Boogie Down Productions / KRS-One
Reviewed on this page:
Ghetto Music - Edutainment - Live Hardcore
Worldwide - Sex & Violence - KRS-One - The Sneak Attack - Survival Skills
Formed in the mid-1980s, around the same time Run-DMC was bringing hip hop to a mass audience,
BDP was originally a duo: one rapper (KRS-One) and one DJ (Scott
LaRock). The musical backing was bare-bones, but the hard-edged, street
political lyrics created a stir: a few socially conscious acts like Grandmaster Flash aside, most hip hop was lighthearted
party music in the Sugarhill Gang mode.
In 1987, shortly after the release of their first album,
LaRock was murdered while intervening in a dispute, and KRS carried on the name for several years though
it was essentially a solo act: he used his brother Kenny Parker as a
DJ, and at one time or another had as many as ten people in BDP, but really it was
his show, and more recently he's acknowledged that, recording as a solo artist. The bargain-basement musical backing has never been brilliant,
but it's usually effective. A strange mix of mystic and intellectual,
KRS is unparalleled at putting abstract concepts into comprehensible
language: who else would write a rap about vegetarianism ("Beef"),
or get onstage at an AIDS benefit and talk about how the coming age
of Aquarius is a signal for men to get in touch with their
femininity? Paradoxically, though, he's recorded some seriously
homophobic and sexist lyrics. His powerful voice projects intelligence and commands respect, a little like a less stern Chuck D, but really he's not like anyone else: a unique talent who refuses to
become irrelevant through all the dramatic changes the music has made through the years.
For more information, here's a fine fan site.
KRS-One (Chris Parker), vocals.
Criminal Minded (1987)
I don't have this, but it's known as a classic of hardcore hiphop, and
the only BDP release to feature Scott LaRock. Because of contractual
problems, KRS later rerecorded the entire album live on Live Hardcore
By All Means Necessary (1988)
Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop (1989)
Reacting to the commercial breakthrough of pop-flavored rap, KRS's
production is intentionally crude (drum programming, simple synth lines,
and touches of horns and backing vocals), which complements the
uncompromising material perfectly. KRS is commanding throughout,
driving his political/social points home with unflagging delivery and
not a word wasted: "Why Is That?," "Ghetto Music," and the anti-police
brutality "Who Protects Us From You?" (one of the album's densest
tracks, with fine use of sound effects) are classics. Even when
he gets a bit carried away with preaching ("You Must Learn") he's still
impressive. Elsewhere, he lets his hair down a bit, showing off his
technique ("Breath Control"), telling stories ("Jack Of Spades") and
concocting simple party grooves ("Bo! Bo! Bo!") before closing with the
cosmic "World Peace." The 80s garage sound may put you off at first, but
the album's power is undeniable. (DBW)
It's all about politics here: no love songs, there's not even time
for bragging. Several spoken word snippets culled from his speaking engagements ("Exhibit A," etc.)
signal that he's started to take himself too seriously (he also calls himself a "metaphysician").
Fortunately, the lyrics deliver: "House Niggas," the title track, "Ya Know
The Rules" and "The Racist" are tight, clever diatribes that sidestep
the pitfalls of dogmatism, chauvinism, and simplistic finger-pointing.
("Ya Strugglin'," which takes aim at assimilationist blacks, does fall into
those traps, with a homophobic verse to boot.) The album's centerpiece
is "Love's Gonna Get'cha (Material Love)," with a slow groove (based on
a Jocelyn Brown sample) underpinning a stark tale of one youth's
descent into drug dealing and violence. Practically the only
non-serious moment is a DJ showcase for KRS's brother Kenny ("The Kenny
Parker Show"). A couple of bonus tracks ("7 Dee Jays," "30 Cops Or
More") are longwinded and uninspired, and the spareness of the backing
tracks can get on your nerves ("Blackman In Effect"), but don't let
that keep you away. (DBW)
Live Hardcore Worldwide (1991)
The raison d'etre for this release was a chance for KRS-One to make some
money from the tunes on Criminal Minded, and so every track from
that album is repeated here. While he was at it, though, KRS included live
takes on a bunch of more recent tunes - "Bo! Bo! Bo!," "Why Is That?" -
though Edutainment is represented only by "House Niggas." It's
a rare hip hop artist who can make a memorable live album, and despite
KRS's mike skills, the disc is monotonous: DJ Kenny Parker keeps things
simple, and the songs sound like the studio versions only more ragged.
Worth picking up cheap if you can't get your hands on a copy
of Criminal Minded, which isn't easy to find. (DBW)
Sex & Violence (1993)
KRS seems to have lost his focus here. The album title refers to radio
and television, in that order, but his lyrics take aim all over the
place, and miss ("Who Are The Pimps?") as often as they hit ("Poisonous
Products") - his "life on the street" cuts (the single "Duck Down"),
inspirational messages ("The Real Holy Place") and political rants
("Questions And Answers") aren't nearly as sharp as before. In
addition, misogyny rears its boring head on a few numbers, including the
cautionary "13 And Good" and especially the dancehall-style "Say Gal," a
defense of date rape. In addition to KRS, several other producers get
their shots - Prince Paul (title
track, "How Not To Get Jerked"), Pal Joey ("Questions And Answers"),
Kenny Parker ("We In There") - but the music is the same programmed
drums and repetitive synth bass as before, and the formula is showing
its age. (DBW)
Return Of The Boom Bap (KRS-One: 1994)
KRS-One (KRS-One: 1995)
Concerned about his eroding credibility, KRS-One cluttered up his
second solo album with between-song shoutouts from damn near everybody
in the business: Rakim, Serch, Jer, Kid Capri, Method Man, G-Wiz, Chuck Chillout, Scorpio, and
thirty more. Other high profile guests include Fat Joe and Busta Rhymes. Meanwhile, his main
lyrical concern is rappers he doesn't like, and he spends an inordinate
amount of time complaining about them: "MC's Act Like They Don't Know,"
"Wannabemceez" (featuring Mad Lion), "Represent The Real Hip Hop"
(featuring Das EFX). He does find time for some straightforward agitprop
("Free Mumia" with Channel Live) and some album-closing life
instructions ("Health, Wealth, Self"). Producers include DJ Premier,
Diamond D, Norty Cotto, and Showbiz, though KRS-One produced half the
tracks himself, and they all follow the same formula: low-key looped drums, slow-moving synth bass, one or two recurring
guitar or keyboard samples per cut. The approach isn't original, but it is a heck of a lot better than the thin, mechanical-sounding tracks he's used for most of his career.
He's as commanding a presence as ever ("The Truth"), and if you want to hear him in a conventional, modern hip hop setting,
this is your chance. (DBW)
I Got Next (KRS-One: 1997)
The Sneak Attack (KRS-One: 2001)
What can you say about a new KRS-One album? It's got the usual recitations of his own resume ("Attendance," "Hip Hop Knowledge").
It's got the usual simple beat-plus-sample looped grooves. It's got some extraordinarily sharp critiques of US society, the music industry
and hip hop culture ("Why" - "Doth Thou Know" would be just as good if it weren't for the awkward archaisms). It's got lengthy attacks on
unnamed rappers ("Hush").
As always, the approach lacks variety and the musicality is thin, but his huge voice and focused rhyming make it worthwhile. The one
difference is that he's said all this before: if you're not a fan this won't change your mind, and if you are a fan it won't teach you
Producers include KRS, his brother Kenny Parker, Domingo and Fredwreck (whose "Shutupayouface" samples the early 80s novelty hit of the
same title); no guests.
Kristyles (KRS-One: 2003)
Tekitha guests on "Survivin'."
D.I.G.I.T.A.L. (KRS-One: 2003)
Big-name guests include Big Pun, Common and Shock G. (DBW)
Keep Right (KRS-One: 2004)
Afrika Bambaataa and Mad Lion appear. (DBW)
Life (KRS-One: 2006)
Adventures In Emceein (KRS-One: 2008)
Lots of guests: Rakim, Chuck D, MC Lyte, Nas, and more.
Maximum Strength (KRS-One: 2008)
A cut-rate Koch Records release.
Survival Skills (KRS-One & Buckshot: 2009)
A collaboration with Brooklyn underground rapper Buckshot, with lots of guests and even more producers: Black Milk ("The Way I Live" with so much Mary J. Blige vocal it's practically her tune);
Havoc from Mobb Deep (the single "ROBOT," a sly takedown of Auto-Tune, which becomes synecdoche - or is it meronymy? - for hip hop without heart). Each producer comes from a different direction (Nottz's lurching, off-kilter "One Shot" featuring Pharoahe Monch) and incorporates old school and up-to-date elements, but all within a minimalist school where every sound pulls its weight and no beat is content to be merely functional (Coptic's ironically soothing "Murder 1").
Meanwhile, KRS and Buckshot's raps are masterful, both in overall concept and line by line:
"Clean Up Crew" - featuring Rock from Buckshot associates Heltah Skeltah - puns cleverly on the names of household cleaning products, but in the service of a larger point. "Think Of The Things" reiterates much of Bill Cosby's "take responsibility for your own actions" message but without sounding out of touch.
"Runnin' Away" is an analysis of African-America that's wide-ranging but devastatingly specific, including a one-line evisceration of Obama - courtesy of guest Immortal Technique - that'll make you wince.
Hip hop rules.