(Republished from DefineARevolution.com, By @CherchezLaPorsh)
Tracklist Boogie Down Productions – Criminal Minded
- South Bronx
- 9MM Goes Bang
- Word From Our Sponsor
- Dope Beat
- Remix For P Is Free
- The Bridge Is Over
- Criminal Minded
- Scott La Rock Mega Mix
It’s not often I’m given the opportunity to talk about KRS-One. Although I’ve managed to highlight or at least mention him when DAR has covered various years in Hip Hop, imagine my shock and excitement when I knew I would be covering the debut album from Boogie Down Productions, “Criminal Minded”. Now this album is epic in every possible sense of the term and if the Bronx wasn’t going to be important enough to the genre before, this album solidified that.
1987 was a vital year for Hip Hop, it was the same year Eric B. and Rakim would release “Paid in Full“, Public Enemy released “Yo! Bum Rush The Show“, and Ice-T released “Rhyme Pays“, which were all debut albums and each introduced a new element Hip Hop had never seen before.
From scratching, sampling and most importantly, lyrical content that challenged mainstream thoughts and were controversial. However, the year was more than just releases. The first known (and documented) “rap beef” would take place, and for those who aren’t familiar with the story let me brief you…
1986, New York City. Two crews and one song. As any fan of Hip Hop knows the culture and the music originated in the Bronx. MC Shan, who was part of the Juice Crew (from Queens) released a track called “The Bridge” which was released in ’86, but also included on his debut album in 1987. The lyrics alluded to him claiming that Hip Hop originated in the Queensbridge housing projects in Queens. Boogie Down Productions and specifically KRS-One took this very personally and released two significant tracks on “Criminal Minded” (that I’ll get to in a second), which were essentially “clap back tracks”, and this resulted in many other MC’s at the time all addressing this feud. What came of it? KRS single-handedly, with one song, ended the career of Shan. This was ultimately what gave birth to the concept of “diss tracks” and showed how profound of an impact they could have on the careers of other artists and was an example to many future artists.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at the short but incredibly notable album that deserves an infinite amount of credit for being a pioneer in the emergence of gangster rap, combining rock samples (which no other artist had really done) as well as earning KRS his moniker of “The Teacher”.
The album starts off with the track “Poetry” and much like the other rap albums released this year, this one is also scratch heavy (reflective of the decade) and entirely produced by BDP themselves, specifically DJ Scott La Rock. They incorporate a James Brown instrumental, which just coming off the disco era, it is very fitting and so complimentary to the B-Boy feel. As for lyrics, KRS wastes no time, from the very first line:
“Well now you’re forced to listen to the teacher and the lesson/
Class is in session”
With this, listeners already know this album is about to drop an astronomical amount of knowledge as it progresses. This song serves as the groundwork and true introduction to what Boogie Down Productions is all about. It’s fun, it’s energetic and hypes the audience perfectly. So far…great start.
I think the first thing fans will understand (and quickly) is that these guys waste no time. KRS, DJ Scott La Rock and Ced-Gee get right to the point. The second track is the highly acclaimed “South Bronx”, which was actually released in 1986 but included on their debut as well. This would serve as the first of two songs aimed at Marley Marl’s Juice Crew. Very true to their “no bullshit” approach, they kept elements of this song very simple…the hook consists of 3 words repeated over and over (The South Bronx) and it’s nothing complex there. The production is in the same vein with the beat-boxing additions of D-Nice. They use only two James Brown samples accompanied by a ton of scratching so it lets the lyrics do all the “talking”. What I love most about this is the confident and battle rap style approach they take. Here’s what I’m talking about, as Scott La Rock provides the intro:
“Yo man we chilling, just funky fresh jam
I want to tell you a little something about us..
We’re the Boogie Down Productions crew
And due to the fact that no one else out there knew what time it was
We have to tell you a little story about where we we come from”
And then KRS takes it from there, as he lays it all down for Shan and spares no punches. He’s straightforward and simply tells it how it is…no sneak disses, no nothing. Take a look at this in a spoken word style rap:
“I’ll only use this type of style when I choose it
Party people in the place to be, KRS-One attack
Ya 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”
Then KRS hits us with the history of Hip Hop by referencing and name dropping the pioneers. Take a look:
“Remember Bronx River, rolling thick
With Kool, DJ Red Alert, and Chuck Chillout on the mix
When Afrika Islam was rocking the jams
And on the other side of town was a kid named Flash
Patterson and Millbrook projects”
It continues, and he drops dates, streets, other boroughs…everything needed to legitimize his initial claims. For those who’ve seen “The Get Down” on Netflix, it’s this track that is referred to for details found in the series. If you aren’t convinced by now that KRS is a man of his word and a lyrical genius, it’s all good we’ve got another seven tracks to go.
The third track “9mm Goes Bang” is an important one for two reasons. Boogie Down Productions and specifically this album is credited for combining elements of gangster lifestyle into rhymes AND for using other genres of music in a decade where disco beats, scratching and soulful instrumentals were common. Inspired by Super Cat from Kingston, Jamaica, KRS gives us a very entertaining hook laced with poetry devices:
“Wa da da dang
Wa da da da dang (Ay!)
Listen to my 9 millimeter go bang!
Wa da da dang
Wa da da da dang (Ay!)”
It’s definitely fun and with the slower tempo and smooth “island-life” feeling this song has, it diverts our attention from the story, equipped with vivid imagery and violence delivered in true reggae style. Here, take a look:
“Me knew a crack dealer by the name of Peter
Had to buck him down with my 9 millimeter
He said I had his girl, I said “Now what are you? Stupid?”
But he tried to play me out and KRS-One knew it”
As much as I love the way this song flows, it’s the third verse that’s my favorite. KRS is telling Scott the story of what has just happened. The way the track is set up gives us the dopest ending…
”Scott just laughed, he said “I know they’re all dead/ And just before you pulled the trigger this is what you said…”
That part feeds back into the hook. Very well delivered and incredibly entertaining. He conveys the elements of gangster rap without one curse word. I love that!!
“A Word From Our Sponsor” follows and is the one track that makes me laugh every time I hear it. I absolutely love the way it starts…like the TV interruptions in the ’80’s where they would inform you of an emergency. It’s exactly the same only HILARIOUS. Look what they say: “This is a test of the Boogie Down Production Prevention Against Sucka MC’s….In the event of a real emergency, You would have been instructed on which jams to play…” and then KRS beings rapping. The purpose of this song to me, much like every album of the eighties, is this serves to reiterate the crew, the brilliant DJ on the turntable and a whole lot of flexing. Personally, I love it and I love the way they delivered it. Super clever and incredibly entertaining.
We’re already at the midway point when we get to “Elementary” and I won’t spend too much time on this one, but much like all of KRS’ lyrics, this one is amazing. We had heard a glimpse of gangster rap a couple tracks before and we see a couple more here, but this time he cleverly intertwines it with knowledge and intellect. He manages a perfect balance between the two while making sure listeners understand that he truly is a “teacher” of the craft.
Next up, we have “Dope Beat”, which is another critical track on this album and this is because they sample AC/DC’s “Back to Black” and we hear it immediately. It’s got an entirely different feel and BDP was definitely one of the first to do it. Again, this meshing of different genres was just being introduced, so this was edgy and an incredibly new sound for the time. Anyone who is familiar with the 80‘s knows how popular AC/DC was. They were everywhere and pioneers in the heavy metal/rock genre, so it’s very fitting that they would specifically be used. This is also the first time on the album we hear KRS’ arrogance that he would become so well known for in later years. In fact, he says it in the opening line: “My name is at the top of all those that mix…” and continues with lines like “others claim to be fresh, but they’re not KRS”. I also appreciate so much that he gives Scott La Rock some shine on this track too because it’s deserving. The production here is truly incredible and such a highlight. This song is proof that when done correctly, any sample from any genre can compliment rap.
This is followed by “Remix For P Is Free” which I won’t spend too much time on, but yet again Boogie Down Productions manages to touch on the crack epidemic that was taking over the Bronx at the time. Many of the other album releases either outwardly or subtly mentioned it as well, but BDP’s approach is a story of a crack whore who essentially uses KRS for a ride to the “crack spot” and hopes he’ll buy her a hit. Once again, reflective of the era and very consistent with the teaching theme he’s going for, this serves as another lesson from the streets.
As we approach the end of the album, we have (what I strongly believe is) the very first successful diss track in the history of Hip Hop. Boogie Down Productions is to thank for “The Bridge Is Over”. I can never give this track enough credit because it deserves endless amounts. As I mentioned early on, the BDP vs. Juice Crew beef was the first recorded one in the history of Hip Hop. That’s huge and immediately places an immense weight on this track and the album. We would see so many beefs in later years, from the Pac & BIG coastal war to the Nas and Jay feud and everyone after, this became the blueprint on how to handle industry controversy. Then the title! Taken directly from MC Shan’s own song, KRS made sure everyone knew exactly what this was addressing and OF COURSE… the lyrics. Delivered with some more reggae infusion, KRS absolutely kills it. I wish I could include the entire song but I’ll just show examples of the most sting-worthy parts:
“Ya can’t sound like Shan or the one Marley
Because Shan and Marley Marl dem-a-rhymin’ like they gay
Pickin’ up the mic, mon, dem don’t know what to say
Sayin’ hip-hop started out in Queensbridge
Sayin’ lies like that”
“They wish to battle BDP, but they cannot
They must be on the d*** of who? DJ Scott LaRock”
“Pick any d*** for the flavor that you savor
Mr. Magic might wish to come and try to save ya”
And it just goes on and on! KRS names everyone in the Juice crew and has some very offensive things to say. Like I said, they didn’t waste time and they spared no one, females included. I think what’s significant here is the boldness (gay was not a common insult at all I think and this track is ridden with homosexual connotation), the incredible “don’t give a f***” attitude, as well as it being a contributor to ending MC Shan’s career as a rapper. Nothing like this had ever been done before and generations of MC legends would be influenced by it. Like I said, what this specific track did for Hip Hop can never be adequately expressed in words…it truly is epic in every way and I love KRS for this.
The second to last track is “Super Hoe”, which is surprisingly very fun and an entirely different feel than the song we just heard. It’s an ode to Scott La Rock’s hoe behavior which I find absolutely hilarious (the chorus is a prime example) that there’s an entire song dedicated to this. Again, very typical lyrics for this type of song and pretty explicit compared to anything else we’ve heard up to this point. Here take a look:
“When I say super I’m not exaggerating
Dating for a guy like Scott turns into mating
He seems to be quiet
But I don’t buy it
Proof is in the puddin, why don’t you just try it
The Super Hoe is loose in your section”
You get the point, but the hilarity doesn’t stop there. Line after line it just gets better. The purpose of the track (IMO) is to lighten the mood. After something like “The Bridge Is Over”, you need a bit of comic relief. The production is definitely a highlight, as its got a drum sound with a steady beat that allows the chorus to contrast against it perfectly. Could this album do without this song? Absolutely, but for laughs and mindless entertainment it’s perfect.
The last one is the title track “Criminal Minded” and sure enough these guys leave us with some more insight and wisdom. This would be the first time KRS would sample the Beatles (but not the last), which also worked well. What I like most about this particular track and the placement is, it’s very similar to the intro. It’s like the audiences goes through this album full circle and we’re right back to where we started, but towards the end of the song I’m left speechless. His wordplay, his delivery, and mostly his ability to set this up is mind boggling. The man is an utter genius and here’s why:
“Knowledge Reigns Supreme – Over Nearly Everyone
You look at me and laugh
But this is your class”
And bam, the acronym is just amazing and leaves me speechless every time! It’s here that the title of “the teacher” is solidified and with this, KRS is known as a Hip Hop scholar.
From album art, to the short tracklist and especially the lyrics, Boogie Down Productions set out to introduce a new era for Hip Hop on the East Coast (Ice-T would do this for the west) and truly blessed the industry with “Criminal Minded”. KRS-One had always been and still is a master of the craft and a true teacher. With his boys Scott La Rock and Ced-Gee, he taught the entire culture how to handle a feud and did it with such ease and confidence. This album is at the root of what we know and love in the culture, staying true to the decade, in which it was released and infusing it with the new direction Hip Hop was going in.
This album is the epitome of the “Golden Era”.