KRS-One
w/Boom Bap Project, One Be Lo, DJ B Mellow
Wed March 9, Chop Suey, 9 pm, $18.

This summer, the rapper KRS-One will turn 40. He officially entered the world of hiphop at the age of 22, and since then the Blastmaster (as KRS-One is also known) has spent much of his creative time and energy trying to save things. He once tried to save the black community from itself (black-on-black violence); he also tried to save souls with the gospel/hiphop CD, Spiritual Minded; and presently, and most famously, he is trying to save hiphop from rap. For KRS-One, hiphop is Kurtis Blow, Chuck D, and, of course, KRS-One; rap, on the other hand, is the Neptunes, Ludacris, and, of course, Nelly.

In 2002, KRS-One indirectly dissed the St. Louis-based Nelly on the track "Clear 'Em Out," and in response Nelly directly dissed KRS-One on the remix of "Rock the Mic." KRS-One then wrote a very long letter calling for, among several things, the boycott of Nelly's then soon-to-be-released sophomore CD, Nellyville. "Join the campaign," KRS-One wrote at the letter's end, "to send a message to all corporate exploiters of hiphop's culture. Boycott Nelly's album starting on June 25th, 2002." The boycott was a total failure, as the CD, Nellyville, sold six million copies--more than all the records KRS-One had sold in his entire career.

The reason KRS-One so passionately went after the impossible (to stop Nelly from making millions and blinging on MTV) is because his own life was saved by hiphop. Born in Brooklyn, KRS-One, whose real name is Lawrence Parker (apparently called KRS because of his early interest in Hare Krishna), was a homeless nobody when a social worker named Scott Sterling became his mentor and DJ, Scott La Rock. (In 1986, shortly after gaining recognition, Scott La Rock was served this excellent diss by Roxanne Shante: "When T La Rock said, 'It's Yours,' he didn't mean his name.") KRS-One and Scott La Rock formed Boogie Down Productions (BDP), which in 1987 released one of the most important records in the crowded history of American popular music, Criminal Minded. KRS-One's raps were political, preachy, and poetic; Scott La Rock cut records down to the bone and the music was spare, hard, and often dubbed by a reggae bassline. This debut established BDP's street reputation; the next album, which was completed shortly after Scott La Rock was murdered during a party, By All Means Necessary, established BDP's pop reputation. In the space of three years, Lawrence Parker rose from homeless shelters to heavy rotation on Yo! MTV Raps.

On the early records, KRS-One rapped about street realities--drug abuse, police brutality, racism, and so on. But as hiphop's fortunes skyrocketed, his raps more often turned to defending the art form from what he believed was eroding its truth, its vital substance--corporate profits. I Got Next, Sneak Attack, Kristyles, and last year's nearly brilliant Keep Right, are all preoccupied with the preservation of hiphop, with distinguishing real hiphop from fake rap. One CD, The Mix Tape, was even devoted to bringing down Nelly, who, for KRS-One, was a symbol of all that was rotten in the kingdom of hiphop.

"Yo, I'm tired of people judging what's real hiphop," complained Nelly on the track "Number One," "Half the time it be those niggers whose album flopped/…You ain't got to give me props/Just give me the yachts, give me my rocks, and keep my fans coming in flocks." These days, KRS-One's records don't make cash registers sing, and it's white hipsters and college students who are listening to his message, and not ghetto youth (Nelly has that market cornered). Although KRS-One's message is positive, he often wears it out; his last CD, Keep Right, has great beats but midway through you get tired of KRS-One "judging what's real hiphop" in the way you get tired of Nelly going on about his "yachts" and "rocks."

On July 7, 1967, jazz saxophonist John Coltrane died at 40--the age KRS-One will become this year. During that time, valid jazz was in decline and trash jazz (fusion) was on the rise, and Coltrane spent the last three years of his life not trying to save jazz but pushing its spiritual possibilities to the limit. This is precisely what the talented KRS-One should do with hiphop; he must ignore Nelly (the world will surely forget him) and instead push the music to its final, diminishing point.

charles@thestranger.com

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