Saturday, March 7, 2009

Adventures In Rap #11: Criminal Minded

I've been trying to reconcile the notion of KRS-One as the "Teacha" and the so-called "positive rapper" with a story I once heard about how he had assaulted P.M. Dawn's Prince Be onstage at a concert because he didn't think Prince Be was "hardcore" enough, or for that matter, with this article I read in Rolling Stone a few years back:
KRS-One has ignited controversy with his comments as a panelist at The New Yorker Festival on October 2nd, claiming that he and other African-Americans "cheered when 9/11 happened...I say that proudly."

As reported in the New York Daily News and confirmed by a New Yorker spokeswoman, the rapper explained his views by saying that prior to the attack World Trade Center security guards prevented black people from entering "because of the way we talk and dress. So when the planes hit the building, we were like, 'Mmmm -- justice.' [9/11] doesn't affect us. 9/11 happened to them, not us. The rich . . . those who are oppressing us. RCA or BMG, Universal, the radio stations."

KRS-One also criticized recent voter registration campaigns by members of the hip-hop community. "Voting in a corrupt society adds more corruption," he said. "America has to commit suicide if the world is to be a better place."

OK, maybe he was just having a bad day. Apparently the website for "Temple of Hip-Hop, the self-proclaimed hip-hop preservation society founded by KRS-One, includes a 'declaration of peace' that seeks to 'establish a foundation of health, love, awareness, wealth, peace and prosperity for ourselves, our children and their children's children, forever.' " So the guy's a bit complicated. Also, somebody tell him that 1) the terrorists were not trying to attack BMG, RCA, and Universal, and 2) the president is now Barack Obama.

At any rate, if you're looking for some kind of ideological clarity, rap is not your genre. And so it is that the "Teacha" and the "Philosopher" is responsible for arguably the first gangsta rap album. Behold the album cover - allegedly the first to depict the performers brandishing weapons. Or the track "9mm," likely one of the earliest rap songs to nonchalantly describe a murder:

Me knew a crack dealer by the name of Peter
Had to buck him down with my 9 millimeter
He said I had his girl, I said "Now what are you? Stupid?"
But he tried to play me out and KRS-One knew it
He reached for his pistol but it was just a waste
Cause my 9 millimeter was up against his face
He pulled his pistol anyway and I filled him full of lead
But just before he fell to the ground this is what I said...

Wa da da dang
Wa da da da dang (Ay!)
Listen to my 9 millimeter go bang

Sounds pretty "positive" to me. My personal favorite track has to be "P Is Free," which chronicles a situation I've often faced in my life, where a prostitute has offered me her services free of charge, if only I could just provide her with some crack. Hence the memorable chorus "The girlies are free/'cause the crack costs money/oh yeah!":

Ridin' one day on my freestyle fix
Jammin' to a tape Scott LaRock had mixed
I said to myself "This tape sound funky"
Ridin' past the 116th Street junkie
Thought I saw Denise but I was only assumin'
Took another look and that butt was boomin'
Did a little trick on my freestyle fix
And I was right beside the girl, she was all on the tip
She said "Hi, DJ KRS"
She kissed me on my neck so I gave her a peck
She said "I'm really in a hurry so I cannot wait
If you give me a lift while we ride to the bait"
She jumped on my bike, I said "Huh, what's your stop?"
She said "Right around the corner to the crack spot
If you buy me a crack I'll know how to act
But if you don't, you might as well step back"
I said "Now how the hell we jump off to this?
I'm doin' you a favor, I'm givin you a lift"
She said "KRS, you know it goes"
I said "Yeah, you seems that you're a hoe"

Not sure how he was hoping to establish "a foundation of health, love, awareness, wealth, peace," with lyrics such as these but to be fair, at this early stage in his career KRS-One was not making any claims about promoting non-violence or positivity or anything in particular. In fact, Criminal Minded may have been rap's edgiest album yet.

KRS-One only began moving toward "consciousness" rap after his Boogie Down productions partner DJ Scott LaRock was suddenly murdered in a club after the album's release. Unfortunately, since BDP could not have anticipated the tragedy, this means that Scott LaRock's last testament to the world has ended up being a track called "Super Hoe," featuring the chorus "Scott LaRock had 'em all/he is the Superhoe":

Now many people have their ways of expressin'
What they do best, for Scott it's undressin'
Yes, either a girl or some date for the night
He doesn't want to hear that you're too tight
So do not think that Scott LaRock is mean
It's not his fault, he'll give you Vaseline
The Super Hoe is loose in your area
Makin' life for girls a little scarier
So if you got a radio tryin' to tape this
Do not keep in mind that he is a rapist
For the Super Hoe to be chillin'
Another female out there has to be willin'
So all you tramps and hoes raise your hand
Cause Super Hoe Scott LaRock understands
If you're a guy we'll talk about hangin'
And if you're a girl he'll talk about bangin'
If your moms call up, well, I don't know
But uh... (He is the Super Hoe)

Perhaps not the most fitting final statement. But rather, let us say that Criminal Minded as a whole can serve as his final musical epitaph. Indeed, for a 1987 rap album aiming more for street cred than a Run-D.M.C.-style crossover, the beats are actually very catchy, mellow, and pleasant. Scott LaRock also brings a welcome reggae flavor to several of the cuts. If Criminal Minded still sounds a bit dated, it sounds less dated than the other rap of that time. In short, we're getting closer to the good stuff.

As for KRS-One himself, he comes off as a congenial, honest sort of guy, although his persona seems a tad underdeveloped. He keeps boasting about how he's "teaching" and "educating" but mostly he just switches sentences around as if that somehow makes his rapping more complicated. It's like when you have to write a 10-page essay in college but you don't actually have an opinion on the topic, so you just spend ten pages trying to see how many different ways you can essentially say the same thing. From "Poetry": "Cause KRS-One means simply one KRS/That's it, that's all, solo, single, no more, no less." From "Word From Our Sponsor": "Many people know me, yet I'm known by few/My name is KRS-One, son, not two/Or three or four or five or six/The mix is on Scott LaRock and Scott LaRock is on the mix." So he seems to be claiming a linguistic brilliance that I don't think he necessarily demonstrates. Yeah, it was only 1987, and he was probably better than anyone else at that time. But not much better. I mean, in only a year or so we'd be hit with Slick Rick, Chuck D, Ice Cube, EPMD, and so on and so on, and personally, just as pure rappers, I think they'd all wipe the floor with KRS-One. But KRS-One's contribution is almost more of a cultural contribution than an artistic one. He is the guy who first stood back and started thinking about the direction of rap. Maybe. Sorta kinda.

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