Boogie Down Productions was next for me, specifically the voice and words of KRS-ONE. Criminal Minded came out in 1987 The cover art alone had sold me. Two guys deadpanning into the camera holding guns, seeming simultaneously both confident and angry.....they just looked...serious. KRS-ONE had a belt of shotgun shells draped over his shoulder. It looked as if the photo had been taken in the middle of a poker game in a sketchy alleyway, cards being tossed in the middle of the table as war tactics were heatedly discussed. It simply had a stark and menacing image, and the image did it's job, which was to capture my attention.
"South Bronx" had been played on the college radio station two weeks before. I had discovered the beauty of blank tapes and having a cassette deck that can record the radio. Once a week, when the radio show would come on, I'd have a blank tape ready. I never recorded the whole hour, instead listening to every song and when one sounded good, I'd press the red button as fast as possible. Comically, this means that for about two years, I'd have all these great singles collected on one blank tape, but every one would have the first five or ten seconds cut off as I would be debating whether or not to use the precious space I had left.
So, "South Bronx" was the track I fell hook, line and sinker for. Just as I had felt when I first heard RUN-DMC, BDP was about to make me fall in love all over again. On the power of that single, I bought the record. Every song on that record is awesome on it's own, but collected as a full body of work, it seems even more important. KRS-ONE was furious, seeming to never calm down as long as there was a microphone near him.
"The Bridge is Over" ended up being the stand-out song for me, a diss-track that pretty much put a nail in the coffin of MC Shan's career. The Bridge Wars was a battle I read about a year or two later, and then all of the tracks had even more light shed on the for me. As far as rap battles, this was still one of the best of all time, mainly because there was such a clear cut winner that literally wiped his opponent off the map....figuratively, not literally. A war battled with words, beginning with words and ending the same. When two artists battle and keep to these guidelines, the end result, no matter who arises victorious, sees both parties involved gaining a new respect for each other.
It's odd to me that my two favorite tracks from Criminal Minded are songs related to the Bridge Wars, but I think it had something to do with how important KRS considered those tracks to be. The lyrics were not there to entertain....they were there to confront, to elevate, and, eventually, to dominate the battle....which he unquestionably did.
There are a few bootlegs around that collect all the tracks back and forth between KRS-ONE and Shan. Listening to them from start to finish is as entertaining as a battle could be. Each artist held his own for a bit, until KRS-ONE did what he did best, which was to crush the competition.
To pick apart all of BDP's output would take forever. Each album had high points that further cemented the legacy. KRS-ONE was noticeably affected by the death of his partner in hip-hop crime, DJ Scott LaRock. Instead of finding another producer, he took on almost all the effort himself from that point on, producing almost every song himself and having almost no guest stars. Both characteristics are almost impossible to find in today's era of hip-hop. It was obviously out of respect for LaRock. BDP was basically those two individuals, and when one is gone, replacement is, ninety-nine times out of one hundred, not an option. KRS-ONE had become a solo artist but still lived in the era of BDP, with a ghost by his side.
By All Means Necessary is, to me, the essential BDP record. More controversial cover art, with KRS imitating the infamous photo of Malcolm X looking out a window with an M1 Carbine rifle. The BDP cover, though, replaced the rifle with an Uzi, updating the photo to modern times.
The record had so many amazing songs, it's impossible to address each and every one. KRS-ONE became "The Teacher", and the entire album had so much to say, it's impossible it fit within the confines of fifty minutes. Starting out with "My Philosophy", there was an immediate notice on my part as to how BDP had changed within one album. The song spoke volumes to me...it did as KRS wanted it to: it informed, it taught and it entertained, all over his booming, attention grasping voice. "Stop the Violence" was the track that stuck in my mind to this day. Such an amazing message done with an amazing approach. Shortly after, the "Self-Destruction" track, video and movement truly made the impact necessary. I remember watching the video and being blown away by the amount of artists involved. Public Enemy, Kool Moe Dee, BDP, Doug E Fresh and Heavy D all in the same place? Goddamn. There ended up being an over sized book that accompanied the movement, which I had bought. As with most treasures I had from this era, I have no idea what came of it, where it could be, and why I didn't keep a tighter grasp on it.
"I'm Still #1 and "Necessary" were the other tracks on the record that found heavy rotation for me. Around this time, I had save up enough money for a cheap walkman, so I had been able to take walks and listen to music on the go, which gave me a sense of freedom that was untouchable. I wore out my first copy of By All Means Necessary within a year, hearing the tape snap inside the walkman. It was a long and quiet twenty minute walk home from that point on.
The next few albums all had great moments, the Live Hardcore Worldwide record being one of the best live hip-hop albums I have ever heard, with KRS-ONE simply holding the crowd in the palm of his hand and commanding them.
KRS finally went "solo" in 1993. Point blank, Return of the Boom Bap was a fucking assault. It was so goddamn good, I couldn't believe it. It wasn't that I had written him off, I just didn't expect him to come with an album so brick hard. Crazy, overexposed cover art of him shouting into a microphone on a chair in the studio. Production by DJ Premier, Kid Capri and Showbiz put the record over the top. Every beat, every rhyme was just so.....hard.
"Outta Here" tossed you into the lion's den right away, followed by having your jaw drop after hearing the rhymes thrown out during "Black Cop". KRS-ONE was not holding back on his solo debut, and as a sixteen year old kid hearing this for the first time, it did nothing short of make me want to put on war paint. The defining point of album, the defining song, is one that is still referenced every day....within movies, songs by other artists, in everyday speak on most every street: "Sound of da Police". Holy shit, what a song! KRS coming in acapella with a "Woop! Woop!", and then a few lines later the beat drops. And then? It's all over.....bigger than "Fuck the Police"....bigger than "Pigs"....it was the biggest "Fuck You" to cops....ever. This song is perfect. For the first two weeks after I bought the tape, I didn't even get to the B-side. I just kept rewinding the A-side so that I could hear that "Woop! Woop!" again.
His next album, self titled, had a few weak parts, but the good songs made up for it. DJ Premier was still producing songs the way he always has and always will, which is head and shoulders above his peers. A little bit of keyboard, a little bit of bell ringing, and a hell of a lot of style. "MCs Act Like They Don't Know" was the first single, I think. I remember the video premier on YO!, and immediately wondered when the album would finally come out. Like I said, some of it was hit or miss, but Primo's songs, the track done by Showbiz (Represent the Real Hip-Hop with DAS EFX) and the tracks he produced himself were mostly really good. "Free Mumia" with Channel Live was so dark and intense. Now that I've mentioned Channel Live, I'm going to have to go break out "Station Identification" and go on a diatribe about that one later.
I still feel the need for some BDP once every couple weeks. Not only because the albums involved were so memorable, but it also triggers an age where everything was starting to be exposed for me. As funny as it may sound, I learned a lot of my life lessons from records called Criminal Minded, By All Means Necessary and Sex and Violence.