I remember hearing Gang Starr for the first time. I was in my friend’s garage, the one at his mom’s house in South Central L.A. that he’d converted into a hangout spot, which was the fashion at the time. The neighborhood dogs were barking pointlessly in all the yards and the LAPD helicopters chop-chop-chopped the sky, ever present. It was a warm day, as I recall, and the sound coming out of the garage was damn smooth. I liked the raspy voice of the MC. He was rapping about the streets, which was also the fashion. He wasn’t just bragging, rhyming about how hard he and his crew were. But he wasn’t wagging a finger in condemnation, either. There was a balance to the song, something real from the standpoint of someone who knows. Like something Johnny Cash would have understood.