After 1992’s Sex And Violence, KRS-One decided it was time to call it quits for the legendary BDP crew and officially went dolo, releasing his first solo album, Return Of The Boom Bap in ’93. The album found KRS-One, for the first time in his career, relinquishing most of the production duties to outside help, calling on the likes of Premo and Showbiz to cultivate the album’s sound, and it would go on to be a critical darling, adored by fans as well. The Blastmaster would return in ’95 with his self-titled sophomore solo effort, KRS-One.
The album was originally going to be called Hip-Hop Vs Rap, as that is the title that appeared in the early magazine reviews of the album (i.e. The Source and Rap Pages). According to those reviews and the album’s liners notes, some of the songs that were going to appear on the album got cut at the last minute (in the liner notes KRS-One shouts out “Producers who worked on the album but whose work did not appear”, which includes work from his brother, Kenny Parker, Kid Capri and Pete Rock). Like ROTBB, Kris would use a production by committee strategy for KRS-One, which ended up peaking at number 19 on the US Billboard 200 and number 2 on the US Billboard Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums.
In between songs, KRS-One features a slew of people stopping by to give the Teacher a shout out and show him love: From pioneers like Kool Herc and Grand Wizard Theodore, to former foes (MC Shan), to top tier emcees (Rakim and Method Man…You can add another tally mark to his ’95 cameo list), to radio deejays around the globe; even MC Hammer drops him a line. I won’t list all of the interludes and guests in this write-up (Kris does provide a complete list of guests in the album’s liner notes), but just know that KRS-One is loved and respected by all. And he’s still making music to this day.
Rappaz R. N. Dainja – Kris kicks off KRS-One on some true emcee shit: boasting about his greatness and dropping jewels over some hard Premo boom bap (with a dope O.C. vocal snippet on the hook): “Any emcee can battle for glory, but to drop a dope rhyme to wake up your people’s another story, act like you never saw me, cause when it comes to lyrics I’m in a different category”. This was a great way to kick off the show, and a reminder why the Blastmaster is one of the greatest to ever do it.
De Automatic – Big French provides our host with a monster track that sounds like he’s taking the listener on a nighttime flight through the hood, while KRS-One spits with the hunger of a new rapper trying to get his foot in the door: “When you was home witcha mother afraid of the dark, I was sleepin’ out in Prospect Park, eating one meal every 48 hours, writin’ dope rhyme styles that you now devour, don’t you realize that I’m all about survival, I got only friends cause I killed all my rivals”. Fat Joe comes in at the end to show love to KRS-One, BDP and the South Bronx, completing this underrated (or just forgotten) record in our host’s impressive catalog.
MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know – Premo gets his second production credit of the evening, and it’s another mid-tempo banger that Kris demolishes with ease (I literally laugh every time I hear him say “Let me show ya whose ass is the blackest”). This completes a stellar three song combo to start the album.
Ah-Yeah – KRS-One gets in his militant bag on this one, as he takes the crowns off devils, celebrates the death of Richard Nixon, denounces voting (I wonder what his stance is on that today) and goes through his impressive list of reincarnations. I agree with some of Kris’ theology, but his droopy instrumental makes his content hard to digest on this one.
R.E.A.L.I.T.Y. – KRS-One turns “reality” into a ridiculous acronym (Rhymes Equal Actual Life, In The Youth), argues that “reality ain’t always the truth” on the hook, then spends three verses explaining what he meant on the hook. Even if you don’t agree with all of Kris’ content (like myself), you have to respect the man for giving us something conscious to chew on. Norty Cotto’s subpar instrumental wasn’t easy to digest, though.
Free Mumia – Kris is joined by his apprentices, Channel Live on this one, as the trio call out C Dolores Tucker, Jesse Jackson, Rush Limbaugh, Tipper Gore, Colin Powell, Bob Dole and anybody else who opposes hip-hop. The song title and hook (which references the activist/journalist, Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was convicted of murdering a Philadelphia cop back in 1981 and is still serving a life sentence without parole) really have nothing to do with the song’s content, but it still sounds dope.
Hold – Kris gets into his storytelling bag on this one, as he spins a tale about the thin line between wants and needs and the peril that can come with chasing your wants haphazardly. It’s kind of like “Love’s Gonna Get’cha” Part 2. KRS-One’s instrumental used to sound super cheesy to me, but now it actually sounds solid behind his story. Fine wine.
Wannabemceez – If you’re listening to KRS-One on cassette, this kicks of side two of the album…and you’re older than dirt. Premo provides one last boom-bap masterpiece for Kris to flex is superior lyricism, as he continues to destroy inferior emcees and he sounds like he’s having a ball during the process. By the way, to tell a rapper to rewrite his whole album is crazy disrespectful and funny as hell. Mad Lion drops by at the end of the song to add some unnecessary (and almost unintelligible) babble, but he can’t derail the excellence that this song is.
Represent The Real Hip-Hop – This is the exact same song that appeared on Das EFX’s Hold It Down. The only difference is KRS-One decided to add “Hip-Hop” to the end of the song title. I still don’t like it.
The Truth – The Teacher poses some interesting questions about religion and leaves the listener with a lot of food for thought to chew on with this one. Unfortunately, his instrumental is trash. And why the hell did Rich Nice find it necessary to interrupt the session to spew that nonsense at the end of the song?
Build Ya Skillz – Diamond D hooks up a ruggedly dark backdrop with a trunk rattling bass line, while Busta Rhymes stops by to play Kris’ hypeman, sprinkling his magnetic energy over the track. KRS-One uses this one to lyrically pummel rappers and in between verses encourages them to sharpen their skills (“Rappers talk too much shit, but can’t back it up with lyrics, build your skills!!”). I completely forgot about this song, but it was a pleasant rediscovery.
Out For Fame – This is KRS-One’s ode to the most underappreciated element of hip-hop: graffiti. Our host constructs a gritty streetwise backdrop to share some of the art form’s history, shout out a few of New York’s legendary graffiti artists and gives a great explanation on why graffiti gets no respect: “There used to be a time when rap music was illegal, the cops would come and break up every party when they see you, but now that rap music’s making money for the corporate, it’s acceptable to flaunt it, now everybody’s on it, graffiti isn’t corporate so it gets no respect, hasn’t made a billion dollars for some corporation yet”. I definitely appreciate this song now more than I did back in ’95.
Squash All Beef – Diamond D gets his second and final production credit of the evening with this one, building the brilliant backdrop around a Crusaders loop that makes for a warm soulful canvas (I love the thick and delicious bass line). Kris uses it to denounce beef and promote unity in hip-hop and the black community: “All beef can be squashed if you want it, but instead of forgiveness, ego you flaunt it, everybody gets into two or three quarrels, leading to a squabble, someone will die tomorrow”. He (and Sadat X) cleverly quote Kool Moe Dee’s closing bar from “Self Destruction” at the end of the first two verses (“I never ran from the Klu Klux Klan, and I shouldn’t have to run from a black man”). This song was released just as the East Coast/West Coast feud begin to heat up. If only both sides would have taken heed to the message in this gem of a song.
Health, Wealth, Self – To close out KRS-One, Kris declares all he needs in this life are the three planes listed in the song title, and he generously offers up five lessons about emcee longevity in one long verse. His self-produced laid back semi-soulful instrumental works as the perfect companion piece for the Teacher’s sage like wisdom. This is one of my favorite joints on the album and a great way to close the show.
In the mist of all the gangsta posturing and material worshipping that started to consume hip-hop in the mid-nineties, albums like KRS-One are refreshing to hear. The Blastmaster puts on his teacher hat to drop jewels and lessons when he’s not thrashing lesser emcees and reminding them all that he’s one of the best to ever do it. A few of the instrumentals are questionable and like all KRS-One albums, some of Kris’ metaphysical and spiritual/religious philosophies can be a bit too much to digest, but overall KRS-One is a quality album from an emcee who’s worthy of a seat at the top ten table.