Can it be that it was all so simple then? In the short, event filled history of Hip Hop, there have been many pivotal events that, if different, may have changed the course of this music and this culture drastically. One such event is the unfortunate death of Scott Sterling, co-founder of Boogie Down Productions. An attempted mediation turned tragic in the summer of 1987, and Sterling, a former social worker and burgeoning producer was fresh off BDPs seminal classic Criminal Minded. Today we ask the question, what if Scott La Rock lived?
Sterling was rushed to the hospital after being shot in the head. By the luckiest stroke, Sterling sneezed at the exact instance, and the wound was a glancing blow. Gathered in the hospital was Sterling partner in rhyme Lawrence Parker, the artist known as KRS-ONE, and other BDP members D-Nice, ICU, Kenny Parker, and local radio DJ Red Alert. While thanking the gods for his survival, Sterling had a sobering moment of clarity. He became more focused than ever concerning the business of BDP, and hired an attorney to review some of the things regarding his partnership with KRS, most notably their partnership with B-Boy records as a label. Sterlings’ attorneys noticed some inconsistencies with the paper work and BDP realized that their relationship with B-Boy Records was not as self sufficient as the distributor had initially represented. Sterling and Parker actually had no ownership of their masters or of the label as mentioned in the song A Word From Our Sponsor from Criminal Minded. Enraged, the duo rushed the offices of B-Boy Records with entourage in tow, and forced the owners to renegotiate their contracts.
In this reality, KRS would never leave B-Boy records for Jive/Zomba. As a result, they would never see the future as far as hip-hop music and the world would never see the brilliance of A Tribe Called Quest, and the Native Tongue movement as we know it would never come to fruition.
In 1990, BDP released their highly regarded By All Means. Featuring in-house production from Scott La Rock, D-Nice, and a scathing diss track Cant Taste the Juice renewing the Bridge War with even more fervor than South Bronx. Armed with his own label and backed by La Rocks focused, unrepentant attitude, the young KRS released a scathing diatribe to producer Marley Marl and his Juice Crew, this time including respected MCs Big Daddy Kane and Kool G. Rap.
Blastmaster Kris, my throat is so parched
From all these wannabe mcs who lack the heart
I took they crew out on the bridge is over I mean threw em
Off the side of the bridge and ran the boat right through em
Wouldnt put us on so we brought the argument to em
Magic, Shante, Shan, man the whole dem
Ruined, MC alphabet soup
S-u-c-k-a spells out the truth
I eat up Kings no equal to my group
Crushing lisped rappers on James Brown Loops
MC Shan aint down with us
The Juice Crew aint down with us
Some chump tried to put the forty-five on us
But Scott is still here alive and we jus
Keep making the hits, spending money having fun
Cause even now we are number ONE!
And with that, the final blow was struck in the Bridge Wars, but the effect was far reaching. As B-Boy records grew in influence, those associated with Mr. Magic, Marley, and in fact the entire Cold Chillin roster became pariahs to the Hip-Hop scene. Kool G. Rap moved out west to work with Ice Cube, late of N.W.A. G. Rap would become lead rapper of Cubes New group Da Lench Mob. Their debut album Live and Let Die in LA went gold and sparked a modest consistent career. For all his flair, Big Daddy Kane never got over the song, his Brooklyn fans taking exception that he stayed out of the beef so long. That combined with his newly directed run at the ladies Taste of Chocolate was too much for his fans to bear and Kane was dropped from Cold Chillin to retire in obscurity. With No BDK, the world would never hear the talents of Bedford Stuyvesants, Christopher Wallace. Mr. Cee, Kanes DJ would not be in a position to get Wallaces talent heard by fledgling Hip-Hop impresario Sean Combs. As a result, Bad Boys principal artist Craig Mack was allowed more of Combs input and energy and his double platinum release was the rock on which Badboy was built.
With their main rivals all but eliminated, BDP focused on the expansion of B-Boy records. They began to sign many young, hungry Bronx MCs including metaphor master Lord Finesse, duo Showbiz and AZ, and Latin duo the Terror Twinz featuring a young Fat Joe and Christopher Rios, The Big Dog Punisher. Collectively, the B-Boy records roster would be known as the Crates Crew after their tendency to use sample laden beats from unusual sources. Their house producer, Diamond D crafted a sound that kept the Bronx as the major force in Hip-Hop for much longer than before.
KRS-ONE began to assert his rule over rap lyrically, as other parts of the country began to catch on to the movement. Luke Skywalker began his rise to prominence from Miami. Dr. Dre, Eazy-E and N.W.A. (post Ice Cube) began to get mainstream respect and video play, and KRS began to chafe at their success. In an October 1995 issue of The Source Magazine, KRS attributed much of the negative press shadowing Hip-Hop to the presence of rappers such as Luke who promoted sex, and rappers like NWA who promoted nihilistic violence in their lyrics. Noticeably absent in his critique were all the scathing and threatening raps over his career which could also be considered violent and misogynist. Out of context, the interview appeared to be very anti-South and to a lesser extent, anti-West. KRS made no mention of the hyper-masculine rhymes of East coast groups such as ONYX, the drug tales of underground artist Jay-z , and the sex laced tales of duo Foxy Brown and Lil Kim. It was completely one-sided and many rappers around the country took offense to this interview. It touched off a new era.
When Scott read the interview he knew there would be trouble. He knew that B-Boy records had been getting major support from those same areas that KRS criticized. They had a roster full of rappers with albums ready for release and KRS just offended 70% of their market. Bridge Wars still fresh in his memory, KRS boldly stated that he would destroy any rapper who disagreed with what he said, and that Scott should just keep handling business and running the company. He would take care of the streets. But this battle would not be fought in the streets. Young St. Louis rapper Nelly, frustrated after years trying to get into Hip-Hop in the face of the East Coast stranglehold was incensed at that Source interview. In much the same spirit as South Bronx, a decade earlier, 1996s Country Grammar, released independently on Priority Records was dedicated to putting down the B-Boy records regime. While not a critical success, Grammar succeeded in galvanizing the other parts of the country against KRS and by connection New York. Boycotts of B-Boy records went nationwide. People refused to buy any release from the label outside of the northeast. Those platinum albums became gold albums, and New York artists scrambled for new gimmicks to attempt to win fans back, sacrificing the artistic quotient they hung their hats on for so long. Scott La Rock, who saw this coming, decided he wanted no parts of this climate and sold his half of B-Boy records to Universal Music. He took his proceeds and returned to his social worker beginnings, creating magnet schools and youth training programs all over the South Bronx.
Buoyed by a weakened KRS, young prodigy, 23-year-old Nasir Jones set out to bring the Bridge back. Although released 3 years later, 1997s Ilmatic was a collection of the best producers in the genre. Along with DJ Premiere, there were songs produced by Beats By the Pound, Dr. Dre, Organized Noize, and in a surprise appearance, B-Boy records own Diamond D. Ilmatic managed to convey a universal Hip-Hop approach that united all fronts and was undeniably both album of the year, and a turning point in the relationship between the East Coast and the rest of the country. Artist began to do more collaborations, and previously exclusive in-house producers began to extend their range outside of their original spheres.
So it came to pass that the present day regional differences manifested themselves a decade earlier. The resolution of this conflict also presented itself at an earlier time and although alliances formed from different branches, and different people had different levels of influence, we learned that only through cooperation can we foster growth and truly take back the music. The death of Scott La Rock is an often forgotten, yet pivotal point in the evolution of both our music and culture. Such an important person could never be lost without it affecting all of our lives connected to Hip-Hop. He will be remembered not only as an early reminder of the true-to-life violence that this music chronicles, but a symbol of hope to those lives he touched as a social worker in the South Bronx. He continues to survive in our hearts and minds, but unfortunately in the physical, we are only left to ponder What if?