âYou could call a man a bum with disgust on your morning run. âCause he lives outside in the street, you donât know this, but youâve failed to realize that the one you so despise reflects yourself âcause every Black man is homeless.â KRS-One has never hidden the fact that he was homeless for a number of years prior to forming Boogie Down Productions. He has rapped about it in songs, spoken about it in interviews, and even guest hosted a special edition of BETâs Rap City, where he went to a homeless shelter for youths, to speak with the young men living there and give viewers a firsthand education of the types of issues the youths faced.
In an interview with The Archivest, KRS detailed his homeless years. âI left to pursue God, in particular, and to do that, you have to give yourself a near death experience. Either you get it by accident or you give it to yourself, and I kind of did it both ways.â As Kris discusses his time in the streets, his tales are harrowing. âSo, here I am in the streets, and every night guns are going off. I see people getting robbed. Prostitution everywhere, crooked copsâŚIâm in the street trying to fend for myself, stay out of everybodyâs way, smile, say âHi,â keep it moving. And, I was like that from 16 to easy 18. Then, from 18 to like 21, Iâm off and on in the street.â
As reflected in the above quote from his Boogie Down Productions song âThe Homeless,â KRS often has taken an expansive view of homelessness, using it to describe the condition of Blacks in America, and also equating it to Hip-Hop culture. In a 2011 interview with Street Roots News, Kris said of Hip-Hop âHip-hop is homeless. Hip-hop doesnât have a home. People take from it. Gospel loves taking from Hip-Hop, but loves calling it the devilâs music. Rockânâroll takes elements from it. Where is the Hip-Hop museum? â Ironically, it was the merger of Hip-Hop and homelessness that would ultimately take KRS-One from the streets and catapult him into international stardom.
On the most recent episode of Drink Champs, hosted by N.O.R.E. and DJ EFN, guest Steve Stoute spoke of meeting with KRS and hearing, firsthand, how Boogie Down Productions, KRSâ group with DJ Scott La Rock, was formed. âKRS-One came to my office and we were talking. Kris says to me that he was homeless, going like this [taps the beat to âThe Bridge Is Overâ]. Heâs beating this on the wall, and the guy whoâs hearing this is a guy who works in the homeless facility, and thatâs Scott La Rock, and thatâs how they made âThe Bridge Is Over.'â
Other accounts of how Kris and Scott came together are more gradual and less dramatic, but align with Stouteâs overall story. In his conversation with The Archivest, KRS said of the genesis of his relationship with La Rock âScott La Rock was my social worker who became the DJ for Boogie Down Productions. He was a social worker. He was the guy I used to go to to get either welfare checks or tokens.â He continues, âScott La Rock was the social worker that saw my talent, and he had a bunch of rappers around him, but he took a liking to me because I was a philosopher, and he used to love to hear me talk about philosophy. That was Scott La Rock. And, I used to BREAK him, because what I was studying, nobody knew.â
In detailing how their relationship shifted to the music, Kris says âAll of a sudden, Scott La Rock goes to this guy named Mr. Magic, and Mr. Magic disses him. He says âThis is bullsh*t, Boogie Down Productions, whatever.â Rest in peace Mr. Magic, the greatest radio DJ of all-time. This guy dissed Scott La Rock. Scott came back and told me âMan, we ainât getting no deal with The Juice Crew. They just dissed.'â
According to KRS, it was at that moment that he decided to retaliate against Magic and his crew. He told Scott âYo, watch this [motions as if heâs writing on a notepad]. I wrote this song called âThe Bridge Is Overâ first. Then, I said âEh, nobodyâs into Reggae right now. Nobodyâs going to really understand what Iâm doing.â Threw that to the side. Then, I wrote this song called âSouth Bronx.â And, I wrote âSouth Bronxâ because I said âIâm a teacher. Iâm only coming into Hip-Hop as a teacher. Thatâs it. That the reason I left home. Thatâs the reason Iâm here. Thatâs the whole point. Philosopher. MC. Thatâs it.â So, Scott La Rock gave me my chance. He spent $50 on me and told me I had one shot. One shot. And it was $25 an hourâtwo hoursâwe only could afford. He paid out of his paycheck. I went in there, I said âScott, I will not let you down.â I remember telling him that to his face âcause it was his paycheck. And, he had his daughter and his wife, and the rent was due. He couldnât afford it, but he believed.â Emphasizing just how small their margin for error was, Kris says âTwo hours is all we had to lay the record down and mix it and everything, so everything was one take. I went in, they laid the beat down one time. And, itâs not even mixed. For those that really want to do their homeworkâfor the Hip-Hop scholarsâlisten to the instrumental of âSouth Bronx.â Youâll hear talking under it through the whole record.â
Although KRS, Scott and D-Nice were able to record and mix the songs in 2 hours, they had to wait another week for the finished product. âThe record went to a 4-track cassette. That was the master recording. We took the 4-track cassette and we took it to a place called Dick Charles, and he made what is called an acetate. Scott took 2 of thoseâwe had to wait one week for him to get his check again. When he had his acetate made, he took the record to Red Alert [Mr. Magicâs biggest radio DJ rival at the time], and the storyâŚwasâŚover.â
In his conversation with Steve Stoute, KRS shared another detail about the distribution of âThe Bridge Is Over,â that is not widely discussed. Consistent with the desperate measures KRS and Scott took to make their records, they took similar extreme steps to distribute the songs. âThey sell the rights to that song to a company who distributes porn.â According to Steve Huey of Allmusic, B-Boy Records, the company that ultimately distributed the BDP records, had advertised it was looking for new musical talent in a newspaper, but, allegedly, the company was a front for a pornography business. Stoute asserts that when no record label was willing to put their music out, BDP was determined to get it to the masses, by all means necessary. âThey couldnât get a record deal. Thatâs how these things goâŚHeâs a homeless guy. He was sh*tting on MC Shan when he was homeless.â
Even when the records broke through, things did not change overnight for KRS and Scott. âEven when I had âSouth Bronxâ out, âSouth Bronxâ and âBridge Is Over,â I was still homeless,â said Kris to The Activest. âWhen âSouth Bronxâ and âBridge Is Overâ was out, I was sleeping on the train. I would be sitting [on the train] and people would have a boombox out, and theyâd be blasting âSouth BronxââŚAnd, Iâd be sitting right there. Because, then, there was no video, no magazine cover, nothing. You put out a record, no one knew who you was. So, Iâd be sitting right there, record [playing], and I canât smile, I canât frown, I have to be completely [unemotional] because I donât want anyone to know or even think that this is me. The guy you think is large and all of this, heâs right next to you homeless.â Sadly, as most know, DJ Scott La Rock was shot and killed just months after the records were released.
Despite their origins against all odds, and the tragedies that befell Boogie Down Productions from the start, the group, and KRS have gone on to be one of the most well-respected and influential artists in all of Hip-Hop. They are a living testament to the canât stop, wonât stop ethos that has permeated the culture from the beginning.