“You could call a man a bum with disgust on your morning run. ‘Cause he lives outside in the street, you don’t know this, but you’ve failed to realize that the one you so despise reflects yourself ’cause every Black man is homeless.” 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 BET’s 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. “I 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.” As Kris discusses his time in the streets, his tales are harrowing. “So, here I am in the streets, and every night guns are going off. I see people getting robbed. Prostitution everywhere, crooked cops…I’m in the street trying to fend for myself, stay out of everybody’s way, smile, say ‘Hi,’ keep it moving. And, I was like that from 16 to easy 18. Then, from 18 to like 21, I’m off and on in the street.”
As reflected in the above quote from his Boogie Down Productions song “The Homeless,” 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 “Hip-hop is homeless. Hip-hop doesn’t have a home. People take from it. Gospel loves taking from Hip-Hop, but loves calling it the devil’s music. Rock’n’roll takes elements from it. Where is the Hip-Hop museum? ” 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, KRS’ group with DJ Scott La Rock, was formed. “KRS-One came to my office and we were talking. Kris says to me that he was homeless, going like this [taps the beat to “The Bridge Is Over“]. He’s beating this on the wall, and the guy who’s hearing this is a guy who works in the homeless facility, and that’s Scott La Rock, and that’s how they made ‘The Bridge Is Over.'”
Other accounts of how Kris and Scott came together are more gradual and less dramatic, but align with Stoute’s overall story. In his conversation with The Archivest, KRS said of the genesis of his relationship with La Rock “Scott 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.” He continues, “Scott 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.”
In detailing how their relationship shifted to the music, Kris says “All of a sudden, Scott La Rock goes to this guy named Mr. Magic, and Mr. Magic disses him. He says ‘This is bullsh*t, Boogie Down Productions, whatever.’ Rest in peace Mr. Magic, the greatest radio DJ of all-time. This guy dissed Scott La Rock. Scott came back and told me ‘Man, we ain’t getting no deal with The Juice Crew. They just dissed.'”
According to KRS, it was at that moment that he decided to retaliate against Magic and his crew. He told Scott “Yo, watch this [motions as if he’s writing on a notepad]. I wrote this song called ‘The Bridge Is Over’ first. Then, I said ‘Eh, nobody’s into Reggae right now. Nobody’s going to really understand what I’m doing.’ Threw that to the side. Then, I wrote this song called ‘South Bronx.’ And, I wrote ‘South Bronx’ because I said ‘I’m a teacher. I’m only coming into Hip-Hop as a teacher. That’s it. That the reason I left home. That’s the reason I’m here. That’s the whole point. Philosopher. MC. That’s it.’ 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 hour–two hours–we only could afford. He paid out of his paycheck. I went in there, I said ‘Scott, I will not let you down.’ I remember telling him that to his face ’cause it was his paycheck. And, he had his daughter and his wife, and the rent was due. He couldn’t afford it, but he believed.” Emphasizing just how small their margin for error was, Kris says “Two 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, it’s not even mixed. For those that really want to do their homework–for the Hip-Hop scholars–listen to the instrumental of ‘South Bronx.’ You’ll hear talking under it through the whole record.”
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. “The 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 those–we 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. Magic’s biggest radio DJ rival at the time], and the story…was…over.”
In his conversation with Steve Stoute, KRS shared another detail about the distribution of “The Bridge Is Over,” 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. “They sell the rights to that song to a company who distributes porn.” 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. “They couldn’t get a record deal. That’s how these things go…He’s a homeless guy. He was sh*tting on MC Shan when he was homeless.”
Even when the records broke through, things did not change overnight for KRS and Scott. “Even when I had ‘South Bronx’ out, ‘South Bronx’ and ‘Bridge Is Over,’ I was still homeless,” said Kris to The Activest. “When ‘South Bronx’ and ‘Bridge Is Over’ was out, I was sleeping on the train. I would be sitting [on the train] and people would have a boombox out, and they’d be blasting ‘South Bronx’…And, I’d 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, I’d be sitting right there, record [playing], and I can’t smile, I can’t frown, I have to be completely [unemotional] because I don’t want anyone to know or even think that this is me. The guy you think is large and all of this, he’s right next to you homeless.” 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 can’t stop, won’t stop ethos that has permeated the culture from the beginning.