Tom Ewing’s Top 100 Singles Of The 90s

No single less glamourous has ever seen release. Attacking gangsta rap, matching its deadly braggadocio with a self-righteousness just as bombastic, was and is easy. Guru could have played this story of pointless ghetto death for tears of rage or sentimentality – instead he takes pop’s last secret emotional taboo and sticks a boot through it: on “Just To Get A Rep”, Guru sounds bored.

Rap gets played up as the new poetry: fair enough, to a point. Any decent rapper has a poet’s joy in the texture of words, a gleeful immersion in the play and bubble of rhymes. But it’s much rarer to find a rapper with an interest in the weight and nuance of words: Guru has it, though. “Brothers are amused by other brother’s reps / But the thing they know best is where the gun is kept.” is a perfect opening, deflating an entire genre with one blast of chilly-eyed detachment, and the contemptuous effect is down to that one impeccably chosen verb: “amused”. Later on, when Guru raps “He’s at the peak of his crazy career / his posse’s a nightmare, mackin’ jewels and crazy gear”, the repetition of “crazy” and the aimless non-specifity of “gear” underscores the frantic futility of the lifestyle described.

And that’s before you even consider the brilliant lounge-groove steal that’s being sampled as backing, now revived as part of the easy-rehab movement and vamping up a cinema near you. The finest, most chilling part of “Just To Get A Rep”, though, is the ending, where Shorty’s fate catches up with him around the same time Guru’s boredom does, and Gang Starr just cut off the track, let it wind down with shocking suddenness. You could never make a record this plain-spoken and despairing if you imagined anyone was listening, after all.