Boogie Down Productions | KRS One
music with a message from KRS-One
THE EASY LISTENING SOUND OF BOOGIE DOWN PRODUCTIONS IS BACK ON THE AIRWAVES. MICHAEL LEONARD MEETS KRS ONE TO DISCUSS HIS PHILOSOPHY.
THREE DAYS OF constant interviews is no joke. After three whole days spent explaining his philosophy, music, tour and new album to gaggles of eager journalists, I expect Kris Parker to be tired, bored and perhaps a little uncooperative. I should have known better. As the PHAZE 1 tape recorder enters for an audience with Kris (aka KRS One), he's as eloquent as his lyrics and as forceful as his music.
Since Boogie Down Productions' Criminal Minded album debut in 1987, KRS One has been one of the central figures in rap - a position he has affirmed with the release of BDP's excellent third album, Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop. Mixing his lyrical intelligence with BDP's eclectic musical compound, the album will surprise those who feel Hip Hop is one dimensional and delight those who follow the work of one of the most outspoken artists around.
Writing poetry from an early age, the young Kris Parker realised rap was what he wanted to do as soon as it first arrived on his street corner. But music isn't just something he adopted as a career move - it's part of his culture.
"I didn't see rap as a 'ticket' or an 'oasis in the desert'", he explains. "It was a way of life. Even if I didn't make money at it, I'd be a rap artist, speaking poetry. The only tangible things in my life at the time were poetry and metaphysics. I always knew that the rest of the world would catch onto me. I'll just keep going and going 'til the world figures out what time it is.
"I had no heroes. The early Kris Parker was by himself, independent, strong. To me, reality wasn't being met by anyone, therefore I had no real heroes. My biggest hero was the creator, which drove me to study all bibles - across the board."
BDP records still reflect this attitude, and the religious theme is one which remains. BDP's records are made to move your mind before they move your feet.
"Every album, I become me more - the audience sees a little more of me each time. Normally, you crystallise the artist when you see more of him or her, but once you've crystallised the whole artist, the thing becomes dead. In my concept, it's the opposite. The more people see of me, the more I get a chance to expand. It becomes unlimited. This is only possible because I don't limit myself to one particular style of music, of lyrics, of production, of anything. Only an artist like KRS One could have done a 'Stop The Violence' movement in a hard-core sense. I don't think any other artist could have done that without being called a sissy or soft. Every time you buy a BDP album there's something new in it - a die-hard BDP fan will not buy my music to dance to. My music is made only for the head. Uh-huh, uh-huh" he nods rhythmically. "That's it! To get into BDP is to get into that easy-listening sound. It's not 'Yeah! Yo! Yeah, this is hype!'. I can branch into that if I want to, but I can branch into anything. An artist who does this all the time" (he dances in his chair, grinning), "can't do this" (he nods again). "He'll lose his audience!"
To anyone who knows BDP's music, this is no idle boast. On Ghetto Music, the band tackle each musical style with equal ease. It's an integral part of the KRS One philosophy to keep the audience guessing.
"The hero only remains the hero until someone proves him wrong and you don't just want to be a hero in one place. An audience is the most unfaithful group of people in the world. That's why I don't overestimate myself - as big a following as BDP has, it's not my audience, it's the audience. I don't like to run, but you gotta keep running. "There's a saying by an old Egyptian philosopher - 'there are a million stars in the sky, but when the sun comes out, none of them can be seen'. None! That's how I see myself. I come out and flash the newest style that none of the others could fix their mouths to do. The audience know it, 'Oh Kris man, he's done it again!'"
One style that BDP have deliberately incorporated into their sound is reggae. On Ghetto Music 'The Style You Haven't Done Yet', 'Jah Rules' and 'Bo! Bo! Bo!' are heady brews of rap and reggae. "Reggae is something the American people, black or white, can relate to, because it's culture music. It's bass and lows, which are the sound of the body. Highs are sounds of the mind. You listen to highs and it's 'weeeeeh' - your mind hears. You listen to lows and your body hums. Reggae is how to move the body scientifically through sound. That's why I insist on massive amounts of bass when I go to see a concert. Reggae is a deliberate influence for the sake of teaching."
Evidence of BDP's running, while the rest walk, was the Stop The Violence movement - a project people least expected KRS One to be involved in, considering his aggressive stance. The record was made all the more poignant when the co-writer and KRS One's DJ, Scott La Rock, was shot dead in New York.
"We shattered the concept of what peace is" affirms Kris. "We made it strong and intelligent, not waiting to be acknowledged. I feel the STV movement showed the rest of the industry that Hip Hop is not about 'Yo man!', gold chains and all that."
So does he feel that the industry would like Hip Hop to be painted as such - a violent, dangerous style of music. A case of don't believe the hype?
"I think record companies want that, or used to. They just want whatever's selling. I dropped that record and it was a unanimous hit, and then the spotlight was on me, the spotlight was on Jive. And the people in this industry chase each other like vultures. When one finds a good piece of meat, they all flock down. But Jive have grasped the concept of letting the artist be an artist, that's it! They just say 'here's a budget, go and do what you do best'. And especially for me, having a production company, nothing can be rejected!" he laughs. "We're in there! Oh man, I gotta check with the producer before each record? I look in the mirror! Ha ha! Real simple."
This sort of set-up is obviously a world away from the situation the average musician finds himself in, but it is sure evidence of KRS One's no-compromise attitude.
"The slogan for my company is, 'We only put out hits'. We have no time for wack records. And the industry looks at me as if I'm crazy. But my track record continues to show. We only put out hits, period. If you tell people that, it goes into their subconscious, and they believe it. If I say, 'well, I don't know. I'm going to try real hard to do something hype on this next album', they're only going to try to like your album. If I say, 'Yo! We only produce hits, we got no time for slackness! None!' they all go 'Yo Kris! That album is dope!' Ha ha! You must remember, when you start compromising with yourself, people will start to compromise with you. You gotta stand your ground. That's the strength of life, that's how things change. You can't compromise. Come up with a slogan you can tell yourself and others everyday."
Given this positive attitude towards his music, talk turns to the new album. Does he regard it as his best?
"No. The seventh album is the best! This is just one leaf on the tree. When Criminal Minded came out, that was the best. When By All Means Necessary came out, that was the best. Ghetto Music is the best now, it's fresh for '89, but we're already looking at '90."
So he never regards his work as perfect, or the best that he is capable of. But does he sometimes feel like going back into the studio and trying to make it better?
"I feel that as a human being. But I don't get caught up in it on a work level. People don't realise that sound is not perfect. I like to capture the moment. Some of my music wobbles, some of it is straight. On 'World Peace' we let the perfection of our production roll, you know! 'Breath Control', we just sat there and bugged out for an hour and put it to tape! That was the end of it. Perfect music is imperfect. People who run into the studio to make perfect music already started out wrong. They put their shirt on backwards before they even went into the studio!"
KRS One does not have much time for the industry around him, especially some of his fellow artists. The title track, 'Ghetto Music', lays down the BDP line.
"That's my philosophy" he affirms. "That's these platinum-starved artists chasing that platinum, chasing that grammy. They're like crack heads. They don't see it the same, but they're just grammy heads. They're doing music for the sake of getting this thing, and once they've got it, the thrill has gone. 'Ghetto Music' is summed up by the line, 'Every time you front the respect, you lose it. I rock ghetto music'. It's a direct statement to all those artists who say to themselves 'I don't care about sounding street, about the rap audience. I want to cross over into rock' or whatever. Nothing wrong with it, but every artist has to have a root. If you have no root, and you're planted in the dirt, you're just a pole, which is lifeless. Most music is 'pole' music. Only rap, reggae and metal have retained their roots, and you feel that."
With KRS One an acronym of Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone, it's no surprise that education is another recurring BDP theme. The single 'Why Is That?', with it's tenacious questioning of the place of the black man in history, is one side of the coin. Is 'You Must Learn' the other?
"That's the K in KRS One" he nods. "I do records in highs and lows - everything can be understood in terms of highs and lows. 'You Must Learn' is the high of 'Why Is That?' 'Why Is That?' is the shock. 'You Must Learn' is like 'Yeah Kris, we knew that'. If you can't stomach one, you can stomach the other."
One thing that Kris Parker has learnt is that in the music industry you have to be in control of your own career. As a producer who's in constant demand, he often has to deal with people with whom he doesn't see eye to eye.
"This industry's got more hilarious as time's gone on. Like you say in England, these people are jokers!" he mocks. "You can deal with the heads of record companies with child psychology. If you pout long enough, you'll get what you want. It makes me laugh that I can live the lie and then step out, you know? Let them eat from their heart and not yours. You must talk about the favour you're doing them at all times. If it's the other way round, you'll get jerked."
With BDP a major success, all this might seem far removed from the world of the aspiring musician. It doesn't have to be. Absorb the attitude. The blueprint is here.
Interview by Michael Leonard
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