Taken from Tallahassee Democrat (September 3, 2015)
KRS-One is walking, talking, breathing hip-hop history
Legendary performer talks about his early days in the Bronx, a new album and upcoming show at the Side Bar
by Mark Hinson, Tallahassee Democrat
“I have dedicated my life to the study of hip-hop,” said KRS-One, who will perform on Sunday night at The Side Bar Theatre.
(Photo: Special the Democrat)
In 1973, Kris Parker was 8 years old when his family moved into an apartment building at 1600 Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx. It had a view of the Harlem River and music history.
On the weekends, a Jamaican-American car mechanic named Clive Campbell, whom everyone in the neighborhood knew as DJ Kool Herc, set up two turntables and a microphone outside on Sedgwick Avenue during block parties. Kool Herc was experimenting with repeating beats, or breaks, by manipulating the spinning vinyl records by James Brown and The Incredible Bongo Band. DJ Kool Herc created sound loops while he talked over them, just like in the dance halls of Jamaica.
Parker was soaking it all in. DJ Kool Herc’s musical spice mix was a vital ingredient when Parker grew up and became the socially conscious hip-hop artist known as KRS-One.
“There was no hip-hop in 1973, we didn’t even have the word yet,” KRS-One said this week from Orlando during a stop on his current national tour. “The country was really split up at the time. The Vietnam War was still going on. Men were coming home and not being able to function. There were no jobs. Housing was a problem. The age of revolution was in the air. ...I think we were all charged up.”
By 1976, thanks to pioneering artists such as Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, hip-hop had exploded past the Bronx into Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens.
“This was a time when there were only five (hip-hop) deejays in the whole world and they were all in the Bronx and New York City,” KRS-One said. “There are millions in the world today.”
It didn’t take long for KRS-One to join the second generation of American hip-hop artists. As a teen, he ran away from home, dropped out of school, became a graffiti artist on the streets, lived in a shelter, spent endless hours reading in public libraries and eventually became a member of the group called Boogie Down Productions (BDP) in 1985.
BDP’s debut album, “Criminal Minded,” from 1987 was a gritty, in-your-face report from the streets of NYC that predated and laid the groundwork gangsta rap. Later that same year, BDP founding member DJ Scott LaRock was shot in the neck and killed during a confrontation in the South Bronx.
After the death of his close friend, KRS-One decided to shift his focus lyrics to non-violence with songs he described as “edutainment.” It didn’t take long before his solo career took off with “Return of the Boom Bap” (1993) and “I Got Next” (1997). He also pushed to have hip-hop music, philosophy and culture taken seriously by the rest of the world.
“I have dedicated my life to the study of hip-hop,” KRS-One said. “We have an American folklore now.”
Although KRS-One, who is also known as Teacha, is often invited to universities and colleges to lecture about hip-hop’s roots, principles and meanings, he said he will never leave the performance stage for full-time academia.
“I always start my college lectures by saying, ‘Well, I dropped out of school,’” KRS-One said and laughed. “I’m an autodidact guy. I don’t see the world through the foundation of the university. I tell the students, ‘There a public library free on every corner in this country. Why would you pay money for knowledge? All the knowledge you will ever need is there for free at the library.’”
KRS-One will not be wearing his professor’s robe when he arrives in town this holiday weekend for a concert starting at 8:30 p.m. Sunday at The Side Bar Theatre, 809 Railroad Ave. The bill includes DJ A To The L, StessThe Emcee, Buster Wolf and Capital 6. Tickets are $18 advance and $20 day of the concert. It’s an all-ages show and there’s an added $2 fee at the door if you’re under 21. Visit www.sidebartheatre.com.
The concert will include plenty of classics such as “I Got Next” as well as new material from the forthcoming album “Now Hear This,” tentatively scheduled for a November release.
“When I do albums, I test them out live first,” KRS-One said. “I like to see what kind of reaction I get off the crowd. I’ve been working three years on these routines. I’ve narrowed it down to a core 15 songs.”
Some the new tunes include “Drugs Won” (an attack on the hypocrisy of the so-called War On Drugs), “Biters” (about hip-hop artists who are “unoriginal in their writing”) and “American Flag” (which takes on the recent controversy surrounding the Confederate flag).
“My subject matter is salient issues for today,” KRS-One said. “America is a crazy place today.”
Preach it, Teacha.