KRS-ONE – The Complicated Teacher
In the history of Hip Hop Culture, there are 5-6 names that universally receive and garner a high level of admiration. There are some great minds that penetrated, influenced and moved this relatively young culture forward. The authentic figures are generally individuals who were raised in challenging conditions. These less than appealing circumstances were the catalyst for firsthand experience, perspective and a front row seat to America’s Systematic Racism. Systematic Racism is one of the architects of poverty, violence and inequality. The culture of Hip Hop (Rap Music, Breakdancing, and Graffiti) became therapy, motivation and a sense of pride for kids in the inner city. Years later, this culture would spread throughout the United States and the Globe. Before the great migration, teens in the South Bronx were having fun in the park, trying to make sense of this new cultural phenomenon.
One day I heard my big brother playing a new record called Criminal Minded. At the time, I wasn’t familiar with the record or the group, Boogie Down Productions (BDP). I remember thinking it was dope (the hip hop lingo during this era) and refreshing. The lead MC KRS-ONE had a strong presence on the microphone. The track that stood out was titled “The Bridge Is Over”. This was the first time I’d heard a rapper attacking another rapper or crew to this degree. I’d heard a few jabs back and forth from LL Cool J and Kool Moe Dee but it didn’t hit me the way KRS engaged with The Juice Crew (primarily MC Shan, Marley Marl and Roxanne Shante’). Criminal Minded was released in Spring of 87’, while How Ya Like Me Now was released during Winter 87’, adding heat to the LL feud. Several years before this battle, Kool Moe Dee destroyed Busy Bee at Harlem World (Night Club) during a live recording. The Kool Moe Dee tape became legendary in the streets of New York but I didn’t hear it until years later because I lived in North Carolina. Around this moment, KRS became my new favorite MC, along with Rakim and EPMD.
As I stated earlier, to fully understand Hip Hop, you have to live the culture. KRS-One, born Lawrence “Kris” Parker embodies Hip Hop because that’s literally all he knows. KRS was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised by his mother, who was Jamaican. As a teen, KRS moved to the South Bronx aspiring to be a hip hop figure. At the time, KRS was a graffiti artist but had little to show for his artistic talent. Before going by the name of KRS-One (Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everything), Kris was often called Krisna because of his belief in the teachings and knowledge of the Hare Krishna Movement. During a period of his teenage years, KRS lived in a homeless shelter in the South Bronx. His counselor was a young man who went by the name Scott Sterling. Sterling was an aspiring DJ outside of his Social Work obligations. Scott would later be known to the Hip Hop world as DJ Scott La Rock. Kris and Scott became great friends and formed BDP along with Derrick “D-Nice” Jones. There were other affiliates of BDP (Ms. Melodie, younger brother Kenny Parker and even Just Ice) that contributed to their movement. KRS was writing rhymes while living in a homeless shelter. I mean, talk about perseverance. We all know the story of KRS hearing MC Shan song “The Bridge”, which was an ode to Queensbridge Housing Projects. KRS/BDP recorded their answer to the song titled “South Bronx”, which was basically letting the world know that Hip Hop originated in the South Bronx. The rest is Hip Hop history.
True musicians, regardless of the genre end up being very conscious, cerebral and self aware individuals if they constantly faced adversary early in life. Before BDP could become universally known, DJ Scott La Rock was killed. The story behind his death has always been told from various perspectives. The one I’ve heard most often was Scott La Rock was going to talk to some local drug dealers who were after D-Nice. D-Nice had supposedly had a relationship with one of the guy’s girlfriend. An altercation ensued and Scott was killed, trying to be the peacemaker. I don’t personally know the truth but this was one of the more known rumors. During a 2017 interview (EP. #60 Juan EP), D-Nice stated that the girl was just his friend and the murder happened by guys who weren't involved with this particular girl or crew. One of their associates got into an altercation with some guys the same night they were going to try to squash the beef with the crew who pistol whipped D-Nice. At any rate, Criminal Minded was hailed a Hip Hop Classic but Scott never got a chance to enjoy the new found success. KRS scaled back on the hardcore image displayed on Criminal Minded and became “The Teacher” on the sophomore album By All Means Necessary. On Criminal Minded you heard tracks like “9mm Goes Bang” that told a story of KRS killing adversaries in street glory. On By All Means Necessary, he was talking about a corrupt American Government and Crack Epidemic on the track “Illegal Business”. KRS followed up the sophomore effort with the legendary posse cut Self-Destruction. The origin of Self-Destruction was a result of a young fan dying at a BDP and Public Enemy Show. Frustrated with the violence and conditions in the inner city, KRS teamed with D-Nice and Hank Shocklee (PE) to produce the record. The video was a “who’s who” in Hip Hop ranging from guest vocalist to cameo appearances. Notable artist included Chuck D and Public Enemy, Kool Moe Dee, Just Ice, MC Lyte, Heavy D, Doug E. Fresh, Stetsasonic, D-Nice and Ms. Melodie (eventually became KRS wife, now deceased) provided vocals. KRS was now one of the leading figures in the Hip Hop Culture.
“This is not the first time I came to the planet But everytime I come, only a few could understand it I came as Isis, my words they tried to ban it I came as Moses, they couldn't follow my Commandments I came as Solomon, to a people that was lost I came as Jesus, but they nailed me to a cross I came as Harriet Tubman, I put the truth to Sojourner Other times, I had to come as Nat Turner They tried to burn me, lynch me and starve me So I had to come back as Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley They tried to harm me, I used to be Malcolm X Now I'm on the planet as the one called KRS” - KRS “Ah-Yeah”
When an individual is in a leadership position, there is a microscope placed on you at all times. KRS has always been an outspoken individual, which has always been the gift and curse of his success. After releasing 5 albums under BDP (Criminal Minded, By All Means Necessary, Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop, Edutainment and Sex and Violence), KRS started his solo career in 1993 with Return of the Boom Bap. During this time KRS founded The Temple of Hip Hop (comprising of a ministry, school and movement). KRS stated that Hip Hop is a legitimate Political Movement, Religion and Culture. Nobody before KRS had viewed Hip Hop with such a worldly vision. KRS stated that Hip Hop Week (3rd Week in May annually) should be a time when DJ’s and MC’s teach people about the culture of Hip Hop. KRS also wanted artist to make more socially conscious music for the community to absorb. KRS also recognizes Hip Hop Month (November), which was founded by The Zulu Nation. Speaking of the Zulu Nation, for the past few years the leader of The Zulu Nation, Afrika Bambaataa has allegedly been accused of the molestation of young men since the early 80’s. He was forced to step down and he has been out of the public eye. KRS caught a lot of heat in late 2016 (Drink Champs Podcast with NORE) by defending Bambaataa or at the least, remaining neutral. KRS did not want to scold the Zulu Nation leader and stated that his place in Hip Hop can never be removed. I beg to differ. Statues of once so called great men are knocked down around the world. His perspective on Bambaataa was disturbing to say the least. In my opinion, you can have admiration for someone and be totally disappointed in their behavior. The biggest controversy KRS faced was in 2004 when he was cited stating that “we cheered during 911” during a panel discussion hosted by The New Yorker Magazine. The New York Daily News attacked KRS calling him the antichrist (comparing him to Bin Laden) and other news outlets ran with the rhetoric. I read his comments and it reminded me of Malcolm X response “Chickens coming home to roost” after being asked about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
KRS, like any other person alive has faced loss and tragedy. A lot of fans don’t know that KRS son died in an apparent suicide (Atlanta, 2007) which is devastating to any parent. In 2012 KRS suffered another loss as his ex-wife and BDP member Ms. Melodie died. KRS has always been in tune with his spiritual strength and awareness. I mean, how else do you maintain losing Scott La Rock, Ms. Melodie and your son? Over the solo career of KRS-One, he addressed his upbringing, community, faith and consciousness, as well as political awareness. Make no mistake about it; KRS-One is one of the greatest MC’s of all time. Oh yeah, please don't try to battle KRS either, you will get destroyed. On a side note, KRS stated that each year he has a battle rap ready for every MC on the Top 10 Billboards list. Kris said "No disrespect, it's just how I practice", with a smirk on his face during a Documentary. I listened to my “Best of KRS” in the car today. Some of the songs that resonate with me are “My Philosophy”, “Black Cop”, “Illegal Business”, “You Must Learn”, “The MC”, “Step Into A World”, “I’m Still #1” and so many other classics. KRS travels to discuss the culture of Hip Hop. KRS has lectured at Universities for over 25 years. KRS continues to tour in 2018, starting this journey in 1987. KRS is often called “The Teacher” because we have given him an honorary PHD in Hip Hop.
“The rich will get richer and the poor will get poorer And in the final hour many heads will lose power What does the rich versus the poor really mean? Psychologically it means you got to pick your team When someone says the rich gets richer Visualize wealth and put yourselves in the picture The rich get richer, cause they work towards rich The poor get poorer, cause their minds can't switch from the ghetto..” – KRS “4th Quarter Free Throws”
The legacy of KRS is cemented into the essence of Rap Music and Hip Hop Culture. KRS, along with Public Enemy are the only remaining Hip Hop Figures that I would like to see a Biopic on. His life has so many layers that I can’t articulate without writing a book on him. KRS is a giant in Hip Hop but is also a very complicated individual. As an MC, I have him ranked #2 on my All Time list. KRS has the albums, longevity, freestyle ability, stage presence and the art of mcing mastered. At the end of the day, can you imagine Hip Hop without KRS-One? I’m thankful that MC Shan acknowledged KRS with his track “Kill that Noise” because if he would have ignored BDP, Hip Hop and the Golden Era could have looked totally different.
“Thank God and Ms. Parker for the fact that you hear, thank me for your career…ya hear” – MC Shan
“Rap is still an art, and no one's from the Old School Cuz Rap is still a brand-new tool I say no one's from the Old School cuz Rap on a whole Isn't even twenty years old Fifty years down the line, you can start this Cuz we'll be the Old School artists And even in that time, I'll say a rhyme A brand-new style, ruthless and wild Runnin' around spendin' money, havin' fun Cuz even then, I'm still number one…” KRS “I’m Still #1”
At the end of the day, KRS is like your Uncle (at times drunk Uncle) in that he is serious in “His Truth”. One thing about KRS is whenever you hear him speak, it’s always with conviction. He believes wholeheartedly what he’s saying and influenced a generation of MC’s. You can hear KRS influence in Dead Prez, Talib Kweli, Mos Def and Common. If you’ve ever been to a KRS-One Concert, you saw Hip Hop in its purest form. In terms of stage presence, only LL Cool J, DMX, and a young Busta Rhymes can compete with The Blastmaster. For over 30 years KRS has represented Hip Hop the best way he could. I have not always agreed with some of his perspectives (or throwing my man Prince Be of PM Dawn off stage at Manhattans Sound Stage) but I respect his overall contribution to the entire Hip Hop Culture. The once unknown Graffiti artist transformed himself into one of the God’s on the microphone. I mean, what else can you say?
Peace: T-Hanes, Da Dome
Sources: Krs-One Official Website, Beef Documentary, Interviews, Wiki/Google Research