 87

Gang Starr’s Hard to Earn dropped in the pivotal year of 1994, arguably the height of the Golden Era as it came alongside everything from Biggie’s Ready to Die to Nas’s Illmatic to OutKast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Unlike those other debut albums, this was Gang Starr’s fourth LP and by ’94, they had established themselves as the (no pun intended) premier rap duo, avatars of a boom bap/braggadocio style that would help define an entire era. For DJ Premier, Hard to Earn marked the beginning of his imperial era, where the telltale sound of a Primo scratch was a mark of quality. Meanwhile, G.U.R.U.’s lyrical craft stepped up another notch (even if it was still “mostly tha voice” that got folks up). Fans will debate whether this was Gang Starr’s best album but for Morgan and Oliver, it happened to be their favorite by the group. Aight? Chill.

Episode notes

The Album: Gang Starr: Hard to Earn (1994)
Gang Starr’s Hard to Earn dropped in the pivotal year of 1994, arguably the height of the Golden Era as it came alongside everything from Biggie’s Ready to Die to Nas’s Illmatic to OutKast’s Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik. Unlike those other debut albums, this was Gang Starr’s fourth LP and by ’94, they had established themselves as the (no pun intended) premier rap duo, avatars of a boom bap/braggadocio style that would help define an entire era. For DJ Premier, Hard to Earn marked the beginning of his imperial era, where the telltale sound of a Primo scratch was a mark of quality. Meanwhile, G.U.R.U.’s lyrical craft stepped up another notch (even if it was still “mostly tha voice” that got folks up). Fans will debate whether this was Gang Starr’s best album but for Morgan and Oliver, it happened to be their favorite by the group. Aight? Chill.
Hard to Earn was the pick of a dynamic duo of guests. First up: Vikki Tobak, author of the astounding new book, Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop, quite possibly the best rap photography book ever created. She was in town as part of the new Contact High exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography (which is up through August, come catch it!). As part of the exhibit, there’s a wonderful documentary video that accompanies, assembled by other other guest: Joseph “Jazzbo” Patel. He and Oliver go back to the ’90s when both were young writers at URB Magazine and by the ’00s, Patel had moved into video content, becoming one of the most influential behind-the-scenes talents at places like Vice TV, MTV, The Fader and Vevo. (He and Vikki are now working on a docu-series based on Contact High). In tackling this album, the four of us discussed everything from the highs and lows of the jazz-hip-hop era of the early ’90s to why we need to bring back answering machine/voicemail skits to how to properly pronounce “DWYCK.”
More on Vikki Tobak and Joseph Patel

More on Hard to Earn

Show Tracklisting (all songs from Hard to Earn unless indicated otherwise):

  • The Planet
  • Gang Starr: Manifest
  • Speak Ya Clout
  • Intro (The First Step)
  • Gang Starr: Jazz Thing
  • Guru: Loungin’
  • Code of the Streets
  • Mass Appeal
  • DWYCK
  • Aiight Chill
  • Tonz ‘O’ Gunz
  • Coming for Datazz
  • Speak Ya Clout
  • Crooklyn Dodgers: Return of the Crooklyn Dodgers
  • Suckas Need Bodyguards
  • Gang Starr: The ? Remainz
  • The Planet
  • Tonz ‘O’ Gunz
  • The Planet
  • Mass Appeal

Here is the Spotify playlist of as many songs as we can find there.
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In this episode...

Guests

  • Vikkie Tobak
  • Joseph Patel

About the show

Hosted by Oliver Wang and Morgan Rhodes, every episode of Heat Rocks invites a special guest to talk about a heat rock – a hot album, a scorching record. These are in-depth conversations about the albums that shape our lives.

Our guests include musicians, writers, and scholars and though we don’t exclusively focus on any one genre, expect to hear about albums from the worlds of soul, hip-hop, funk, jazz, Latin, and more.

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