Breaking Down Big Daddy Kane Verzuz KRS-One
By Jay Quan and Stereo Williams
Two of Hip-Hop's greatest are set to face off in the latest installment of the popular battle series VERZUZ. On Oct. 17, the Swizz Beatz and Timbaland-founded series will feature none other than KRS-One and Big Daddy Kane; two rap legends who helped solidify The Bronx and Brooklyn, respectively; and who represent innovation and creativity in the art of lyricism.
Of course, as with every VERZUZ, there's widespread commentary and speculation about how this particular battle will unfold. VERZUZ, for all of its popularity, hasn't showcased very many "Golden Age" Hip-Hop artists before this matchup, so a lot is riding on Kris and Kane to represent for Hip-Hop's pre-bling generation. Individually, it's an opportunity to remind people just how potent these two emcees' body of work is. But don't let the Twitter hot takes and online speculation sway you. There's only one take that matters, and it's this one.
Of course, we may be a little biased.
But most of the takes you're going to see online are just not very good. There are those who feel that Kane is going to take this "easily" because he's such a dynamic showman and there are those who have said that KRS has it because he has a longer run of popularity. Those are understandable arguments but they both sell the other guy short: KRS may not dance like Kane, but he's one of the most kinetic performers in Hip-Hop. Kane may not have the longevity of KRS, but his first two albums alone pack a serious song-for-song punch.
So let's dive into KRS-One Verzuz Big Daddy Kane. Jay Quan and Stereo Williams offer their takes.
WHY KRS-ONE CAN WIN THIS
Jay Quan: KRS-One is the consummate live performer. No hype men, pyrotechnics or background dancers are necessary. Kris’s energy alone carries his incredible stage show. Whether he is performing at a small intimate venue or a packed arena, the energy exhibited by KRS-One is without question amongst the highest as far as Hip Hop live performances. For the first few shows after the unfortunate passing of his D.J. Scott La Rock, KRS performed with only a reel to reel tape deck manned by the legendary Kool D.J. Red Alert. This was perhaps the most bare bones of any Hip Hop live set and he absolutely killed it. Energy off the meters.
KRS came to the attention of the general public via his 1986 sonic shot fired at M.C. Shan titled South Bronx, but later songs such as "Poetry," "Elementary," "Criminal Minded," "My Philosophy," and "I'm Still #1" solidified KRS as a master wordsmith, creator and inventor of styles and one of the most well enunciated MCs in the history of the game. In addition to creating and executing different lyrical styles and cadences, he inserted reggae music and vocal techniques into much of his music.
KRS created the Stop The Violence Movement; giving us "Self Destruction," as well as the H.E.A.L. (Human Education Against Lies) Project. Songs such as "Why Is That?," "Beef," "You Must Learn," "The Sound Of the Police," "Edutainment," and "The Black Man Is In Effect" presented an education to all people that they would never receive in a school.
“Songs like those were wake-up calls for whoever could hear us at the time,” KRS-One said earlier this year. “Is such a tactic still useful today? Maybe not and maybe it does not have to be.”
Stereo Williams: Since the mid-1980s, KRS-One has been one of the most bombastic, cocky, and energetic rhymers in Hip-Hop. The Blastmaster initially broke through with Scott La Rock as Boogie Down Productions, who, along with a teenager named D-Nice, etched their name in rap infamy by declaring war on the Queens-based Juice Crew and dropping their acclaimed debut album Criminal Minded in 1987. Scott La Rock's murder forever changed the group's trajectory; Kris adopted a more socially-aware persona and refined his "Teacha" image on every subsequent BDP effort. He would eventually dissolve the BDP moniker entirely in 1993, pushing forward under his own name.
“The music is the calling card,” KRS told South Atlanta Magazine earlier this year. “Back then, we were saying to society, ‘We exist’.”
In the 1990s, Kris cemented his legacy as a lyricist without peer, with a flow that was both wordy and confrontational—rooted in Jamaican toasting and early battle rap energy. Make no mistake, KRS-One is one of the fiercest performers of all time; he brings every bit of himself to the stage. Kris prides himself on taking on all comers and he's arguably more formidable live than he is on records. KRS-One don't dance; but he does burn the stage down.
On top of that, KRS-One has a formidable catalog. Whether early classics like "The Bridge Is Over" and "South Bronx" or conscious rap signifiers like "You Must Learn" and "My Philosophy," topical raps like "Stop the Violence" and "Sound of Da Police," or crossover anthems like "MCs Act Like They Don't Know" and "Step Into A World," Kris Parker has at least a decade of songs ready to go.
KRS could absolutely win this.
WHY BIG DADDY KANE CAN WIN THIS
Jay Quan: Big Daddy Kane debuted in 1987 as a member of the Juice Crew, put on by the late great Biz Markie. His first single "Somethin' Funky/Just Rhymin' With the Biz" put all antennas on alert with lines like “I give ya girl the kiss of death just like a vampire/stomp out MCs just like a campfire – I go Rambo, gigolo, Romeo Friday night spend money on a ho-tel to get a good nights sleep I’m keeping in step now do I come off? Yep”. It was Kane’s breakthrough single Raw that had fans eagerly awaiting a full length album and placing his name in conversations with the other greats of the mid to late 1980s. "Ain't No Half Steppin," "Warm It Up, Kane" "Set It Off," his "Raw" radio freestyle with Kool G. Rap, "Mortal Kombat" and "Nuff Respect" placed Kane into GOAT conversations long before L.L. Cool J invented the acronym.
Kane is one of the most well rounded M.C’s in the genre. A superior lyricist, fierce live performer, producer and all around entertainer; Kane (who utilized back up dancers Scoob & Scrap Lover) was unlike other MCs of his era who used back up dancers. Kane was one of few who could (and did) perform all of the moves that his back up dancers did and a large part of his stage show and live performance included him performing acrobatic moves with Scoob & Scrap. In performances from recent years Kane has performed those same 3 man moves by himself – a testament to his dedication and commitment to remain an entertainer and performer. Kane’s infamous routine where he purposely drops the mic and incorporated the “mistake” into his rhyme was recently shared and praised on social media by the legendary Morris Day of The Time – one of the most legendary and revered live Funk/R&B performers.
"I took a different approach because I’ve learned that no one likes being preached to," Kane explained to Jay Quan. "You have to find a connection with people and relate to them on their level. There were great artists like Rakim, Sir Ibu, Poor Righteous Teachers, King Sun and Brand Nubian that were droppin’ lessons in their music and some people related to it and others didn’t. I put a sample of food on the spoon and let the people taste it because too much could cause them to choke”.
Stereo Williams: Big Daddy Kane is a standout amongst the Juice Crew, which is no small feat considering that crew includes icons like Kool G Rap, Masta Ace, MC Shan, Roxanne Shante, Craig G and the late Biz Markie. Songs like "Set It Off," "Raw" and "Warm It Up, Kane" stand as timeless showcases for Kane's lyrical dexterity. Fans often focus on the speed of Kane's rap but his gift is his precision; he's a wordsmith of the highest order.
And let's not even go there when it comes to Kane's live performance. He's always been one of the most engagingly watchable rap entertainers; the rare emcee who's just as nimble on his feet as he is on the mic. With and without Scoob and Scrap Lover, Kane is incomparable as a live act.
In addition to the previously mentioned lyrical performances, Kane has a uniquely versatile body of work. His classic loverman tunes like "Smooth Operator," "I Get the Job Done," "Cuz I Can Do It Right," and so many more established him as one of Hip-Hop's pre-eminent sex symbols, and he embraced that part of his image at a time when most rappers were dedicated to tougher-than-thou posturing. But make no mistake—Kane has never been just about sexy songs. BDK has more than a few verses dedicated to what's going on: from "Lean On Me (Rap Summary)", to his performance on Kool G Rap's "Erase Racism" and countless references to knowledge of self and Five Percent teachings in his lyrics. And also: you know a ton of Kane songs.
Kane could absolutely win this.
Stereo Williams: KRS-One's reputation as "The Teacha," founder of the Stop The Violence movement and catalyst for "Self Destruction," has never overshadowed his legacy as a battle rapper and uber-lyricist. Similarly, Kane's skills as a performer and sex symbol status have never obscured how deadly the man is on the microphone and with his pen. This is The Bronx vs Brooklyn; B.D.P. vs. Juice Crew; two men who both know how to keep it conscious and keep the party going.
What guests could we expect? Will D-Nice lend an assist to his old Boogie Down Productions cohort? Could Patti LaBelle once again grace that Verzuz stage to join Kane for "Feels Like Another One?" Channel Live? Kool G Rap and Craig G? DJ Premier? Marley Marl? There are lots of directions this thing could go in, but fundamentally, it's about these two legendary emcees reminding everyone why they're both in the G.O.A.T. conversation.
This is about to a clinic on emceeing. So nah, you can't take seriously anyone who suggests that Kane doesn't have the catalog or that KRS doesn't have the chops. You can't listen to anybody who claims that KRS isn't any fun or Kane doesn't get conscious. But people are talking. You just have to always remember: most social media takes are trash, folks.
Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One represent a pinnacle in emceeing and regardless of who is declared victor, Hip-Hop wins when legends get to shine on it's biggest stages.
Jay Quan: Online chatter suggests that the number of studio albums (KRS has over 20, Kane has 7), battle acumen, hit singles and ability to freestyle will all affect the outcome of the square off. In a competition where there is no declared winner or metrics to declare a victor, it’s impossible to tell beforehand. There was a huge online consensus that Fat Joe would wipe the floor with Ja Rule, but the digital water cooler talk the next day suggested otherwise. Will Kane bring out any Juice Crew members? Will Scoob & Scrap make an appearance? Will KRS go heavy at the Juice Crew via "The Bridge Is Over" and "South Bronx?" KRS has famously declared that he keeps a diss rhyme at ready for the top MCs in the genre. Will he use one against Kane? As the consensus online heavily suggests, despite the outcome – the fans and Hip-Hop will be the winners.