by Drew Atkins
Known as a hip hop god, KRS-One is one of the few hip hop originators still relevant in today’s MTV-soaked culture. While most MCs use their words to inform people about their preference in cars or rims, KRS has consistently crafted his into intelligent poetry that discusses social, philosophical and religious ideas over hard drum beats and basslines.
KRS-One (which stands for “Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone”) began his career in the ’80s as the leader of Boogie Down Productions, with whom he created such classic albums as Criminal Minded and Edutainment. At a time when hip hop was mostly about gold chains and partying, KRS covered subjects like police brutality, the prevention of nuclear warfare and the dangers of eating beef. KRS participated in the first recorded hip hop battle, the first fusion of hip hop and Jamaican dance hall music, and his record Sex and Violence is seen as an early example of more hardcore rap that modern rappers like Tupac Shakur have cited as an inspiration. No other MC can claim such a pivotal influence on both hardcore and socially conscious hip hop.
Nicknamed “the Teacher,” KRS has been hip hop culture’s elder spokesman since the early ’90s, lecturing at Harvard, Yale, Stanford, NYU and Vassar. His work both on and off wax led to his being awarded the city keys to Philadelphia, Kansas City and Compton, as well as a nomination for the NACA 1992 Harry Chapman Humanitarian Award. He holds the Reebok Humanitarian Award, three Ampex Golden Reel Awards, and has collaborated with such artists as R.E.M., Sly And Robbie, Shabba Ranks, Ziggy Marley, Billy Bragg, the Neville Brothers, Xzibit and Chuck D, among countless others.
On the verge of releasing a sixth solo album, The Kristyle, KRS sat down with Artsweek to air out his views on everything from metaphysics to the fate of hip hop.
Artsweek: What are you working on nowadays?
KRS-One: Other than my new album, my heart is in the book. I’m writing a book called Ruminations, due out in June. It’s a collection of my thoughts on the state of hip hop, reparations, voting, and in it I introduce a concept called urban inspirational metaphysics, which is a variety of techniques one can use to expand awareness. It helps you get in contact with the voice inside, which helps you rule over the rest of your body, giving you power over physical nature.
Where do you see hip hop’s future?
I believe in hip hop as a nation. Others may toy with the concept, but I honestly believe that we can build a hip hop city in my lifetime, like Las Vegas, and raise our kids in the culture’s positive traditions. Even if it starts out with a small city like Kingman…on I-40… in Arizona…that little place out there… (chuckling).
So hip hop fans are separate from normal society?
I see hip hoppers being their own sect of people, a sect of people that have transcended race, religion and class. Nowhere do you see Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech but in hip hop. Dr. Dre and Eminem are the physical manifestation of that speech. I am so honored that I lived to see one prophet’s voice come into physical manifestation in them. I’m not asleep. I’m very awake. The rest of the world can be asleep; that’s their job.
You’ve mentioned that there is a difference between hip hop and rap. Is rap the flaunting of possessions?
I’m fine with people enjoying wealth. You’re supposed to enjoy yourself but there must be awareness along with it.
What message do you try to convey with your music?
Knowledge reigns supreme and seekers of knowledge are those who prosper both outside and within. No matter who goes platinum or what the trends are, we and they stay constant. It’s not the messenger, it’s the message.