Many of us have heard the song, but for some of the younger fans out here I thought I could shed some light on just why this song is still held in such high regard over 30 years later. KRS-One is one of my favorite emcees of all time, and I love diving a little deeper into the history and impact of his work.
In 1987, DJ Scott La Rock and KRS-One as Boogie Down Productions debuted with their first album Criminal Minded. The album’s second track, South Bronx, sparked one of the most notorious (and one of my favorite) beefs in Hip Hop history.
It all started earlier that same year when MC Shan released a song titled “The Bridge,” all about the birth of Hip Hop in Queens, NY, and some of the earlier crews in the area who pioneered the genre. While MC Shan didn’t exactly come right out and make any direct claims, KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions took it upon themselves to let the Queensbridge native know the actual birthplace of Hip Hop, New York’s South Bronx.
The first verse of South Bronx became one of the most famous disses in Hip Hop and ignited an event known today as The Bridge Wars.
KRS-One’s first verse:
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
Cause you’re in
The South Bronx, The South South Bronx
KRS-One throws the first jab by attacking MC Shan’s lyricism and then disputes his claim of Hip Hop’s origin in Queens. It is also important to note that while this is a direct diss to MC Shan, KRS-One is actually paying homage to the rapper to a degree when he opens saying “Many people tell me this style is terrific, it is kinda different but let’s get specific”. This style he is referring to is, in fact, MC Shan’s and KRS-One praises its originality as well as the fact that he is currently mimicking it. In an interview with Genius where KRS-One breaks down these lyrics for the song he explains that “It was his style that I was doing and many people don’t know that… it’s a parody of MC Shan’s style.”
In the second verse, KRS-One goes on to mention Hip Hop pioneers from the Bronx such as Afrika Islam, Grandmaster Flash, and most notably DJ Kool Herc who is now widely accepted as the original creator of Hip Hop.
In the lines “As odd as it looked, as wild as it seems. I didn’t hear a peep from a place called Queens. It was seventy-six to 1980”, KRS-One gets into the meat of his argument. KRS-One cites this period between 1976 and 1980 because prior to 1979’s Rapper’s Delight, Hip Hop was not nearly as well known on the national and even the global scale. It was one of the first commercially sold and distributed songs that featured rapping, as we know it today. Grandmaster Caz, who famously wrote the majority of the lyrics on Rapper’s Delight was from, you guessed it, the Bronx.In the lines “As odd as it looked, as wild as it seems. I didn’t hear a peep from a place called Queens. It was seventy-six to 1980”, KRS-One gets into the meat of his argument. KRS-One cites this period between 1976 and 1980 because prior to 1979’s Rapper’s Delight, Hip Hop was not nearly as well known on the national and event the global scale. It was one of the first commercially sold and distributed songs that featured rapping, as we know it today. Grandmaster Caz, who famously wrote the majority of the lyrics on Rapper’s Delight was from, you guessed it, the Bronx.
So here a big part of KRS-One’s accusation towards MC Shan is that he isn’t aware of the true origins outside of the borough Shan called home and just jumped into Hip Hop once it had already reached some level of mainstream notoriety.
After South Bronx, the Bridge Wars ignited and more shots were traded back and forth on songs like Kill That Noise (MC Shan) and The Bridge is Over (Boogie Down Productions). Eventually others artists including Juice Crew, Roxanne Shante, Cool C, Butchy B as well as Noel and Poet all became part of the feud.
Eventually, KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions became wildly accepted as the winners of the ongoing exchange with the release of Blackman in Effect. A few diss tracks still followed from MC Shan as well as Blaq Poet (Formerly Poet from Noel and Poet), but they went largely unnoticed, as KRS-One had cemented himself the victor. The supposed end of the beef was when MC Shan and KRS-One teamed up to do a Sprite commercial featuring both of the emcees in a boxing ring battling it out. The commercial ended with KRS-One getting the last word and appearing the victor, now on a more public stage.
While the beef has now been over for quite some time just this year, MC Shan appeared on the Murder Master Music Show and claimed a winner could not be declared because KRS-One never battled him on stage. In response, KRS-One dropped yet another diss track called Still Huggin’ A Nut (S.H.A.N.).
It seems that short of an actual showdown between the two New York’s Bridge War will never truly end. Either way, the series of events pushed two emcees to the absolute pinnacle of their ability to outdo one another and provided Hip Hop with some of its most timeless and classic records.
- Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by: Jeff Chang