Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Epic Failure of KRS-One

No., son.

Much like I did to De La Soul (how I went 20 years without hearing De La Soul Is Dead is beyond me), I slept on KRS-ONE up until '06, when my friend Jordan let me cop the first three BDP albums from his iTunes as well as KRS' best solo album, Return of the Boom Bap. Despite my childhood seeing this dude in Sprite commercials fighting monsters inside of Voltron with Fat Joe and etc, there wasn't much of any of his catalog EVER played on TV so my awareness of the guy and his importance came strictly from countdown shows and lists, akin to Joey's Listory. So, I went through this weird period as a college sophomore where I had just copped a Dell out of necessity and had started downloading shit off the nice chap who was broadcasting his wireless to my whole block, apparently. This started the overload of music that I still suffer from now, where I have 12 gigs of shit I have yet to even start digesting, including stuff from a year or two ago that I may not even be interested in, i.e., anything Mike Patton did outside of Faith No More.

During this time, I pretty much copped a ridiculous amount of hip-hop, most of which would turn out to be great to classic records that I now own, like Ironman and Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, 6 Feet Deep, Mecca and the Soul Brother and all that kind of "Source's 100 Best Rap Albums" shit. No, really, I straight downloaded half that list.

So after either having an inspirational moment or seeing MTV's "Top 25 MC's" for the 50th time on the MTV2 programming trash-heap, I finally decided to check out KRS past the one time I heard "Step Into A World" on Hot 97 in high school on their afternoon old school block. Usually listening to pre-90's rap albums is a chore for me, just because the concept of an "album" wasn't that solidified and with the exception of stuff like Licensed To Ill and Run-D.M.C., a bunch of canonical 80's classics are either full of filler or just aren't interesting enough musically to be elevated past the shitload of 90's classics that would be produced under their influence. Even The Great Adventures of Slick Rick has like two shitty, grating songs. So it took a bit of getting used to the non-single tracks on Criminal Minded, although like most 80's records, it became clear where my favorite hooks and phrases emanated from. It was really minimalist and full of empty space, something that would get lost for a while when the post-Prince Paul/Bomb Squad generation began making these beautiful, but suffocatingly full albums.

Listening to the records, I was blown away that the "old dude" that had started beef with Nelly for no reason when I was in 10th grade was pretty ill, up until after Return of the Boom Bap. Then, as the criticism usually goes, his "teacha" shtick became overbearing and worn-out, his proselytizing about hip-hop become more and more insane, in a Prodigy/Canibus sort of "I'm delusional but still think I'm dropping knowledge and not slogans without nuanced and uncorroborated paranoid theories". Plus, as evidenced by his preference of Curtis over Graduation, dude developed tin ear, and as rap went through the awkward Jay-Z to 50 Cent transition and the change in production style went through constant flux as well, he put out leaden dull record after leaden dull record. Despite this latter-day redundancy, he's still infinitely better than Pac.

Dude once said something like "If I'm in the supermarket and someone comes up to me like, 'Yo son, let's spit sumtin'...pfft. Bread, milk goes down!"

I love that. In that respect, that shit is hip-hop, even with the stodgy, conservative definition of hip-hop and cliched grumblings by people who think Talib Kweli and Common should be the talking points for everything "positive" or "tr00" (The same people unfamiliar with the fact that Wu and Biggie said lots of uplifting shit, but these people are usual morons anyway so they don't bother digging deep into anything they talk about), that attitude is still around and its beautiful. At the end of the day, hip-hop at its most basic is rapping over a beat. At its core, its rhythm incarnate. So a dude who doesn't sell records anymore willing to battle in Pathmark while getting some soymilk and whatever Isrealite/5 Percenter diet KRS eats, that's touching. Its also this aspect that make even the most cynical people give him chances. The guy made 4 classic records, and fell off a cliff and landed on LL Cool J, but when he does shit like announce he's making an album with Marley Marl, his 80's nemesis in the storied tapestry that is early rap history, people like me actually go, "Hm...alright. I'll check it out, might be great". And when it only has 5 good songs, you go "well, its still better than his last 16 albums".

Even Adventures In Emceein', the album he just put out with decent beats and constant guest appearances that only serve aggrandize his "greatness" (and a weird-ass spoken word piece by MC Lyte) and that practically no one except my friend Jordan and I knew about or listened to, had its moments of vindication for The Teacha.

And then, slightly before the release of said album, the motherfucker announces he's going to try and do the "Stop The Violence" thing again. Instinctively I go I think that shit is an alright idea if he does this properly. Like...put quality control on the verses and get HOT beats. Not some marginal underground sub-BCC boom-bap shit he's been dick-riding since he was a Krishna, but some Kanye/Polow Da Don/Three 6 Mafia/9th Wonder/Madlib shit. Things that are, if not great, good enough to buoy what will no doubt be an awful, awful failure, because, on the real, no one cares about KRS except musicologists, historians, teachers and other rappers over 30. And the former three are motivated by objective cultural studies more than actual listening habits or reverence. To get the Danity Jane/Soulja Boy heads to give a shit about your convoluted, inevitably badly presented message, you might want to get Just Blaze out of retirement and recycle those '02 Roc beats that he was always decent at. Shit, get Fizzy from M.O.P. while you're at it.

But, no. As to be expected, the guy fails. Epicly.

KRS-One - Self Construction

Its somehow worse and shoddier than I expected. Disjointed, bland, dated, meaningless, everything the Blastmasta has come to represent after 1995. I still desperately want to see the guy live and regret missing THREE opportunities last year to do so, but its this sort of thing that makes you shake your head. He's like Tito, the retarded Colombian pug I grew to love in spite of its utter stupidity while on vacation last winter, heartwarmingly inept.

And now its clear that Nas has taken the KRS-One career path. Shit, at this point, Nas IS KRS-One, judging by his inability to put out more than one good album but surprise you with a few good tracks per album. Oh, and his rabble-rousing.

Nas- Be A Nigger Too
Nahright and NYOIL Summing It Up

Listen, once you attain a level of greatness, you have two choices once you falter. Keep sucking, or fall back. Either become Masta Ace or Ghostface or hang it up, B. KRS should have stopped making albums a long time ago, but it seems he's content to let his taint of failure effect all of the younger cats who cosign him (Nas, Fat Joe, etc.) and praise him even past his creative twilight.

But at least he doesn't have a mic tatooed on his arm.


DocZeus said...

Ouch. Ether. I never really wanted to listen to anything KRS-One has done past '97 so I totally agree.

Although, I think Nas' only recently reached KRS-One level of craziness. Be A N***** Too is his jumping the shark point. He was still making dope albums up to four years, ago. You can't really front on God's Son and Stillmatic and Street's Disciple and HHID had its moments.

Christopher said...

A little while ago, I checkout out Street's Disciple on iTunes and was surprised at how many ill songs were on there. Its strange, because, and you can attest to this, I was watching "It Ain't Hard to Tell" and "Nas Is Like" (one of my favorite songs ever, really) on youtube and the change and odd sense of maturity and happiness in Nas since around God's Son (might have something to do with his mom dying) that you can see in him foretells that if he really wanted to, he might be able to do something really great, a crotchety old-school version of Illmatic.

Dude just needs to put some focus and quality under the new demeanor he developed round '02.

floodwatch said...

To echo that intro track off "Stakes Is High" - I was ten years old when I first heard "Criminal Minded." I 'checked out' the LP from my local library and recorded onto one side of a 90-minute Maxell later that evening.

To say the shit blew my mind would be a laughable understatement.

Granted, I wouldn't dare listen to anything dude recorded past '95, but for older cats such as myself, KRS will always get a free pass in my book, batshit-insane that he is now. I mean, the guy almost single-handedly defined the way I listen to hip hop and why I love it. I find it's best to just ignore him - it helps keep his legacy from completely crumbling, regardless of how much stupid shit comes out of his mouth in interviews and that redundant "I AM hip hop" nonsense.

But yeah, his Quality Control Department vacated the building over a decade ago, right before he should have adopted retirement status.

Ass Hat said...

can't argue with this.

do go and see him live, though, if you get a chance. if anything, his commitment to touring and playing good shows in small venues redeems his decade-and-a-half of awful records.

Anonymous said...

i like the part where you talk abt krs-one's supermarket bravado - so full of it and hip-hop all that same time. i remember watching some hip hop doc on BET, whre he bragged something similar, along the lines of - every year for the top 10 emcees on the charts, krs one had a diss record that would "destroy" their careers - its the type of krs comment that deserves admiration and a punch in the face. if tht makes any sense. he's living on residual respect at this point . contrasting the overbearing entitlement of a krs one vs the still-humble yet hungry hustles of a masta ace and ghostface, is a nice discussion point. and dude, that nas comparison is scary. nas isnt that arrogant imho, but as often indicated by his beat selection (kinda), he clearly can be tht out of touch with today's pulse. nice read. - jay kay

Anonymous said...

Wow. Hip Hop is not about this type of criticism. It is acceptance of creative expression done with sincerity. ANd yeh I know that hip hop is about competition too.. but not really that much. KRS ONE brings something that hip hoppers gotta respect: MESSAGE. He is definitely a Teacha. And respect to any artist who is about a message. Everybody should be responsible in what they bring out and voice, especially if you have a platform, and ESPECIALLY if you have a platform like Nas. Lookin forward to the Nas/Damian Marley collab. Its about raising consciousness man, u cant disregard that. BUT let artists do what they want. Theres other mcs who will always bring sick beats and flows and always keep them tight and thats good too! Theres good balance in hip hop which I love.