30 Years Ago KRS-One Carried BDP’s Torch By All Means Necessary
In the late 1980s, Boogie Down Productions was one of Hip-Hop’s most exciting new groups. KRS-One and DJ Scott La Rock carved their lane with early 1987’s Criminal Minded. The B-Boy Records LP was combative to Mr. Magic and Marley Marl’s Juice Crew (especially MC Shan) and planted a flag on Bronx soil as Hip-Hop’s birthplace. The album also contained some early Gangsta Rap (“9mm Goes Bang”) and flaunted Scott La Rock’s ladies’ man status (“Super Hoe”).
B.D.P.’s plans changed drastically on August 27, 1987. Less than six months after Criminal Minded release, Scott Sterling was fatally shot in the Bronx. Like Eric B. & Rakim, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, or Kool G. Rap & DJ Polo, Boogie Down Productions was introduced as a two-man operation. KRS-One MC’d, Scott DJ’d, and both artists produced (alongside Ultramagnetic MC’s Ced Gee).
After the loss of Scott La Rock, perceived as the group’s mentor and spiritual leader, the responsibilities were on Kris’ shoulders. To make matters worse, B.D.P. had fallen out with B-Boy Records over royalty disputes. Warner Bros. Records’ Benny Medina (with help from Ice-T) courted the group. B.D.P. ended up rolling with Jive Records, a hometown label that built a roster of respected Rap talent (Whodini, Kool Moe Dee, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, etc.). The label embraced Gangsta Rap, as they’d soon recruit another proven indie success in Too Short, and they believed in substance.
According to D-Nice, Boogie Down Productions’ sophomore album, By All Means Necessary was released 30 years ago today (April 12, 1988). KRS-One took a powerful brand in Hip-Hop and shifted it more into the social and political realm during a benchmark year for the culture and genre. The MC/producer did not shed the rugged image though. Cleverly, the LP’s iconic artwork recreated a famed Malcolm X portrait, with KRS holding an uzi and looking out of a curtain to the streets. He was an icon on the defense, but unafraid. Kris positioned himself as “B.D.P,” while keeping the family of D-Nice, Ms. Melodie, Robocop, Just-Ice, and others nearby. It would be five more years until he branded himself as a soloist.
The 10-track album remains armed with rich rhymes.”My Philosophy” served as a sequel to the previous year’s “Poetry.” It also set the LP off with a balance of cerebral thought and scratching.
“Let us begin, what, where, why or when / Will all be explained like instructions to a game / See I’m not insane, in fact I’m kind of rational / When I be asking you, ‘Who is more dramatical?’ / This one or that one, the white one or the black one / Pick the punk, and I’ll jump up to attack one / KRS-One is just the guy to lead a crew / Right up to your face and diss you,” steamrolled the over-enunciating MC. He later explained B.D.P.’s place in the Rap space: “I’ll play the nine and you play the target / You all know my name so I guess I’ll just start it / Or should I say start this, teaching I’m the artist / Styles and new concepts at their hardest / Yo, ’cause I’m a teacher and Scott is a scholar / It ain’t about money ’cause we all make dollars / That’s why I walk with my head up / When I hear wack rhymes I get fed up / Rap is like a set-up, a lot of games / A lot of suckers with colorful names / ‘I’m so-and-so, I’m this, I’m that’ / Huh, but they all just wick-wick-wack / I’m not white or red or black, I’m brown / From the Boogie Down Productions, of course our music be thumping / Others say they’re bad, but they’re bugging / Let me tell you something now about Hip Hop / About D-Nice, Melodie, and Scott La Rock / I’ll get a pen, a pencil, a marker / Mainly what I write is for the average New Yorker.”
The song was a balance of confidence, a challenge to do better, and a state of the union address at a pivotal time in Hip-Hop. Despite toting guns on the cover and in the lyrics, Kris urged the masses to “Stop The Violence” (a campaign that he would build in coming years). He called for combating the AIDS epidemic through safe sex and spotlit the drug-trade as something bigger than street-corner sales. “The Teacha,” as his moniker stated, was leading the class.
“I’m Still #1” showed that while “the Bridge Wars” had seemingly quieted down, that Kris was still taking shots at peers. In a song that shouted out a litany of B.D.P.’s possé affiliates, KRS-One expressed that he was doing something different: “What do you think makes up a KRS? / Concise-ive teaching, or very clear speaking? / Ridiculous bass, aggravating treble / Rebel, renegade, must stay paid / Not by financial aid, but a raid of hits / Causing me to take long trips / I’m the original teacher of this type of style / Rockin’ off-beat with a smile / Or smirk or chuckle, yes some are not up to / B.D.P. Possé so I love to / Step in the jam and slam! / I’m not Superman, because anybody can / Or should be able to rock off turntables / Grab the mic, plug it in and begin.” With the boom-bap beat, Kris fragmented his bars and went what he called off-beat. Even with the breaks in the delivery, fans hung on every word. They also caught it when he sent shots to the MCs who influenced him. “You know what you need to learn? / Old School artists don’t always burn / You’re just another rapper who’s had his turn / Now it’s my turn, and I am concerned / About idiots posing as kings / What are we here to rule?” The song was perceived as a jab to Grandmaster Melle Mel (of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five fame) after the fellow Bronx bomber stage-rushed B.D.P. at the Latin Quarter club.
The album was a keystone in 1988’s Rap album bloom. It broke the Top 100 on the charts. It is the first Boogie Down Productions album to be gold-certified by the RIAA. The moment also proved that KRS-One was a gifted MC and producer, capable of seeing through a vision that began with his fallen partner. Thirty years later, this philosopher still thinks very deeply, and fires off his rhymes like ammunition.