Activist, author and Hip Hop pioneer, KRS–One (Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone) performed at Electric Brixton on 17th May 2019 as part of his ‘2019 UK, US and Europe Tour’ His thirteenth and latest album ‘The World is Mind’, dropped in 2017. His most recent book ‘The ‘Gospel of Hip Hop’ was published in 2009.
KRS-One of Boogie Down Productions kicked off his solo career with the 1993 album, ‘Return of the Boom Bap’. The album featured ‘Sound of Da Police’ which became his most iconic song (Bhangra heads NEED to hear the Dr. Das remix!). He also became a Hip Hop historiographer, educator and social commentator, starting ‘The Temple of Hip Hop’ programme in 1997 and publishing his first book ‘Ruminations’ in 2003.
The support acts on the night were TY, Blacktwang and Shortee Blitz. Shortee Blitz kept the crowd rocking between sets with classic Hip Hop joints and scratching. All support artists have collaborated with each other and it was a joy to see them appear onstage together at their finale, Blacktwang’s ‘So Rotton’. Giant letters KRS-ONE were then erected on the stage and the appearance of DJ Predator Prime (KRS’ son) signalled the headliners imminent entrance.
KRS entered the stage freestyling. He paused to inform the crowd that it was a sell-out show before resuming the freestyle about being back in Brixton and some current affairs. He would return to these freestyles throughout the show. He then went into the opening numbers, The Boogie Down Productions, classic ‘South Bronx’ followed by the iconic ‘The Bridge is Over’. It was a hard-hitting intro that would have no doubt pleased his older fans and the mainstream crowd. At the climax of the track KRS showed exactly why he is called the ‘Blast Master’ asking for the break to be turned up and stridently freestyling again about current affairs, specifically Trump’s treatment of Mexicans. This would be a recurring theme of the show.
The next three songs were ‘Classic’, ‘Step in to a world’ and ‘MC’s Act like they don’t know’.
“MC’s Act Like They Don’t Know” was produced by DJ Premier and appeared on
KRS’ second and self-titled album ‘KRS-One’, which dropped in 1995. It was very much a fan favourite and got a great response from the crowd.
His third album, ‘I Got Next’ appeared in 1997 and featured the single ‘Step in to a World’ which sampled the iconic ‘Rapture’ by Blondie. The track was a “Pop hit” in KRS’ own words, which would lead to an infamous BBC Radio 1 interview where he criticised the host Tim Westwood and BBC Radio 1 for only approaching him when the track became successful and ignoring his previous albums. The deeper question would be why KRS-One released a song that would so obviously be a pop hit and featured Puff Daddy on the remix? Regardless, the track was loved by the crowd and again featured a freestyle over the break. KRS’ delivery was on point, he is a formidable MC.
‘Outta Here’ was next. KRS called out the members of the crowd who couldn’t sing along to the refrain ‘No doubt BDP is old school, but we ain’t goin’ out!’, which had made the heads go crazy. The track paused for a freestyle acapella, the sudden silence making the lyrics all the more powerful. KRS outlined the set up for the evening, which also sums up his general philosophy of realism and the origins of Hip Hop, “Original MC and original DJ scratching, mixing and cutting!”, adding “F*ck MTV!” and that it was time for Radio 1’s mother to be taken out. KRS really shines here, his polemics on the history of Hip Hop are delivered like a fiery preacher; but there is also a didactic at work, “I will inspire…KRS-ONE no liar!”.
I expected the whole show to be a political rally but there was a sense of fun here. KRS would joke with the crowd and dance around stage. Maybe it was due to the archaic nature of his act and the demographic of the crowd “Anyone here over 40?!”, but it makes his attack on ‘Flower Power’ Hip Hop including the 1993 altercation with PM Dawn somewhat hypocritical in retrospect.
KRS-One is no stranger to controversy. His comments on 9⁄11 and defence of Afrika Bambaataa are two recent examples. His role as a historiographer is also now being challenged, most notably in Youtube videos featuring former Black Spades members and associates. Their claims counter the central tenets of KRS’ history of Hip Hop and can be summed up as follows;
1) Hip Hop was actually originally about the dancers not the DJs
2) Afrika Bambaataa didn’t unite the street gangs of America and turn them to music (nor was he a founder of the Black Spades)
3) Grandmaster Flash didn’t invent the crossfader.
In his defence, KRS has mentioned that history is about multiple perspectives and that all voices are welcome to the table to discuss their recollections. But commentators have mentioned that KRS is profiting from a lie and that he is being unduly defensive of Afrika Bambaataa in order to protect the narrative which he has created.
The Boogie Down Productions classic ‘Stop the violence’ was next, the crowd loving the refrain of “1,2,3, the crew is called BDP”. The old school beat and chorus brought a flood of nostalgia over me, a hark back to simpler times before Hip Hop became academised and loaded with debates on historiography.
We then came to the main event, ‘Sound of da police’ with KRS going acapella in the middle, again making his lyrics and delivery more powerful. He also marched around like a police officer. After the track, he proclaimed that his music is about “Justice” with reference to the Mexicans plight under Trump. KRS also gave an insight into what music means to him, stating that “Hip Hop is the light.”. No doubt a reference to KRS’ religious philosophy of Hip Hop being a saviour and a source of enlightenment.
KRS then performed ‘The Invaders’, a 2013 song with the lyrics relevant to the current situation in America. The song’s end featured KRS stating “No human being is illegal” to roars from the crowd. Criticism of current fake rappers turned into the 1997 track ‘A Friend’. It’s lyrics on ‘Superstars’ and ‘Cruising in a trooper car’, becoming more pertinent in a show that was filled with references to the fake nature of current hip hop and it’s dominance on the radio.
An instrumental then played, it was either a bluesy guitar or a flute with KRS stating that it was the “original instrument of hip hop sound”, “The original music, get that radio sh*t off the mic.”. The track ‘Out for Fame’ then played. KRS continued, “Hip Hop is healing music.”, outlining more of his music philosophy for the evening.
I can sum up KRS’ style by calling it first person storytelling, a didactic tool speaking out against oppression and media control and asking people to reclaim their lives.
There was then more freestyling with key lines being “Im not on TV because the revolution will not be televised” and “Our President is endorsed by the clan” which received the biggest cheer of the night.
The final section of the evening started with KRS stating that he will now go into “strictly hardcore sh*t”. KRS went into another freestyle where he namedropped classic lines from the history of Hip Hop, the real heads knew them all. He then played the BDP title track ‘Criminal Minded’ and a powerful rendition of ‘9mm goes bang’
KRS stated that his music is about empowerment and that he wants to educate and inspire people to manifest their dreams, he then threw signed tennis balls into the crowd which sent everyone, present writer included, into a frenzy to catch a ball.
The 1990 BDP track “Loves gonna get cha” then played, with KRS pausing to state “wait they don’t know this…” drawing laughter from the hardcore fans in attendance.
DJ Predator Prime then played an 80s drum beat, with KRS lamenting that “Todays rappers are a joke.”
It was a great gig and I applaud KRS for his powerful stage presence, freestlyes and vocal delivery, and the respect for his long term fans. The show was very heavy with BDP tracks.
The finale was the 1988 BDP single ‘My philosophy’, which sent the crowd crazy. The song ended with a magisterial classic piece with KRS outlining his raison d’être in a freestyle;
“Truth shall set you free”, “keep your eyes open and don’t let the brothers get you.”.
A joint by DJ ISURU #2