Thirty years ago this week (March 3, 1987), the direction and style of Hip-Hop forever changed thanks to Boogie Down Productions’ debut album, Criminal Minded. With only “South Bronx” in wide circulation prior to the release of the B-Boy Records album, KRS-One and DJ Scott La Rock made a jaw-dropping first impression that set the standard for hardcore Hip-Hop from the underground. The two Bronx representatives were perceived as underdogs who had bark, bite, and a strong alpha complex to music-making.
In the previous handful of years in Hip-Hop, Run-D.M.C. had abruptly turned the page on the Disco-dressing, rhyme finessing MCs of the late ’70s and early ’80s. To their credit, B.D.P. were also out to shake up the status quo. Kris and Scott harnessed the book-smarts that Rap music was popularly thought devoid of, and propped it up through authentic street-savvy. When people dropped the needle or put in the tape, “Poetry” made this abundantly clear. Moreover, Boogie Down Productions fueled that knowledge with by-any-means tactics and palpable Black pride. They set aside the arguably overblown gangster and raunchy caricatures of some contemporaries (Schoolly D, 2 Live Crew, and even B.D.P. Possé’s own Just-Ice), but still were able to rap menacingly about accessible guns, drugs, and the rampant unprotected sex permeating their community. These guys did not flee, they instigated, if they believed in something. In three consecutive songs, “Poetry,” “South Bronx,” and “9MM Goes Bang” presented the kaleidoscopic range of two ill B-Boys from the BX.
While most Hip-Hop fans heard the music long before they learned the story, B.D.P. came from a very real place. Shortly after Criminal Minded (and following the August 27, 1987 death of Scott “La Rock” Sterling), KRS gave a rare video interview in 1987. “For a while we were…what’s the word? Homeless,” admits the MC/producer at the height of the Paid In Full era of status and actualized Rap decadence. “Basically, that’s how [Scott La Rock and I] met. Scott worked for the Franklin Men’s Shelter, and me and B.D.P. Possé was in there…rugged, runnin’ around, illin’. You know…we wasn’t like everybody else. Most of the people you see inside shelters, they’re mostly there because of the bottle, crack, the needle, or whatever it is. They’re there for a reason. We were there, simply because no one else would believe in us, family-wise. No one believed in our music; no one would ever dream [of our success].” Scott Sterling was the one person who believed in Kris Parker and his crew, as it were. And when Blastmasta KRS-One transmitted knowledge, power, and belligerence into the microphone with that booming voice, he was likely speaking to those very naysayers, too.
“I left home at a very young age. I was 13, going on 14, and I was already out, already…surviving,” says the MC who has enjoyed a nonstop, highly decorated career for the 30 years since. The squad, including the aforementioned Just-Ice, D-Nice were militarily strategic about where they wanted to go. All the road-blocks, including radio DJs, peers, and infrastructures that tried to block B.D.P. were bum-rushed. With that martial mind-state, KRS-One explains why Boogie Down kept the mission moving, even through the shooting death of Scott. “We don’t mourn; we had our chance for mourning. You have that one day: you cry it out, and that’s it.” He continues, “You celebrate, if anything. Because we’re advancing, constantly. If we had flopped, then I’d be sad that Scott’s gone and my career went down the drain.” In that ’87 interview, “The Teacha” also vows to leave Scott Sterling, Jr., who was young at the time of his father’s passing, “straight” financially. In the 30 years that have followed, Kris has maintained that same tenacity through several losses, tragedies, and setbacks.
“Dope Beat,” where Scott, Kris, Ultramagnetic MC’s member Ced Gee, and Partner Lee Smith looped AC/DC’s “Back In Black” guitar-and-drum riff may have more in common with 2017’s Hip-Hop than any ’87 record of its kind. Here, KRS raps about the inferiority of his peers (“…others claim to be fresh / But they’re not KRS“), the ills of his streets, stylish and careful fashion choices, healthy eating, and no fear “pulling files” on anybody that gets in their way. The record hops into the Rick Rubin/Def Jam/Run-D.M.C. style, and puts its own message and spin on it. B.D.P. talks about gangs, crack, and radio payola, but they still get down, first and foremost.
History likes to remember Criminal Minded especially for challenging and chiding MC Shan, Marley Marl, Roxanne Shanté, and the Juice Crew on “South Bronx” and “The Bridge Is Over.” While this album would set a standard implemented by Tupac Shakur, Jay Z, 50 Cent, and T.I., it is so much deeper than disses.
Clearly, B.D.P. were products of a cold, hard New York City. They were survivors long before they had Rap opponents. While Criminal Minded is the most aggressive work in KRS-One’s expansive catalog (and it is the center-piece of Scott’s vision), it is also the most revolutionary. This not only was the vehicle for the possé, it took the sport of rapping (while elevating its substance), and authentically and excitingly put it on wax.
In re-listening to Criminal Minded, it’s still FRESH FOR 2017…