Blastmaster KRS-One: Flow Forever

KRS-One is arguably the most powerful voice ever heard in Hip-Hop, as far as both his literal voice and in his ability to move people. For evidence, check him out while he shouts “Jesus was an African” on the 1991 Boogie Down Productions release Live Hardcore Worldwide amidst a slew of the hardest BDP anthems. Still a busy man, KRS recently dropped Maximum Strength 2008 on Koch and has revived the Stop the Violence movement. In celebration of the movement’s 20th anniversary, the teacher is coming around with lectures, an updated all-star anthem called “Self Construction,” and a series of concerts highlighted by an appearance at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop festival on July 12th and the Stop the Violence Movement No Crime Day Fundraising Concert at Madison Square Garden on August 26th . AllHipHop spoke to KRS about Stop the Violence and ended up getting spiritually minded, and You’re bringing back the Stop the Violence movement, which started twenty years ago. Violence continues to affect our communities, quite often amongst youth. What do you see as the cause of youth violence?KRS-One: Violence is human nature. Violence is a part of the reptilian brain. Why is there an escalation of violence, why are we wilin’ out, these are 10,000, 20,000 year old questions. The issue here is this. Why are our children so angry? Why are people so hostile, why are adults so hostile, why are they so depressed? Why are people suffering the way they are? You ask what causes violence. The UN says poverty causes violence. Stanford University says illiteracy causes violence. I say boredom causes violence, boredom not just in having nothing to do, but where you have a purpose and you know what you wanna do but you can’t do it. And that’s where you hit poverty—I don’t have the money to do what I want to do—and finally you start getting angry and restless and a violent situation occurs. The Stop the Violence movement also deals not only with homicide but suicide. These too are acts of violence. Why is Hip-Hop equipped to address these issues?KRS-One: Hip-Hop rules the world whether you like it or not. We’re not begging we’re not pleading we’re not asking. When you come to the inner city, this is the s**t right here. Every inner city around the world, the urban life is governed by Hip-Hop and that is a huge responsibility. Not just a privilege and a power but a responsibility because you can lose that power. Those that claim to lead Hip-Hop have to start thinking about that our kids are bringing guns to school, our society is depressed and angered, war is going on across the sea. Like Run-DMC said, war going on across the sea [starts rapping “It’s Like That”], kids killing the elderly, whatever happened to unity? All of that is going on right now.So I can’t sit back. Like I said, I am Hip-Hop. When it comes to Hip-Hop, we have a voice in the inner city, we can explicitly influence young people and working people to consider peace over revenge, forgiveness over revenge. We’ve got the loudest voice. But when you talk about influence, you’ve reached out to 50 Cent, the most successful rapper with violent content ever, and the Game, who brags on the Internet about how he knocked Ras Kass out in a club. Does having rappers with explicitly violent lyrics or who have had violent incidents dilute the message at all?

“I’m not gonna call no names but I called everybody to come out, conscious rappers included. You know what the conscious community said? “Oh KRS again, stop the violence, he needs to just retire, why is he still rhyming?” But the thugs, the gangsters, the pimps and the hoes are putting real money down, real rhyme skills down, and are showing up.”

KRS-One: No, it would dilute the message if it was just a record but it’s a movement. The goal of the movement is not to get Common or Talib or even KRS to say “stop the violence,” it’s to get 50, Fat Joe, and Game to say stop the violence. If we’re really gonna stop the violence, it’s Game who has to rhyme on the record or take a pledge for the movement. You’re not gonna cure a person overnight. Game has entered the rehabilitation center. So, okay, he had a relapse, he knocked Ras Kass out or fought with Ras Kass. That doesn’t contradict the movement. He still committed to the movement and when we called on him to rhyme for peace he showed up. I know exactly what you’re talking about, like it looks that way, why would these guys be on a peace record, they’re not even pushing peace. But the real truth is that they are. 50 Cent is a father, he don’t want guns going off every five minutes, he wants [an end to violence]. Game-same way. Game is an intelligent black man period. And when the call went out he was there. Now let me tell you this—I’m not gonna call no names but I called everybody to come out, conscious rappers included. You know what the conscious community said? “Oh KRS again, stop the violence, he needs to just retire, why is he still rhyming?” That’s what I’m getting from the conscious community. But the thugs, the gangsters, the pimps and the hos are putting real money down, real rhyme skills down, and are showing up at the Garden. These people on the record, I want the most aggressive artists to be involved. I need 50 Cent and Fat Joe to come together, that’s what I need. Self Contruction - KRS-One f/ Styles, Redman, Busta Rhymes, et. Earlier you mentioned having a purpose and not being able to fulfill it. You have a well known back story in Hip-Hop as far as going from homelessness to actualizing your dreams. When you look back, what characteristics or actions allowed you to go from sleeping in Prospect Park or a homeless shelter to being where you are now?KRS-One: Go with the flow. My wife has an acronym-Follow Life’s Outcomes Willingly. The other side of it is don’t follow life’s outcomes worrying. Go with the flow. I don’t take credit for anything I’m doing. I can’t. I know there might be some atheists reading this but I have no choice to believe that God exists or that some force that has the power to manipulate life’s circumstances is working with me. I don’t know that everyone else has that experience. If you do, more power to you. I know that in my life there is a force, a power, that I’m trying to stay in line with. What is the character of that? What is the way of that? It’s that I didn’t do anything really, I followed what was already being done. I did the obvious. And we’re all called by the obvious. When you see a man in the street begging for food, we are all called to his suffering. The question is do you respond to the call. Now for me, I didn’t intend to be a leader, a role model, I didn’t intend to be that. But my nature is that because I’m not gonna walk down the street yelling motherf***er, motherf***er, f**k that, like a six year old. I can’t say that because my nature appears to be that of a leader, a role model, which is my normal being, that somehow I can transfer that to someone else or say here’s what you can do and you will receive these effects. The only thing I will say is that my nature is what you see me doing. I was born on August 20, 1965, months after the assassination of Malcolm X and on the anniversary of the first 20 Africans in the United States. I was born a revolutionary. I can’t blame others if they’re not, if they just wanna enjoy their lives, if they just wanna stay plugged up to the matrix like I don’t wanna remember nothing, drink my brew, smoke my herb, be with her. I’m not mad at that, it’s just that it’s not who I am.

“In 1972 I was in Cedar Park listening to Kool Herc, I don’t know why I’m there, I was just seven years old and he lived at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue and I lived the building over at 1600 Sedgwick Avenue. I don’t know why I was there, I was just there.” In the book Check The Technique, you talked about watching the New York City blackout in 1977 from your mom’s apartment and how that’s the first time you wanted your voice to be heard. Is that the first time you heard “the obvious,” as you say, calling you and is that an experience that still grounds you?KRS-One: That was the first moment that I can remember. That’s the first vivid moment that I remember, I really wish I could scream out this window on the second floor and just so you know it was apartment 2B, I’m right there I wanted to yell out the window at the people [on the street]. I wanted to say something and I couldn’t at the time and I wanted to say something to inspire them. That was the first time I remember. But you know, I lived in Harlem in the 70s. My mother used to take us to a place called the Tree of Life bookstore, all the old Harlemers know what’s up with the Tree of Life bookstore, it was the center of revolutionary thought in New York at the time and this is the 60s, ‘68, ‘69, Dr. King had just gotten assassinated, the city still smells like smoke from burning for months, everyone meeting at the Tree of Life bookstore, I was like six, seven, eight, I grew up there but I don’t know why I was there. You go back to that force again. In 1972 I was in Cedar Park listening to Kool Herc, I don’t know why I’m there, I was just seven years old and he lived at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue and I lived the building over at 1600 Sedgwick Avenue. I was just there. Then I became a graffiti writer. Then I’m an MC, I’m a DJ, I just went with the flow in that sense. The Kool Herc - Is there one memory that stands out to you, be it positive or negative, which offers something definitive about KRS-One? Or one moment that someone could look back on that encapsulates your experience? KRS-One: There are so many little incidences where I [am] like what the hell was that. There’s so many, there’s positive and negative, there’s the battle with Melle Mel, which was a surreal experience. There was the death of Kwame Toure, Stokely Carmichael, when he was on his deathbed, he was dying, the last civil rights leader, he passed that sprit onto me right there, that was surreal. Wow. I could go on and on. There was a time in Philly when I was fighting a guy with a gun, he tried a couple times to shoot this gun and it wouldn’t go off and he kept pointing it at me and shootin’ it and the gun would not go off and so he hit me in the head with it and I have the mark on my head to this day. That was surreal. These have been things that tell me about me. One thing we didn’t get into, I’m a very mystical person. I consider myself a mystic, on the side of philosophy, no doubt, a metaphysician. I live a mystical life, there’s a lotta weird things that go down from day to day, sometimes you gotta look back and go, “Wow, that was crazy.” For example, the day before yesterday I was in front of New York City Hall and we’re outside protesting violence, stop the violence, love your life, this sort of thing, and the day started slow, not that many press showed up but we had our own camera so we filmed ourselves. Guess who walks up? Mayor Bloomberg gets out of his car just as we’re protesting [saying] stop the violence. He’s walking into city hall. We threw up a chant, Mr. Mayor our children are dying, Mr. Mayor, our children are dying, we chanted him down right into City Hall, just like that, a once in a lifetime opportunity. And I will refer you to two films to really see it—to really answer your question, I will refer you to not only The Matrix, the first Matrix, but I will refer you to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where he has to step off of a cliff and he doesn’t see the ground under him but he has to move on faith. So he sticks his foot out and steps out on faith and it’s an illusion because there is a rock bridge leading him to the other side. I would also point you to X-Men 2, where maybe it’s Magneto, he’s in a jail and what happens is he’s walking on air but he’s using his mind to bring metal plates under his feet. The road that he’s walking is not there until he walks it and this is the greatest of lessons to learn so far in my life, in my journey on earth, the greatest lesson which will sum up KRS as well, is self creation. You will not see a way until you start walking that way. When you start walking in a direction that you want to go, you will notice that the road will make itself under your feet. And if I can teach people that, and teach people the techniques of that, I think I can save the United States from depression and from the bad knowledge we got from the past. Self creation is the seat of To switch up gears for a second, do you have a favorite BDP or KRS joint of all time and why?KRS-One: “False Pride” on Sneak Attack. That’s my greatest writing. I really got down on that. No one else would know that but you’re asking me. That’s my deal with that. So you know, it’s not even a song but the story which is a Biblical story, actually from the Torah, as well as the rhyme writing, I consider that one of my better works.False Pride - KRS-One

“A lot of artists that claim to be old school or of a certain era, they try to rely on that, Oh you gotta respect me because if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be here. I find that argument bulls**t at the end of the day.” You mention Sneak Attack rather than the early albums. You’re always moving forward even though you’re married to a certain golden era. Are you ever concerned about becoming a nostalgia act? And how is it that you keep moving forward; do you wake up everyday with new ideas?KRS-One: Hell yeah, hell yeah. A lot of vitamin C, you can’t stop it. Relish it. A lot of artists that claim to be old school or of a certain era, they try to rely on that, oh you gotta respect me because if it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t be here, or if it wasn’t for what we did in the past, you wouldn’t be here. I find that argument bulls**t at the end of the day. We’re not supposed to respect any artist or any person just because of their history. For me I have a rich history in Hip-Hop, one that people do respect but I would never say you gotta respect me becase I’m doing the Stop The Violence movement or in this case because I did the Stop the Violence Movement, not at all. If I’m not working in 2008, 2009, you have no reason to respect me. You have a reason to admire me, maybe my past work, but really I’m on my gig today. To Hip-Hop, I’ve gotta show the younger generation that you can rhyme, that you can rip a party at 50 years old, at 60 years old, you can actually get a party up, you can get a thousand people up on their feet, that’s what I’m trying to show the Hip-Hop community.