KRS-One: The 4-Part Interview (1/4)

KRS-One:The 4-Part Interview   By Clayton Perry   Whenever a listing of Hip-Hop’s “greatest” emcees is created, one name consistently ranks in the top tier: KRS-One.  As a solo artist and founding member of Boogie Down Productions, Lawrence “Kris” Parker has maintained unprecedented levels of notoriety and respect throughout his quarter-century reign as “The Teacha.” […]

KRS-One:The 4-Part Interview


By Clayton Perry


Whenever a listing of Hip-Hop’s “greatest” emcees is created, one name consistently ranks in the top tier: KRS-One.  As a solo artist and founding member of Boogie Down Productions, Lawrence “Kris” Parker has maintained unprecedented levels of notoriety and respect throughout his quarter-century reign as “The Teacha.”


Within the past few years, KRS One has received countless “Lifetime Achievement” Awards – honoring his impact on Hip-Hop culture, as well as his philanthropic efforts revolving around the Stop the Violence Movement.  On October 6, 2009, his first book, The Gospel of Hip-Hop: The First Instrument, was published under the powerHouse imprint.

In the midst of a promotional tour for the Gospel of Hip-Hop, KRS One managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry—reflecting on the philosophical teachings of Edgar Cayce, the prophetic wisdom drawn from Louis Farrakhan, and the burden of responsibility Hip-Hop’s emcees must  A couple days ago, I watched one of my favorite films, Brown Sugar, so I thought it appropriate to start this interview with the following question: “When did you first fall in love with Hip-Hop?”

KRS-One:  Wow! When did I first fall in love with Hip-Hop? To be honest with you, and I don’t mean to say this in a cliché kind of way, when I was born.  The park jams, graffiti writing, B-Boys, gangs, kung-fu – all of this was always in the background of my life. I’ve never known a time where that didn’t really exist. See, I never met Hip-Hop. I always was it, so it’s difficult to answer the question accurately. So, wow, when do you first fall in love with something? If there was ever a time that I met Hip-Hop, it would be with Scott La Rock. ’69, ’70, ’71: I’m there at Cedar Park with Kool Herc. In 1973, I’m living at 1600 Sedgwick Avenue. I’m there at the park jams. Everything’s going on and you kind of just grow up with Hip-Hop in your life. Then you realize at some point in your life that this is what you’re going to do. This is what’s going to define you. And I think that moment came with Scott La Rock. I always wanted to be part of Hip-Hop or to live in the culture.  What do you think makes Hip-Hop culture so unique?

  KRS-One:  A funny thing about Hip-Hop —  it’s different from every other music genre, because the audience is Hip-Hop. We have this great crowd response thing that the MC and the audience, or the DJ and the audience, are all one event. Your first stage in the culture is that you’re just the culture itself. You can create anything with the awareness you have of yourself at this point. You are just Hip-Hop, and that’s what I was growing up. I’m just Hip-Hop. I’m down by law. I’m a graffiti writer, b-boy, MC, DJ, beat boxer. I’ve got my own fashion. I’m part of my own community. And that’s what we are, Hip-Hoppers. Then you need a guy like Scott La Rock who is actually DJing in a club. It’s a controlled environment. And yes, you might have been Hip-Hop all along. You know everybody and you know the culture and you know the mythology, the traditions, and all of that comes along with it. But now, someone puts a mic in your hand and puts a break on and tells you: “Produce Hip-Hop. Produce the feeling that you grew up with.” And that’s when you meet Hip-Hop. And it was like this. Broadway International brought what was called Broadway RT – Broadway Repertory Theatre – where Scott La Rock used to DJ on 145th and Broadway, upper Manhattan. And he would be DJing right there, and that’s when I first met Hip-Hop, because he invited me to the club. I was homeless. My social worker invited me down to a club to see him spin, and I was completely blown away – straight up! And so, here you’re inspiring me to answer, to go back a little bit, because when you say, “When did you meet Hip-Hop? When did you first fall in love with Hip-Hop?” As I think about it, I think we might fall in love with Hip-Hop several times.  Oh, yes! [laughing] What a relationship! Falling in and out of love. [laughing continues]


KRS-One:  Yeah. Falling in and out of love. [laughing] That’s a brilliant way to put it. Very poetic. Yeah, falling in and out of love with Hip-Hop. Any real love is going through that, too.  Throughout the course of your career, you have been recognized as one of the greatest MCs in Hip-Hop, and you have also received several lifetime achievement awards, where you have been honored for the influence you have had on the music and the culture. What do you consider to be your greatest contribution? What do you think people are pinpointing exactly when they bestow you with a “lifetime achievement” award?


KRS-One:  Everybody’s got their own opinion. Look at BET, for instance. 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award. That was very political in a lot of ways. People didn’t really see it because it was personal, but during that time, I was an abject critic against BET’s programming, and its depictions of Hip-Hop at that time. And BET is fair in one thing: they do try to go along with what the people say they want. They don’t lie about that. I can criticize their polling methods and all of that kind of stuff, but really BET tries to keep its particular audience enthused in its programming. And they went out to their audience and they said, “Who is the lifetime achiever this year?” A couple names were thrown out and my name was up. Everybody said, “KRS.” Now what’s interesting is that, number one, BET wasn’t playing my music. Steven Hill totally ignored me, absolutely. Ten years of my career, Steven had nothing to do with KRS. So I was like, “I ain’t messin’ with him, he ain’t messin’ with me.” But then, the people say, “Yo, KRS, lifetime achievement.”  When BET approached you with this recognition, how surprised were you?

KRS-One:  Here’s the irony of it all. This is called the “I Am Hip-Hop Lifetime Achievement Award.” The ironic part of it all is that BET represents a group of intellectuals that don’t believe Hip-Hop can even be a culture, that Hip-Hop is even a community. They’re saying or preaching too much, and people just want to dance and chill, and that’s it. “Why are you making us think about Hip-Hop?” They’re from that line of thought, and I can’t fight it. A lot of their thinking influenced mine. People like Jeff Chang, for instance. He and I had a nice discussion over whether Hip-Hop should be institutionalized, by trying to create a Hip-Hop institution, or should Hip-Hop be left alone to be free in the world? And all of this influence led us to create what is now the Gospel of Hip-Hop. Now, going back to your question. When you look back on what the greatest contribution is from me, it would be the teaching of Hip-Hop. One thing I’m noticing is when I first said, “I am Hip-Hop,” in 1994, a lot of people had questions with that, and reservations about that, as well. It was a debate. I threw my perspective out, and everybody tried to eat it up. We openly debated. It was great. Michael Eric Dyson, a good friend of mine, Dr. Dyson, wrote a scathing piece in Blaze Magazine saying to me, “It’s impossible to be Hip-Hop. You can’t be Hip-Hop. Hip-Hop is not a culture.” And I wrote a piece back in the same magazine saying, “Of course we are Hip-Hop. This is the birth of a new culture, and here we go.” And we went back and forth. Now, in 2004, I’m a VH1 Hip-Hop artist, and in walks Michael Eric Dyson. He just says, “I am Hip-Hop.” Same thing with BET. Now I was thinking: “You don’t play my records, but you create a Hip-Hop award show, and want to bestow me with an ‘I Am Hip-Hop’ Lifetime Achievement Award?!?” [laughing] So me and Steven Hill sit down, talk this up, and I do eventually accept the award. I told him that I’ll accept the award if afterwards you have a meeting with me about the state of Hip-Hop and Rap City and BET and all of that.  And there I discovered that they were going to take Rap City off the air. Therefore we had no argument. But he did take the meeting with me and we did discuss it. I found out that he was a really cool guy. He found out, I guess, that I’m a diplomatic gentleman, whatever that says. But at the end of the day, he’s corporate and I’m culture. We’re never really going to see eye-to-eye.  One thing I have learned over the years: sometimes you just have to agree to disagree! [laughing]

KRS-One:  Right! [laughing] I was at Red Bull BC [Breakdance Championship] One …had a great time over there. I’m hosting. I turn to the kids – do I have to say kids? They’re all sixteen. Nobody’s probably over twenty-one in the building. They’re all b-boys. And I turn to them and I say, “Rap is something we do.” They go, “Hip-Hop is something we live.” I remember when I said that in ’95, it was like, “What? Huh? What?” Now I can’t even get it out. I can’t even finish the sentence without young people going, “Hip-Hop is something we live. I am Hip-Hop. I belong to the Hip-Hop culture. I’m part of Hip-Hop nation. I’m repping my culture.” That way of thinking took fifteen years for Hip-Hop to get comfortable with. And so, the greatest contribution as I look at it is to have assisted in Hip-Hop’s maturity, to have assisted in its nation-building, in that sense. Let’s say when 2100 looks back on us, because now that Hip-Hop exists, it will never not exist. In 2100, when people try to keep the tradition alive, the pioneers of Hip-Hop will look just like Abraham or George Washington, or anybody who starts nations. So far, at least, my greatest contribution right there is the Gospel of Hip-Hop because that makes Hip-Hop not only a repeatable science, but a nation, an actual community. And it inspires others to write their gospels.  What other gospels would you like to see come to light?

KRS-One:  I was talking to Freddie Foxxx and I said, “Yeah, we need a Book of Bumpy. The Book of Bumpy Knuckles.” Each of us has a story, a spiritual story, and Hip-Hop has been joining in on the front of America hiding its spirituality. I mean Hip-Hoppers pray and don’t go to church. No synagogue, mosque, nothing. But they believe in God, and try to follow a moral life. Try at least. A lot of us are like that. I think this is not only my greatest contribution so far, but I think Hip-Hop’s zenith: we are declaring the fact that not only are we a specific group of people in the world, but we have direct access to God. We’re connected to the universe individually, here we are, right here. What a great jump-off for our children’s children’s children’s children.  Your new book is branded as “a spiritual manual for citizens of Hip-Hop Kulture.”  When you look out at the contemporary musical landscape, what do you think is the greatest spiritual battle that we, as “Hip-hoppas,” have to overcome?

KRS-One:  A belief in ourselves. The greatest battle is to believe that we exist. If we could just believe we exist, half our battle is over. If we knew we existed, like, we knew we were Hip-Hop, and we knew that we were different from everybody else, that we are the b-boys of the word, we are the graffiti writers, we are the MCs, we are the DJs, we have our own fashion, we have a uniqueness about us, in the world: when we realize that, we also realize our sovereignty. And this is also the second stage in the Civil Rights Movement. This is the second stage. This is what the children of the Civil Rights Movement, us, are supposed to be doing. First we wanted civil rights, and we got it. Now we need civilization rights, and we’re going to get that, too. The right to build your own community, to govern yourself, in that sense.