KRS-One: Classic

A

quick trip down memory lane will remind even the most casual of Hip-Hop

fan, that at one time commercial endorsements were taboo. The popular

commercial of a bankrupt MC Hammer elicits laughs now, but last decade

he was virtually shamed out of the industry after pitching everything

from soda to buckets of fried chicken—of course, the “genie pants” sure

didn’t help things either.

In 1995 the self-proclaimed “true heads” cried foul when KRS-One teamed

up with Nike to recreate Gil Scott Heron’s classic “The Revolution

Won’t Be Televised.” If “The Blastmaster” could pitch Prince Be off of

a stage and pitch shoes for Phil Knight within the same three-year

span, was it okay for Hip-Hop to get involved with major corporations?

In today’s era of copyrighted ringtones, where even C-List artists and

backpackers keep track of their Soundscan numbers, no one is asking

that question anymore. In fact, when a Nike commissioned collaboration

with Kanye West, Nas and Rakim debuted on this very site and others

like it, the Ill Community had virtually all positive feedback. Was the

“The Teacha” a hypocrite or merely ahead of his time? Scroll down to

find out from the man himself—just watch out for the ads.

AllHipHop.com: The “Classic” collaboration has your name making headlines again. How did this come about?

KRS-One: I’d like to start with my man Dru Ha [co-CEO of Duck Down

Records]. According to the legend they were asked by Nike to put this

project together and a couple of names were thrown around. I don’t even

think my name was one of the first mentioned, but after the argument

ensued and things happened I guess it fell to myself. Kanye was first,

then Nas, then myself and then Rakim. I guess it happened out of an

argument of, “Who should be on the track?” Dru Ha fought for me and

said, “Yo, I think KRS should be on this,” and obviously Dru Ha won his

argument. KRS was on the project.

Here’s the icing on the cake, another executive at Nike was DJ Clark

Kent. We were at the concert, and at this point, I’m already in. I had

signed the contract and accepted the check. I went in the studio and

voiced my piece, and now I’m at the concert that we did on 34th Street.

I asked him why did they chose me, and he looked at me with that look

like, “C’mon man you can’t be serious,” and he just walked away. I

said, “Alright…f**k him [laughing] let me get the answer from Nike.” I

had to know why they wanted KRS-One. I don’t have no records out, I’m

not a video guy, I’m not platinum, and as a matter of fact, I’m pretty

controversial. I’m that guy,

so why would a white bread company like Nike wanna work with me? That’s

when all these answers started coming in. Obviously Dru Ha went to bat

for me.

AllHipHop.com: Did you guys get to record the vocals together?

KRS-One: I didn’t get to record with any of the artists personally. I

did get to rehearse for the concert with Kanye, and Rakim and I did

another show about two months later for a separate show with Doug E.

Fresh.

AllHipHop.com: You caught a lot of heat for your Nike ad in 1995. Was there any hesitation on your part?

KRS-One: Once I found out it was for Nike, I grilled everyone—Nike,

Cornerstone, Dru Ha—on Hip-Hop and what this project really means to

Hip-Hop and what it’s all about. Of course it’s Nike, so the money was

there, and the promotion was there. We did the thing for MTV live and

the crew was there. I was more interested in how the project benefits

Hip-Hop since that’s my stance on everything.

AllHipHop.com: That’s a win-win, but it’s not like this was done for free, right?

KRS-One: After talking to Dru I realized that this was beneficial to both Hip-Hop and

KRS-One. I obviously need the promotion from two different angles, both

as KRS-One and on behalf of The Temple Of Hip-Hop. My angle is the

promotion and the money, let me not front on that. We were

definitely compensated and treated with respect and it was dope. We got

free gear—me my kids, wife and the whole family.

To be in the company of Nas, Rakim and Kanye was humbling in and of

itself. I had to get on that. If they said the record was free, I would

have still participated because that was a moment of emceeing. When you

have Kanye, Nas and Rakim, what am I gonna do, say, “No”? The fact that

we are all on a joint, regardless of the money or the promotion, is

what drew me in. Me and Rakim have been talking about this for 20

years; every time I see Rakim we’re both like, “When are we getting in

the studio?” Finally we get a chance to get this close to each other. I

love Rakim’s rhyme when he says, “Uptowns we call em upppies when they on divas/probably wear ‘em when KRS-One teaches.”

Rakim did his thing by incorporating us all into his rhyme, knowing

that he was going to be the last to rhyme. There was a lot of emceeing

mastery behind the scenes that we’ll get into later.

AllHipHop.com: Your album is Hip-Hop Lives. Did you and Nas get into the debate over whether Hip-Hop is dead or not?

KRS-One: As a matter of fact, Nas ran up on me and said, “Let me tell

you what this is gonna be about before it even comes out,” and I cut

Nas off. I said, “Don’t explain anything, because your [album] cover

revitalized Hip-Hop.” Sometimes we don’t know what we got until it’s

gone. What Nas did was declare Hip-Hop dead, so everyone went, “No it’s

not; it can’t be!” That now is the statement that helps it to live.

Before Nas said Hip-Hop is dead, it was dead. Everyone was blinging,

drinking, smoking, f**king, sucking and doing whatever they wanted to

do. And they were teaching it to our children

at the same time. You can believe Hip-Hop was dead. Now that Nas

declared it, it came back alive because no one wants to see it die.

Nas invited me to a party that Kelis was throwing him about a week

later. I checked my schedule and I couldn’t make it, but I recorded an

exclusive song for him mixtape style. Marley Marl produced this track

and we gave it to Nas as an exclusive for his party. I think Marley

leaked the record to the Internet, so it’s floating around out there

somewhere. One of the lines on that record is, “Nas Hip-Hop can’t be dead/you brought it back with the words you said.”

Nas is Hip-Hop, and as long as he is walking the earth Hip-Hop cannot

die. Just to go a little further and end that, Marley and I did an

album called Hip-Hop Lives—obvious title. That’s a project in and of itself: 20 years from 1987 through 2007.

AllHipHop.com: So The Bronx and Queensbridge come full circle?

KRS-One: Exactly, and let me show you the karma of it. Nas is from Queensbridge. Why is it at this stage that Nas drops the Hip-Hop is Dead

album? We’re dealing with death, from 1987 through 2007. Scott La Rock

was killed in 1987 as well. It was Scott’s death that brought the

Hip-Hop community together. It was actually after Scott’s death that we

realized we were a community because people were shocked that a rapper

could actually be killed. This was the first time that it ever

happened. So, you look at that, and in 1987 we’re dealing with death

and rebirth. Out of Scott’s death KRS-One is born. Out of that battle

situation, a guy who would be the advocate for peace in Hip-Hop is

born. Imagine the advocate for peace coming out of battles, intense

violence, shootouts, fights and who knows what else we were involved in

back then. That’s all ’87 and the karma of that, but Hip-Hop grew for

those 20 years.

Now we’re in 2007, miraculously, me and Marley get together. It’s got

nothing to do with Nas, [MC] Shan, [Roxanne] Shanté, none of them or

even Queensbridge in general. It was just the fact that we are

recognizing the 20th anniversary of Boogie Down Productions. We thought

it would be a cool thing if Marley Marl did the whole KRS-One album. It

was not only for historic and karmic purposes, but also for Hip-Hop and

cultural purposes. These two guys who were rivals, because to this day

our history is one of being rivals in that sense, were coming together.

It’s like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier—you only want to see them

beating each other in the ring—but, in real life, I’m quite sure he

must’ve paid Muhammad Ali’s rent a few times. They get down like that.

Me, Marley, Shan, Shanté and Kane have all been like that for the past

20 years on a personal level, not just emceeing. I helped Kane move to

his house in Brooklyn some years ago. It goes on and on. Hip-Hop Lives,

the new album by Marley Marl and myself drops May 22. I bring that up

because that album is a part of everything that’s going on. Is it a

coincidence that just as I’m about to release my May 22 album with

Marley Marl producing it, on the 20th anniversary of Boogie Down

Productions, now Nike wants to come up and do this record? This gives

me free promotion. There are people out there who don’t know who I am?

No doubt. These people are into Hip-Hop, that may be almost impossible,

but…There are those out there who are into Hip-Hop and will tell you,

“Hey, I’m into Hip-Hop,” but their reference point is Chingy or Lil’

Wayne. I don’t knock that at all.

I’d rather go live in the South, which I did, where Hip-Hop is still

alive and people are walking around like it’s the ‘80s. It gets kind of

aggravating sometimes because the South can be really slow sometimes,

but on the other hand, you kind of need that slowness. That’s what

everybody is crying about. Where’s the Hip-Hop from the Golden Age? Go

to the South [laughing]. You got people who are still playing cassettes

and it’s 2007, dog!

AllHipHop.com: Another artist that instantly comes to mind when you

think of this project and karma is Nelly. It’s kind of ironic that you

two had a battle and he did the “Air Force Ones” song, yet Nike chose

you for this campaign.

KRS-One: It was me, Clark Kent and Kid Capri and I pulled Clark Kent to

the side and asked him, “Why me and not Nelly?” Nelly did a full song

called “Air Force Ones.” Nike has a variety of shoes, and Nelly did a

million dollar video and advertised the Air Force One. You know what

Nike said? Nike was like, “So.” I felt bad, I felt guilty, like, “Wow.

You did a whole song, promoted their sneaker for a year and that

sneaker is part of your musical catalogue. You have to sing about that

sneaker for the rest of your life and Nike said, ‘So. He’s not special

to us right now. He’s not important.’”

This is the biggest…I mean, Nelly is Nelly. I’m not dissing him at all

because we squashed our little thing. Big up to Nelly, and I hope he

has success for the rest of his career. I’m not saying that out of

sarcasm, but I seriously mean it. I hope he goes on. But, when I look

at this…You did the “Air Force Ones” song, video and everything. And

now with the Air Force One 25th anniversary and everything Nike doesn’t

even consider you.

AllHipHop.com: One of the quotes that came out during your battle with

Nelly was that you thought there wasn’t an equal platform anymore

because people in Corporate America, radio, etc. didn’t recognize your

contributions to Hip-Hop.

KRS-One: I’ll tell you this. Hip-Hop heard it. I’m experiencing a

breath of fresh air right now. I’ve been doing my thing on the

so-called underground since 1997. I make a very good life and I don’t

complain. I stay away from radio, television and all that s**t because

I think it’s the devil. But, I cannot deny the truth. KRS…actually

Rakim, X-Clan, Poor Righteous Teachers, The Coup, Public Enemy all of

us are experiencing a rebirth.

Something came out in The New York Times.

One of the biggest Brazilian Hip-Hop artists in the world [Guiné Silva]

is doing a Hip-Hop workshop. The person was quoted as saying, “We don’t

want Puff Daddy, we want someone like Public Enemy.” This all speaks to

that breath of fresh air coming up. Our children are growing up and our

movement was successful. They did get it.

Related Stories