Jon Caramanica
July 11, 2003 AT 04:00 AM EDT

For 15 years, Gang Starr have been cred-obsessed workhorses of the hip-hop underground. They set the template for anthemic street rap — Guru’s sandpapered vocals conveying authority over DJ Premier’s sublime scratched-up-soul sample beats. On Ownerz, that stubbornness is both virtue and vice: ”Skills” and ”Rite Where U Stand” show the group’s formula can still sizzle, but on the more mundane tracks — ”Nice Girl, Wrong Place,” ”Zonin”’ — Gang Starr sound comfortable, and that’s the last thing they’d want.

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