KRS One is THE personification of Hip Hop. His own words “Rap is something you do, Hip Hop is something you live” adequately sum up the man and his philosophy. Always ready to drop knowledge, he is the self-proclaimed ‘teacha’ – a well-deserved moniker.
In addition to being one of Hip Hop premier and most consistent conscious voices, KRS One also is one of Hip Hop’s best live performers, one of it’s best freestyle- and battle rappers and one of it’s most powerful personalities. If Hip Hop were politics, KRS One would be President.
In his 30-year career, there are many high-lights, both before and after the turn of the millennium. Since we are Hip Hop Golden Age, we will pick 15 of KRS One’s best tracks from before the year 2000; tracks released as a solo artist or as part of Boogie Down Productions.
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15. Poetry (1987)
“Well now you’re forced to listen to the teacher and the lesson / Class is in session so you can stop guessing / If this is a tape or a written down memo / See I am a professional, this is not a demo / In fact call it a lecture, a visual picture / Sort of a poetic and rhythm-like mixture…”
The opening track to the classic Criminal Minded sets the tone for the rest of the album: hard, minimalistic beats and KRS’ intelligent lyricism. Revolutionary and hugely influential, Hip Hop in its purest form.
14. Rappaz R N Dainja (1995)
“Any MC can battle for glory / But to kick a dope rhyme to wake up your people’s another story / Act like you never saw me / Cause when it comes to lyrics, I’m in a different category”
This DJ Premier-produced banger is the perfect opener to KRS One’s underappreciated eponymous titled second solo album. KRS has a message for wack rappers – guess what: they are in danger.
13. Outta Here (1993)
“Do you ever think about when you outta here? / Record deal and video outta here? / Mercedes Benz and Range Rover outta here? / No doubt BDP is old school, but we ain’t goin’ out!”
In this song, which can be seen as a predecessor track to Rappaz R N Dainja, KRS One warns currently hot rappers their (material) successes may not last and that longevity in the game is not a given. Dope track.
12. The Bridge Is Over (1987)
“You see me coming in de dance with the spliff of sensei / Down with the sound called BDP / If you want to join the crew, well you must see me / You can’t sound like Shan or the one Marley…”
Directed at the Juice Crew, and in response to MC Shan’s Kill That Noise, this is the final jab on wax in the Bridge Wars. Brilliantly hard in its simplicity, it is instantly recognizable because of the menacing beat, sharp drum kicks and classic piano melody.
11. Why Is That? (1989)
“Mental pictures, stereotypes and fake history / Reinforces mystery / And when mystery is reinforced / That only means that knowledge has been lost…”
Much like Black Man In Effect from Edutainment, this song is signature KRS One. Thought-provoking, provocative, filled with knowledge and ultimately uplifting – this is one of the highlights of Boogie Down Productions’ third album.
10. Duck Down (1992)
“No I won’t let up, because of how I’m set up / I come in the jam with the crazy fresh lyrics so you get up / MCs get wet up, they met up with atypical / Subliminal, I’m original metaphysical Criminal Minder…”
One of KRS One’s hardest tracks. Over a wicked drum beat, KRS delivers another clear message to sucker emcees about who exactly holds the crown in Hip Hop.
9. I'm Still No. 1 (1988)
“Rap is still an art, and no one’s from the Old School / Cuz rap is still a brand-new tool / I say no one’s from the Old School cuz rap on a whole / Isn’t even twenty years old / Fifty years down the line, you can start this / Cuz we’ll be the Old School artists / And even in that time, I’ll say a rhyme / A brand-new style, ruthless and wild / Runnin’ around spendin’ money, havin’ fun / Cuz even then, I’m still number one!”
One of the stand-out tracks from the overall excellent By All Means Necessary album. As early as 1988 KRS proclaims with confidence he is ‘still’ number one, and will still be fifty years down the line. With three decades in, he certainly is well on his way.
8. Criminal Minded (1987)
“We’re not promoting violence, we’re just having some fun / He’s Scott La Rock, I’m KRS-One”
Just one of the classic tracks of Criminal Minded. Clever lyrics, a banging instrumental – this song, along with the rest of the album, was crucial in the maturing of Hip Hop and was one of the albums (together with Run DMC’s Raising Hell, Eric B & Rakim’s Paid in Full, Public Enemy’s Yo! Bum Rush The Show and LL Cool J’s first two) that started Hip Hop’s Golden Age.
7. You Must Learn (1989)
“I believe that if you’re teaching history / Filled with straight up facts no mystery / Teach the student what needs to be taught / Cause Black and White kids both take shorts / When one doesn’t know about the other ones’ culture / Ignorance swoops down like a vulture…”
In this song KRS addresses the fact that the American educational system has too big a focus on ‘white history’ and he tries to show his listeners the importance of knowing African American history. And if the schools will not show you the whole picture, you have to educate yourself. You must learn.
6. Sound Of Da Police (1993)
“Now here’s a little truth, open up your eyes / While you’re checking out the boom-bap, check the exercise / Take the word “overseer,” like a sample / Repeat it very quickly in a crew, for example / Overseer, overseer, overseer, overseer / Officer, officer, officer, officer / Yeah, officer from overseer / You need a little clarity, check the similarity…”
As relevant today as it was over two decades ago, in this song KRS One addresses police brutality specifically directed at black people, cleverly linking the days of slavery to the way police acts in these modern times. Poignant, powerful and (unfortunately) still relevant.
5. Step Into A World (Rapture's Delight) (1997)
“Yo, I’m strictly about skills and dope lyrical coastin’ / Relying on talent, not marketing and promotion / If a dope lyrical flow is a must / You gots to go with a name you can quickly trust / I’m not sayin I’m number one, uhh I’m sorry, I lied / I’m number one, two, three, four and five / Stop wastin’ your money on marketing schemes / And pretty packages pushin’ dreams to the fiends / A dope MC is a dope MC / With or without a record deal, all can see / And that’s who KRS be son / I’m not the run of mill, cause for the mill I don’t run”
An ultimate party anthem, energizing fans and intimidating and schooling rivals at the same time. Great lyrics, great instrumental – it is the absolute highlight of the somewhat uneven I Got Next album and one of KRS One’s best songs, period.
4. South Bronx (1987)
“Many people tell me this style is terrific / It is kinda different but let’s get specific / KRS-One specialize in music / I’ll only use this type of style when I choose it / Party people in the place to be, KRS-One attack / You got dropped off MCA cause the rhymes you wrote was wack / So you think that Hip Hop had its start out in Queensbridge / If you pop that junk up in the Bronx you might not live…”
In response to MC Shan’s The Bridge, South Bronx came HARD. It left no room for doubt about where Hip Hop originated nor who reigned supreme. An all-time classic Hip Hop anthem.
3. Love's Gonna Getcha (Material Love) (1990)
“My family’s happy everything is new / Now tell me what the fuck am I supposed to do?”
The perfect example of storytelling and conveying a message through music. KRS One’s articulation and tone of voice ensure you can understand every word he says. The brilliant video that goes with it makes this thought-provoking song even stronger.
2. MCs Act Like They Don't Know (1995)
“Flow with the master rhymer, as I leave behind / The video rapper, you know, the chart climber / Clapper, down goes another rapper / Onto another matter, punch up the data, Blastmaster / Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everybody / Call up KRS, I’m guaranteed to rip a party…”
The perfect symbiosis of the KRS One – DJ Premier collaboration. Over Premo’s masterpiece instrumental, KRS once again lets other rappers know what’s the deal. The lesson to be learned here: you’re not a real emcee if you can not rock a crowd. No one more suited to make that claim than one of the best live performers Hip Hop has ever seen.
1. My Philosophy (1988)
“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”
This track was so far ahead of its time, Hip Hop still hasn’t caught up yet. Filled with Hip Hop Quotables, this song addresses the commercialization of Hip Hop and the rise of wack and fake rappers. Almost 30 years old and more relevant today than ever.
Prophetic and brilliant, My Philosophy will always be considered one of Hip Hop’s biggest songs EVER.