Straddling the very fissures where the old school gave way to the new, Gang Starr's 1992 masterpiece Step in the Arena was the sound that took rappers 15 years to perfect. In the few months that followed, New York would be scrambling to reinvent itself in the year Los Angeles broke, but Daily Operation was coolly classic-sounding; like Led Zep's Physical Graffiti, it's an unstoppable summary of everything that makes its genre great — the most rollicking breaks, the silkiest rhyme patterns, the most nimble cutwork, the most head-knocking snares.
For being the greatest MC/DJ duo in rap history, Gang Starr were never flashy, gaudy or showy. Guru and DJ Premier are jazz heads at heart, and they understand the idea of "being in the pocket" — note how Guru brags that his vocals "complement the slow phat groove" in "Stay Tuned." But don't mistake their smoothness for soft: The production (handled by the duo) cycles through some of the most harried samples around, always hiccupping with hums and tics and audience noise and hummingbird strings — peaking with a manic one-second loop of hard-funk footnote Sugar Billy Garner in "B.Y.S."
The magic is in the details — how Premier gently stretches and bends KRS-One's voice in "Ex Girl to the Next Girl"; the way Guru can makes something as devilishly simple as "You see the mic in my hand? Now watch me wreck it now" seem like liquid perfection; how "Take It Personal" adds extra bass drums hits to the iconic "Skull Snap" break to make it even more skull-snappy. Daily Operation is an uncluttered masterpiece by a group with a catalog full of them.