You know what you need to learn? Old school artists don’t always burn. You’re just another rapper who’s had his turn, now it’s my turn, and I am concerned…
KRS-One was monumental to my come up as a hip-hop head. Much like De La Soul and Public Enemy, KRS remains in my rap pantheon of all-time greats, expanding my notions of what rap could be and becoming part of my soundtrack of my early adulthood. Born Lawrence Parker, KRS came of age as hip-hop did, and as a Bronx resident, witnessed and was part of it, graffiti bombing trains all over the South Bronx in the late ’70s and early ’80s. A troublemaker, Kris was kicked out of the house, and while living in a shelter he met a social worker by the name of Scott Sterling, who deejayed on the side. Kris, known for his battle rapping ability, teamed up with Scott, who was going by the name of Scott La Rock, and became the driving force behind a rap collective known as Boogie Down Productions.
It didn’t take long for BDP to catch notoriety, as KRS went at the Queensbridge, Queens legend, MC Shan over his 1985 track “The Bridge,” which alleged that hip-hop got its start not in the Bronx, but Queens. This was a monumental moment in rap history by kicking off the Bridge Wars, one of the earliest rap beefs, with KRS’s response records “South Bronx” and “The Bridge is Over” becoming known as some of the most vicious rhymes put to wax. BDP came up quickly and in ’87 put out their legendary debut, Criminal Minded, which was notable for its aggressive lyricism, badass persona, AND for being the earliest rap record with guns on the cover (shit, there were grenades too! Scott and KRS weren’t playing). Not long after that record, Scott was shot and killed in an altercation which switched up everything for KRS. He decided to adopt a more politically-minded style, and in ’88 he put out By All Means Necessary.
Along with PE, KRS was one of the originators of hip-hop music being a force for justice, education, and revolution, and this record was a perfect display of that, right down to KRS peering out the window with a gun in hand in reference to Malcolm X. The record is all rap, no bullshit, and KRS’s thoughtfulness, forcefulness, and willingness to tackle issues such as violence, drugs, the state of hip-hop, and more helped elevate him to the top during rap’s first golden age.
This record…man, the amount of play I put on this one? KRS spoke to me as a young dude, he embodied hip-hop culture, and his desire to teach inspired me and was, and very much still is a high water mark for a quality emcee. And this song remains forever a soundtrack, one of the few songs I know all by heart, where KRS pats himself on the back for a job well done and creates one long hip-hop quotable.
…It’s my turn, and I am concerned, with idiots posing as kings, are we here to rule, I thought we were supposed to sing? And if we ought to sing, let us begin to teach, many of you are educated, just open your mouth and speak…