The Teacher is back in the classroom

    There are many influential rap collectives from the late ’80s, with N.W.A. contributing the most to gangsta rap and Public Enemy paving the way for more political rap. However, only one group in the ’80s seemed to span both these general categories of hip-hop, and that was Boogie Down Productions, the rap group spawned by Scott LaRock and led by KRS-One. Releasing the critically acclaimed hip-hop classics Criminal Minded and By All Means Necessary, BDP gained much notoriety, and KRS earned the nickname “the Teacher” due to his socially conscious, street-smart rhymes.

    In 1992, BDP released their fifth and final album, Sex and Violence, which was met kindly by critics but was a commercial failure by most standards. This decline in sales, coupled with the slow deterioration of the group following LaRock’s death in 1987, led to a disbanding of one of the most influential rap groups of all time. While the other members of BDP were virtually never heard from again (have you heard of Kenny Parker, D-Nice, Ms. Melodie, or Ill Will?), KRS didn’t slow down one bit, releasing Return of Boom Bap in 1993. In an era where it seemed like every New York rap album was a classic (Illmatic, The Infamous, 36 Chambers, Ready to Die, Reasonable Doubt), Boom Bap still stands out to this day as one of the strongest albums from this period.

    Unfortunately, KRS-One’s stock peaked in the early- to mid-’90s, and most of his recent solo projects have met with surprising ambivalence, paralleling the career of fellow old-schooler Erick Sermon. On the track “Mad Crew,” off of Return of Boom Bap, KRS raps that his music is for his “core audience, fuck the rest of the market.” This may have been true of Boom Bap and his self-titled 1995 release, but most of his fans were thoroughly alienated by the time he released Spiritual Minded in 2002, an album whose style could be summed up in two words: gospel rap. Some may argue that this wasn’t all that dramatic of a departure from his original style — KRS has always been criticized for being slightly “preachy” — but this album took it to the next level, and its dearth of sales spoke volumes about its acceptance in the hip-hop community.

    Those that stuck it out with KRS, however, have been rewarded recently, with the release of The Mix Tape and Kristyles. KRS manages to return to his roots while keeping it contemporary on these 21st-century releases, combining more modern production with the lyrical consciousness that only the Teacher could provide. His most recent project, Keep Right, isn’t nearly as strong as previous efforts, but it still shows that while KRS may be past his prime, he can still shine brightly in today’s rap game, where “conscious rappers” are a dime a dozen.

    KRS-One has truly had an amazing career. While many find his pioneering of both hardcore and progressive rap to be indicative of some sort of inherent hypocrisy, this writer feels that it is a testament to his overwhelming skill on the microphone. If you want to familiarize yourself with KRS-One before WinterFest, a good place to start would be with his BDP projects. Songs worth checking out include “The Bridge is Over,” “I’m Still #1,” “Love’s Gonna Get Ya,” “My Philosophy” and “Duck Down,” among many others. His solo efforts are easier to appreciate as a whole, but since it’s midterms week, here are some singles: “MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” (an all-time classic), “Step into My World,” “The Conscious Rapper,” “Bronx Tale,” “CIA” and anything off Boom Bap. Hip-hop doesn’t always treat its forefathers with the respect they deserve, so go to WinterFest this Saturday and show your respect for one of the best MCs in the history of rap.

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