Interview: KRS-One (@iamKRSOne) Talks Hip Hop Across The Globe


‘Rap is some­thing we do, hip hop is some­thing we live.’

Legendary hip hop per­former and pro­du­cer KRS-One is in the UK to make his­tory. Noth­ing else. He’ll be ‘pulling no punches’ or calm­ing down his set, so pre­pare your­self with an old school edu­ca­tion in the cul­ture of rap and hip hop cour­tesy of the one, the only, KRS-One.

For the uneducated tell us where it all star­ted for you?

In the South Bronx, the South, South Bronx! Although I was born in Brook­lyn, New York, my hip hop birth begins in 1973 at 1600 Sedg­wick Aven­ue in the Bronx, which is the build­ing just across from 1520 Sedg­wick Aven­ue where Kool DJ Herc star­ted focus­ing his mix on play­ing the music­al breaks of cer­tain songs like ‘Apache’ and ‘Funky Drum­mer’.

I was about 8 years of age when all this began. Later I moved back to Brook­lyn around 1975 and left home around 1981 to wander the streets of New York pur­su­ing God, philo­sophy and hip hop. Around 1985 I met DJ Scott La Rock at a home­less shel­ter in the Bronx and we formed the rap group Boo­gie Down Pro­duc­tions that released the song South Bronx—and the rest is his­tory.

Anger, angst, heart­break all make enga­ging sub­ject mat­ter for songs. What do you think makes enga­ging sub­ject mat­ter in a hip hop track?

The same things, ‘anger, angst, heart­break’, but I would also add cour­age, faith and pas­sion. As I often teach, hip hop is thecul­ture that rap music comes from. Like breakin’, dee­jay­in’, beat­box­in’ and aer­o­sol art, the art of emceein’ (rap) is only one ele­ment of the total hip hop cul­ture. Rap is some­thing we do, while hip hop is some­thing we live. Hip hop causes rap to occur.

So, when ask­ing, ‘what do you think makes enga­ging sub­ject mat­ter in a hip hop track?’ The first answer is that hip hop is NOT music; it (hip hop) is the cul­ture that pro­duces not only emceein’ (rap), but also dee­jay­in’, aer­o­sol art, breakin, beat­box­in’ and more. Tech­nic­ally there really are no ‘hip hop’ tracks or ‘hip hop’ music, there are only rap tracks or rap music. Rap is the music; hip hop is the cul­ture that pro­duces rap music.

But to answer your ques­tion dir­ectly, the secret to writ­ing ‘enga­ging sub­ject mat­ter in a hip hop (rap) track’ begins with rhym­ing or singing about what is already on the minds ofhiphop­pas. A good emcee engages the pub­lic with rhymes and rhyme styles that are already appre­ci­ated by that emcee’s audi­ence. Some­times an emcee can intro­duce a new top­ic to her/his audi­ence, but this is risky, and only mas­ter emcees can really do this and be suc­cess­ful at it. Unfor­tu­nately, ‘anger’, ‘angst’ and ‘heart­break’ are fre­quent emo­tions exper­i­enced by many people mak­ing ‘anger’, ‘angst’ and ‘heart­break’ suc­cess­ful sub­ject mat­ters for any pub­lic orator.

But equally, cour­age, faith and pas­sion are also exper­i­enced by just as many people and can also be expressed as enga­ging sub­ject mat­ter. Rap music has many of these kinds of tracks and songs to choose from.

DJs, pro­du­cers. Who is your all-time favour­ite and is there any­one out there you love to work with?

This may sound crazy or arrog­ant, but my exper­i­ence with DJs and pro­du­cers is a bit dif­fer­ent than most people. I cre­ated much of the sounds and music styles that today’s rap pro­duces. Most people don’t know this, or they choose to ignore this, but fac­tu­ally speak­ing, much of today’s rap music and pro­duc­tion styles are influ­enced or dir­ectly taken from my work in the 1980s and 1990s; a style of rap music pro­duc­tion I called ‘Boom Bap’.

It star­ted on the Crim­in­al Minded album (1987) with ‘The Bridge Is Over’ and we updated it on the Return of the Boom Bap album pro­duced by DJ Premi­er, DJ Kenny Park­er, DJ Kid Capri and myself (1993). In fact, if you listen to the heavy bass sounds of today’s trap music, dance music and rap music, all of these can be traced back to a song I did called ‘Love’s Gonna Getcha’, pro­duced by Pal Joey. This was the first time the 808 kick drum sound was ever used in such a way.

I will humbly say that I don’t really have a ‘favour­ite’ DJ or pro­du­cer because I influ­enced most of the DJs and/or pro­du­cers whose music­al styles I enjoy today. Even well-respec­ted pro­du­cers still sample my kicks and snares from the 1980s and I respect that, but my favour­ite DJ/producer today would be my son DJ Pred­at­or Prime who pro­duced much of the music on my latest album Now Hear This and is the DJ for KRS-One at this time. He will be with me at the Lon­don show on Fri­day 15 July, and you’ll then get to see what I’m talk­ing about.

Your favour­ite MC/lyricist/wordsmith? Ok, that’s tricky! Favour­ite five?

‘I’m not say­in’ I’m num­ber one, oh sorry I lied, I’m num­ber one, two, three, four and five!’ Again, I say humbly here that I don’t really have a ‘favour­ite five’ or a ‘top five’. Some­times emcees spit rhymes that I admire and oth­er times they don’t.

But I do respect real emcees like the Lox, Ras Kass, Big Daddy Kane, Super­nat­ur­al, Rakim, Meth­od Man, Busta Rhymes, Talib Kweli, Rah Digga, Wise Intel­li­gent, Dilated Peoples, Buck­shot, Fat Joe, Joell Ort­iz, Cas­sidy (The Hustla), Naughty By Nature, and so on.

It’s come a long way. Where do you think hip hop is at presently and who do you see as the next group of ‘torch bear­ers’ to take hip hop for­ward?

Hip hop is great at this present moment! We are still learn­ing about ourselves, but we have also learned much about ourselves over the last few years. There are still too many people how­ever, claim­ing to be ‘hip hop’ but have no real loy­alty to the cul­ture or to the culture’s founders. Too many people today still regard hip hop as simply a music genre, and not the glob­al urb­an cul­ture that it is. And this is because, most people are only out to use hip hop for all that they can get from it.

They care noth­ing for the life of hip hop itself, and it is these people that we must rid our cul­ture of! If you are truly a cit­izen of the hip hop civil­isa­tion, then be loy­al to that. Get your­self a copy of the Gos­pel of Hip Hop and live by that! Peace, love, unity and joy must lead your every action and thought regard­ing hip hop. Cor­por­a­tions and gov­ern­ment agen­cies of all sorts are act­ively try­ing to exploit ‘hip hop’ and dis­cred­it hip hop’s lead­er­ship and leg­acy, and only the ignor­ant and the imma­ture fall for these kinds of attacks; but not the wise.

We as Hiphop­pas must stick togeth­er no mat­ter what! So, ‘the next group of torch-bear­ers to take hip hop for­ward’ may not be emcees, dee­jays or B‑girls/B‑boys at all; it may indeed be a new sect of young thinkers, young attor­neys, young doc­tors, young archi­tects, young invent­ors and busi­ness entre­pren­eurs, young authors and teach­ers. These types of pro­fes­sion­als may indeed be ‘the next group of torch-bear­ers to take hip hop for­ward’.


You’re an inter­na­tion­al artist. What’s been your most mem­or­able show and why?

It was August 2007. I was per­form­ing in Brook­lyn, and it was there that I con­firmed my metaphysical/spiritual train­ing — I gained enlight­en­ment. Back in 1981 to about 1983 I was liv­ing as a home­less man in Brook­lyn. Like I said, I was search­ing for God and hip hop, or rather God in hip hop. One of the places that I found shel­ter at was Pro­spect Park in Brook­lyn. Whenev­er it was rain­ing or snow­ing I would go to an aban­doned band-shell per­form­ance area in the park; a huge stage area with a con­crete semi-dome over the stage. But all of this was torn-up, broken, cracked and had been aban­doned for years. Rats, birds, dogs and oth­er home­less people shared this same space as well.

Liv­ing on the lit­er­al street, God and spir­itu­al liv­ing as well as hip hop itself had to become real for me or I was lit­er­ally going to die, or be ser­i­ously injured. So, I began pray­ing and visu­al­ising my future bet­ter than where I was at that moment. Hungry, thirsty, cold and afraid I would find my spot under this band-shell, and using the broken-down and cor­roded envir­on­ment that it was at the time, I would visu­al­ise myself per­form­ing for thou­sands of people. I begged God to make this real­ity for me, and if She did I would know for sure that God was indeed REAL, and the mind is indeed a real­ity maker. As a man thinketh; so he is.

Some 20-some­thing years later in 2007 I found myself in Brook­lyn per­form­ing at this same band-shell which was now re-done, ren­ov­ated and beau­ti­ful! As I pro­ceeded to rock Brook­lyn, I stopped the entire to show to acknow­ledge my child­hood affirm­a­tion and the fact that God was indeed REAL! As I told the crowd about the sig­ni­fic­ance of me being at this very place, I saw people lit­er­ally cry­ing with joy and amazement. With about 9,000 people watch­ing me per­form at this free con­cert in the park, I then went to the very spot in the band-shell that I slept and visu­al­ised at in the 1980s and con­firmed to my past-self that I had arrived at my future (present) self. I real­ised right there that not only is God real, but so is the power of one’s own mind!

Do you listen to UK hip hop? Who do you rate?

I listen to ‘hip hop’ (i.e. rap), I don’t really dif­fer­en­ti­ate between UK and US rap­pers, or UK and European rap­pers; I just look for skills no mat­ter who’s spit­tin’.

How do UK crowds stand-up to home crowds?

There’s no com­par­is­on. Hip hop is much more appre­ci­ated in the UK as well as through­out Europe than it is in the United States; espe­cially my style of emceein’. The ‘con­scious’ rap­per can actu­ally live in peace, raise a fam­ily, and get money as well as respect in the UK and Europe. Yes, Amer­ic­ans of all back­grounds do respect the ‘con­scious’ rap­per, but very few Amer­ic­ans back that respect up with real money and real oppor­tun­it­ies. Hav­ing said that, I must shout-out Rock the Bells fest­iv­al, which doesn’t hap­pen any­more, and Made in Amer­ica fest­iv­al, as well as Roots Pic­nic fest­iv­al, which I had to reluct­antly can­cel my appear­ances at this year due to my European tour being exten­ded from July to Novem­ber.

These fest­ivals, along with ven­ues like SOB’s in New York, Whisky a Go Go and the Roxy in Los Angeles, the Middle East in Boston and Yoshi’s in Oak­land, Cali­for­nia have, among oth­ers, all shown KRS-One real respect and real fin­an­cial oppor­tun­it­ies in the United States.

Live shows are made of many ele­ments, but also the sup­port­ing acts. Who’s your dream sup­port act?

Well again, you are talk­ing to an emcee that has had every major rap group and rap­per open up for him at some point in their careers. I don’t really have a favour­ite here either, but I am present­ing two new artists on the tour that I am on. One, MC G Santana, is an emcee, and the oth­er, King Spacely is a beat-box­er. They open for me as well as per­form with me. G. Simone is also present­ing some of her songs on this tour as well.

Recently, R.A. the Rugged Man, Mr. Green and A‑F-R‑O opened for me through­out Spain and it was won­der­ful! Even DJ Premi­er will be open­ing for me in Lon­don. What more can a true hip hop head like me ask for?

Favour­ite track for open­ing? Favour­ite encore track?

‘Step Into A World’ opens, and tracks off of my new album Now Hear This closes. Hip hop forever!

KRS-One will be at…
O2 ABC Glas­gow on Fri­day 8 July
O2 Academy New­castle on Sat­urday 9 July
O2 Academy Oxford on Sunday 10 July
O2 Insti­tute Birm­ing­ham on Thursday 14 July
O2 For­um Kentish Town on Fri­day 15 July, with DJ Premi­er



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Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rishma Dhali­w­al has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal
Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.