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March 31, 2012 / Todd.Levinson.Frank

The Throne We Should Be Watching

When did KRS-One join the witness protection program?

Have you seen this man? KRS-One is still on point.

He didn’t. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: he’s actually put out seven really good albums over the last five years alone. And yet it feels like he’s disappeared right out there in the open. You would think with so many people lamenting the alleged Death of Hip-Hop that a legend like KRS-One would get recognized for dropping a few instant classics over the last several years.

Music bloggers and casual rap fans wait with bated breath any time Kanye West puts out an album and declare the last and next Roots album a classic and wish to the heavens that OutKast will some day make another album. People are losing their minds waiting for Dr. Dre to finish Detox, the album he’s supposedly been working on for almost 10 years. And yet there’s KRS the Teacha, a unanimous “Greatest of All Time” on everyone’s shortlist no matter the criteria, and he’s not just still alive, or still recording… he’s making some of his strongest albums ever.

Don’t believe me? Go listen to Survival Skills, the 2009 album he made with Buckshot. This is easily my favorite hip-hop record of the last five years. If you click away from this article considering buying one album, it should be this one. It’s just a perfect storm of quality beats/production with the solid 1-2 punch of Kris and Buckshot on the mic.

Still not convinced? Did you know he made an album with Wu-Tang production disciple True Master in 2010? Picture KRS-One doing his metaphysical lyrical lectures over that grimy sound you’d expect from a producer off the RZA tree.

And that’s not all.

Let’s actually rewind and take it back to 2008, when Maximum Strength sounded like KRS-One was still capable of making the classic banger he hadn’t made in over a decade. Following his 90’s peak (his self-titled 1995 album), I Got Next (1997) was a hit but also signaled the beginning of the end. He’d go four years before releasing his next album, the decent but uneven Sneak Attack. The rest of the 2000’s saw a string of 10 lackluster albums that only hinted at his true genius (it’s hard to even fact check; his official discography differs from site to site, adding to this whole witness protection mystery). That’s right, approximately 10 albums from 2001 to 2007 (and those are the ones I’m discarding as mediocre).

So 2008’s Maximum Strength comes out and it’s pretty slammin. Kris sounds sharp, he’s chosen some decent beats. OK, cool. This is probably the weakest of this recent run, but it seemed to signal a shift in the right direction.

KRS-One: Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone.

The following year is when the aforementioned Survival Skills dropped, kicking off a run of collaboration albums that have all been straight fire. It’s one thing for Jay-Z and Kanye to pair up and make one great album (Watch the Throne), or for a legend like Eminem to team up with a lesser-known but respected MC like Royce da 5’9” (Bad Meets Evil: Hell the Sequel ). But KRS-One has now made FOUR such albums over the last four years:  Survival Skills with Buckshot (2009), Meta-Historical with True Master (2010), Godsville with Showbiz (2011), and the absolute ass-kicking Royalty Check with Bumpy Knuckles (2011). [That doesn't even count the 2007 album he made with Marly Marl, Hip-Hop Lives, cuz I haven't heard it.]

On top of all that, he also managed to release a solo EP, Back to the L.A.B. in 2010, six hard classic-sounding tracks from the Blastmaster. Fittingly, “L.A.B.” stands for Lyrical Ass Beating, and Kris delivers yet again. This one is definitely a standout among this recent run.

And oh by the way, in January of 2012 he put out The BDP Album with his brother Kenny Parker handling the production. Spoiler alert: this one is really good too. Score it as a solo record, a collaboration, or the first new “BDP” album in a generation, I don’t know. At this point I’m as confused by the details of what’s come out as I am baffled by the fact that all these amazing albums have been largely ignored by the mainstream.

He comes off as confident as ever, and yet he still sounds hungry. The verbal gymnastics are one thing, of course KRS can bring the delivery and work the wordplay on the mic, but the depth and longevity of this man is nothing short of incredible. At the risk of overstating it, it’s an embarrassment of riches. If he was quietly dropping duds and had lost his skills, turned into Jordan-on-the-Wizards without the fanfare, it might make sense. But this is a legendary pioneer, one of the best ever to rock a mic, seemingly at the peak of his powers, and no one’s noticing.

I realize that young guns and one-hit wonders will always be at the forefront of popular culture, especially in hip-hop, and maybe all the awards shows, all-star games, and late-night TV shows have all begged KRS-One to come on and he’s said no. I don’t know. He’s never really played ball with the big record labels, but “going indie” doesn’t (and shouldn’t) disappear an artist the way it may have back in the day.

So why is he practically invisible despite being an undisputed legend doing some of his best work? Don’t we usually celebrate the Jay-Zs and Eminems of the world when they drop a great album? Isn’t that part of why we mark every anniversary of the tragic murders of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls? Cuz we wonder what might have been, shaking our heads in the silence of their never-recorded classics.

Does KRS-One just choose to operate in the shadows, as he probably did all those years ago as a teenage graffiti artist in the Bronx? Is it simply a matter of the cliché about people not wanting to hear The Hard Truth? Is he too anti-establishment, too spiritual? Maybe. But, just as happened with his Stop The Violence Movement in 1989, once again a positive message in hip-hop is ignored (squashed?) while bling, beef, and bullet holes make the headlines.

Seems unfair; a cultural injustice. If only there were more witnesses.

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9 Comments

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  1. thisisnotanexitradio / Apr 1 2012 8:28 pm

    I think that KRS-One has always flown under the radar as far as the general public are concerned. I think the fact that he never really rode the ‘in it for the riches’ bandwagon, never sported bling and had a brain in his skull and a mouth with something to actually say meant that he was never going to achieve mainstream acknowledgement to the degree of a Jay Z and his ilk. It’s a shame because i agree with you that he is just going from strength to strength. Let’s just take comfort in the belief that maybe if he were bigger, he might not take the chances he has been and produce the work that he has. Great article.

  2. Noise D / May 14 2012 5:41 pm

    KRS-One is unbeatable! Tnanks God for we have an MC like him! We dream the day that KRS come to Brasil!

  3. dare / May 14 2012 5:41 pm

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrtgPRW3yZo your some posh boy who lived a cosey life with loverly home you no nothing about hip hop ,krs 1 yeah not bad mc shan down by law would wipe the floor along with yo bum rush the show album is timeless chuck set the mark until 2 pac and biggie no other album ever touch yo bum rush show ,krs 1 may have been around with just ice kicking it but mc shan ,roxxanes shante and real where tearing it up and you posh boy dont have a clue you late starters and your posh little crowd cant handle chuck dee p.e to deep and at the time griff sort of set con traverse with pro black confusion ,after that the scene mellowed but gangster rap kinda set it alight again with nwa dre that school of music killed it all round by then krs 1 was rattling old styles ,then it rolled on a bit and 2 pac stole the she let put it straight the only reason jay z is big is cose he got big backing self promotion and posh nobs feel conferable going to them places honest rodney p is not a rich rapper but he would kill jay z and kanya west is a walking project of jay z money machine there more like bankers than rapper next real big thing LUDICRAS already some clear bangers that went commercial because they where banger not because of money machince ,so posh boy there a education for you booooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooom thedare283 youtube bammmmm

  4. SPEECH / May 14 2012 6:23 pm

    Nas says Hip Hop is Dead
    ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT says HipHop’s been BURIED ALIVE! KRS one is another example of this!
    Whoever controls the media – controls the mind – Jim Morrison (The Doors)

    Peep Our new joint LIVING http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=581MWQgEW-4

  5. Maurice / May 15 2012 9:50 am

    Todd, keep feeding the slaves with knowledge. Some of us love to eat.

  6. Eric Murphy / May 16 2012 6:45 am

    I purchased an album on your recommendation here (Survival Skills) and borrowed one from a mate for a listen (Godsville). You wonder whether people don’t want to hear “The Hard Truth”; you speculate whether KRS-One is “too anti-establishment, too spiritual”. I think not, on any of those scores. While the beats, delivery and wordsmithery on both these albums is indeed of the highest order, KRS-One seems to have little to say besides how great he is and how much of a sellout everyone else is. It becomes very tedious, very quickly. This might be the answer to the questions you raise. In my humble, the only essential KRS-One albums are Return of the Boom Bap and KRS-One.

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