Boogie Down Productions are one of the most influential pro-black political-driven Hip Hop groups, assembled in the late ‘80s. Not to be confused with any other crews making phat beats and dope rhymes to pack dance floors, BDP spread hardcore politics and black urban consciousness and were pioneers at using Hip Hop as a vehicle to amplify their expressive views on the world. The group’s early work saw them as the first to incorporate Jamaican raga and dancehall into their work as their individual style. BDP devoted itself to delivering impetuous and realistic narratives of black urban or ghetto life this made the group a street-level sensation. Led by the ingenious and incendiary MC KRS-One, this revolutionary ensemble sought to redevelop the Hip Hop genre into a medium of social commentary in which unheard ghetto residents could report on the injustices and neglect of their surroundings. KRS-One is a visionary and displayed the knack of chronicling his culture and showing himself to be the Hip Hop community’s Malcolm X. He concentrated on using social and political teachings to form the basis for the subject of BDP’s music giving him the nickname of ‘The Teacher.’ Musically, BDP usually employed very basic and minimal backdrops that served only to accentuate KRS-One’s seemingly arrogant and bold delivery. Eventually BDP mentored the future leaders of gangsta rap and the positive Afrocentric Native Tongues movement. This is a legacy no other rapper or rap act can claim.
Lawrence ‘Krisna’ Parker aka KRS-One was born in Brooklyn and raised in a broken family with an abusive stepfather, escaping the tumultuous environment at 16 he lived on the streets of New York between parks and shelters. After falling into bad company with the Casanovas street gang he landed in prison at 19 for dealing marijuana. Upon release a year later he was assigned a social worker, Scott Sterling, (Scott La Rock) a local club DJ and the pair joined other MCs to call themselves ‘Scott La Rock and the Celebrity Three.
They had short success with the single ‘Advance’ in ’84 the group disbanded leaving KRS and Scott to stick together in a duo they called 12:41. They recorded ‘Success is the Word’ which was found circulating on radio Hip Hop show on WBLS hosted by Mr. Magic and Marley Marl. When a demo tape was passed over to Magic, he passed on the offer of signing the pair to his Cold Chillin’ record label. This motivated KRS to write the groundbreaking classic cult anthem ‘South Bronx’. With a strong underground following, they were signed to B-Boy Records. BDP were first signed with a small indie label B-Boy Records (which was rumoured to be a front for a pornography operation.) and released thir first single in 1986 ‘Crack Attack’ followed with their debut LP ‘Criminal Minded’ had both KRS and La Rock on the front cover holding pistols and strapped with bullets and knives. With the obvious imagery of two mindless thugs they instead intended to portray the mind of a criminal, someone who thinks violently but acts righteously in order to survive in White America. This sent a very powerful message before even listening to the first track. This earned them a radical cult category on the underground circuit when it was released in 1987 and today is celebrated as an early classic of Hip Hop as a revolution and visionary political vehicle in hardcore rap. KRS-One’s detailed portrayal of the drugs, violence, survival and gang mentality surrounding the ghetto life was seen as unsympathetic and bleak with realism. The group had not yet focused on a unified moral but the spasmodic vocals of a rebellious and intelligent young urban wordsmith gave KRS-One the respect he demanded through his messages and the audience connected immediately with his motivation. DJ Scott La-Rock’s production for the group interpolated both pop and rock samples with Jamaican ragga as shown on the groundbreaking track ‘9mm Goes Bang’ fusing Hip Hop with reggae. The hype created on the streets attracted the interest of RCA subsidiary Jive Records which promptly signed the recording duo to a contract. Unfortunately not long after, DJ Scott La Rock was shot dead trying to break up an argument at a party in the Bronx.
On August 25, 1987 Scott Sterling was parked in his jeep outside a South Bronx housing project while trying to make peace between BDP member Derrick Jones (D-Nice) and a girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend he was shot in the head and neck and died instantly. KRS-One preferred to remember his partner alive and couldn’t pay his respects at hospital. Eight days later at Def Jam ’87 in Madison Square Gardens, KRS-One stood on stage next to a crinkled poster of fallen La Rock and performed the ode track ‘Poetry’ with absolute compassion and solace that swept the crowds emotion with the lyrics:
“You seem to be the type that only understands/the annihilation and destruction of the next man/That’s not poetry, that’s insanity/It’s simply fantasy, far from reality.”
Shattered by the loss of his best friend, KRS-One collected himself and decided to continue the Boogie Down Productions campaign as a tribute to La Rock’s memory. Also KRS employed the services of his younger brother Kenny Parker as a regular DJ, and brought side members like D-Nice and Ms. Melodie who was KRS’s wife for a time)to the front. Convincing Jive to stick with his new crew, KRS-One completed the group’s follow-up landmark album ‘By All Means Necessary’ in 1988. This was the first Hip Hop album devoted primarily to social politics incessantly exposing American hypocrisy, government-sanctioned poverty, legalized abuse of alcohol and tobacco. The album contained strong overtones of militant messages in tracks ‘My Philosophy’ and ‘Stop the Violence’ in which he rhymed about ending gun play in Hip Hop. Inspired by the biography of Malcolm X, the album’s cover depicts KRS-One posing with an Uzi staring out of the front window as if under siege mirroring the famous photo by Don Charles of Malcolm X in that particular situation.
The same year, during a BDP/Public Enemy concert, a young fan fell victim to ignorant violence and was consequently killed in a fight. KRS-One felt compelled by the situation and founded the Stop the Violence Movement. He organized the all-star charity single ‘Self-Destruction,’ which raised half a million dollars for the National Urban League in 1989.
Later in ’89 the group expanded their identity to include several more members, Scottie Morris and Ms. Melodie’s sister Harmony to participate on their third album ‘Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop’ an even more politically motivated vehicle for KRS-One. Subjects of black-on-black crime, education, spirituality and police brutality were covered on a very antiquated production with thinned out drum samples with an unhealthy pop injection. The priority of teaching lessons left the substance of an entertaining song forgotten about and his established audience graduating to newer, fresh acts. This allowed the mainstream media to sit up and recognize KRS-One’s philosophy.
The New York Times invited him to write editorials and was invited to address colleges across America in various subject lectures. At the turn of the 90’s rap America was turning toward the pandemic of negative gangsta rap, leaving the ideological preaching of KRS-One falling on deaf ears. BDP’s 1990 ‘Edutainment’ album was heavily criticised as being over the top lecturing and repetitive lessons despite the hit single ‘Love’s Gonna Get’cha (Material Love)’ KRS-One further alienated his fan base when he had a public altercation in 1992 with the hippie pop-rappers P.M. Dawn after they taunted KRS as “a teacher of what?” during a magazine interview. KRS and some of the BDP members stormed a P.M. Dawn performance in a New York concert physically throwing frontman Prince Be off the stage and launching into their own performance. KRS had opposed the pop crossover the rap community was falling under, although P.M. Dawn had never professed to be a part of that community, and as the founder of the Stop the Violence Movement, KRS-One had received negative reaction from this stunt and later apologized publicly. Despite the disparaging moments for KRS, he kept the BDP movement swinging, and they recorded a ’91 live album (one of the first live Hip Hop album released) a move to re-release the original material from Criminal Minded held by B-Boy Records.
That same year KRS appeared on pop group R.E.M.’s ‘Radio Song’ and recorded the album ‘Civilization vs Technology’ with an educational side project ‘H.E.A.L.’ In ’92, Answering to the fans, Boogie Down returned to the format they were made famous by with more thumping beats with ‘Sex and Violence,’ critics claimed this had a splash of BDP youth but fans failed to support it financially. After this KRS decided to retire Boogie Down Productions, a failed marriage to fellow member Ms. Melodie and further disassociation with brother Kenny Parker KRS-One had opened a new chapter to his life by embarking on a solo career. His debut, ‘Return of the Boom Bap,’ was released in 1993. Since then, he’s released several more solo albums, and maintained an active presence in the media and on the lecture circuit.
To this day, KRS-One and the Boogie Down Productions remain one of Hip Hop’s most politically conscious hardcore realities groups. They made it cool to flaunt your afrocentric knowledge and righteous patriotic ethnicity. An innovative and revolutionary genre, KRS-One presented his commentary on black America to birth new comprehension to anyone outside of the concrete jungles kept quiet until the amplifier of Hip Hop’s most feared rap group, the Criminal Minded Boogie Down Productions who spoke By Any Means Necessary.