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Question Authority; Follow the Leaders


Can KRS-One keep the power? 'I Got Next' offers mixed answers

By Todd S. Inoue

HIS REPUTATION is unassailable. KRS-One: teacher; ambassador of revolutionary rap music; co-creator of the hip-hop classics Criminal Minded and By All Means Necessary; Boogie Down Productions' voice of power on "Stop the Violence," "South Bronx," "I'm Still #1" and "My Philosophy"; a guiding light in a hip-hop world plagued by violence and greed.

As timeless jams like "South Bronx and "My Philosophy" near a decade in age, it's time to ask: Is the most righteous and revered rapper of our times getting wiser or just older? Can the teacher still teach? The answers lie just below the surface of KRS-One's third solo LP and newest release, I Got Next (Jive/Zomba).

Fans spoiled by DJ Premier's prodigious skills on 1993's Return of the Boom Bap and 1995's KRS One albums will get trigger-happy with the search button during I Got Next. Primo left a two-album legacy that revived KRS-One's sagging career when he was busy rocking the mic with R.E.M. and Too Much Joy. DJ Premier's virtuoso beat canon perfectly complemented KRS-One's over-the-top vocal delivery. It was a match made in hip-hop heaven.

I Got Next finds KRS-One in a difficult transition period--on track but not on point. The title is a play on freestyle sessions: The emcee with eyes afire, waiting his or her turn to flex. As if to say, Gimme that--I got next.

The primary purpose of I Got Next is, once again, to educate, but this time the students are the squirrelly come-ups dancing in videos who think that respect is measured in recording contracts and cash advances. Such tension plays into one of KRS-One's greatest strengths: the ability to expose frauds, either through persuasion ("Over Your Head") or by straight throw-down ("Word Perfect," "You Must Be Crazy").

Check the rhymes from the devastating "Word Perfect": "We're not in the same gang / Your juice is instant like Tang / You rhyme beginner, wack rap sinner / You attack, necks snap back--crack!--and I'm the winner." KRS-One doesn't mince words; he minces emcees.

Rap Rapture

The freewheeling spirit of old-school mic-rocking is found on "Rapture's Delight," a party jam that samples the Blondie hit "Rapture." "Throwdown," another old-fashioned number, is boosted by the Cold Crush Brothers. "Heartbeat," with its live turntable cuts, refers back to Edutainment's rowdy "Ya Know the Rules."

Then, a most shocking development closes out side one: KRS-One goes R&B. On "Stop Schemin'," he holds a first-person conversation over gangsta-funk keyboards and sweet nothings delivered by newcomer Joe. I have no problem with the content--a conscious story about a guy who chose killing instead of walking away, then regretted his decision--but who picks up a KRS-One album expecting a soliloquy scored to gangsta funk? What's next? A booty music duet with Foxxy?

Following Trends

THE OVERWHELMING feeling is that KRS-One is following sonic trends rather than setting them. Take "The MC," for instance, which shimmies down the same aural mine shaft the RZA pioneered three years ago. The number's eerie, echoing landscapes sewn together with strings and dialogue from kung-fu flicks constitute the most emulated style in rap these days. Ditto "H.I.P. H.O.P," which borrows the four-track wizardry popularized by the West Coast underground.

But the life-affirming boom bap returns with a vengeance. "Intro Medley," replete with a Chuck D. sample, reaches for the high of By All Means Necessary. "Over Your Head" is truth in labeling, with some bizarre, complex rhymes laid over a jazzy baritone sax loop.

"Blowe" is especially telling. KRS-One flips multiple styles--fluttering his voice and tempo, stressing certain words, especially verbs, and launching another classic KRS line that will probably be sampled in 2010: "I'm not saying I'm number one," he boasts. "I lied: I'm number one, two, three, four and five."

Despite the lyrics of fury, I Got Next blazes no new trails. It can be argued that rap crews have been digesting Boogie Down Productions' legacy for 10 years now and that KRS-One is taking back what's his, albeit in a processed form. Now I hear that Puff Daddy, who turned Boogie Down Productions' immortal "South Bronx" into an R&B song for Total, is remixing "Rapture's Delight."

Ugh. It makes one long for the days of rough and rugged Boogie Down Productions--Harmonie, Heather B., Willy D., Miss Melodie, Kenny Parker and D-Nice on the wheels. With everyone from Journey to the Furious Five on the reunion circuit, KRS-One might stand to learn one more lesson. A Boogie Down Productions reunion won't save hip-hop from all its ills, but they'll sure sound great trying.

KRS-One plays Sunday (March 16) at 9pm at Palookaville, 1133 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Call for ticket information. (408/545-0600 or check the Web site.

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