He IS an Emcee: After 35 Years, KRS Is Still No. 1

He IS an Emcee: After 35 Years, KRS Is Still No. 1

Published Fri, March 4, 2022 at 12:00 PM EST

KRS-One wears many titles: Emcee, Teacha and philosopher amongst them. Some have called him arrogant and overconfident; while others have declared him the greatest of all time—before it became an overused acronym. What cannot be denied is that, for three decades, Kris Parker has been one of Hip Hop’s most dynamic live performers, one of its most consistent recording artists, and perhaps the biggest advocator of education about what Hip Hop culture is and is not.

When his contemporaries either abandoned their roots in hopes of mainstream success or gave up because the sound had changed, KRS continued without compromise. There was once a belief in Hip Hop that no artist lasted beyond three albums. KRS released his 24th studio album IAMAMCRU12 last week.

The Beginning

Although his entry into the game is perceived as diss based (“South Bronx“ and “The Bridge Is Over”), KRS was part of a group called 12:41 who released “$ucce$$ Is The Word” on Fresh Records in 1985. In 1986, KRS was part of Scott la Rock & The Celebrity Three with Levi 167 and M.C. Quality. Their release “Advance” (later re-released on Scott La Rock’s 1988 posthumous Man & His Music album) a song about the dangers of nuclear war, was an early example of The Blast Master’s advanced wordplay and enunciation as well as his broad world view.

Allegedly radio legend Mr. Magic of the original Juice Crew and radio station WBLS was presented with a copy of “$ucce$$ Is The Word” and called it wack, which prompted KRS to go after members of The Juice Crew on “South Bronx” and “The Bridge Is Over”. The legendary “Bridge Wars” which lasted from 1986 until about 1988 would become one of the genres most storied and prolific periods. In fact, the war between Mr. Magic and BDP blew shrapnel as far as Strong Island.

When Mr. Magic replied to DJ Marley Marl’s WBLS on air broadcasting of “Public Enemy #1” with “I guarantee you, there will be no more music by the suckers” (later used on the intro to “Lampin’ With Flavor” by Public Enemy) he was motivated by the BDP beef. Chuck D of Public Enemy told me in a 2011 interview: “I was working at the Adelphi University radio station WBAU and KRS and Scott came to the station and they were blasting Magic on air! Magic thought that we were all coming at him, so he was like: ‘Dre (Dr. Dre of WBAU, Original Concept and later Yo! MTV Raps), KRS, Scott [La Rock] and this new Public Enemy thing they got…. fuck ‘em all!’”

“South Bronx”, “The Bridge Is Over” and “Poetry” (credited to Boogie Down Productions) would place KRS into the same conversations as up and coming future giants Rakim and Big Daddy Kane. Those three songs would also generate interest in the groundbreaking and game changing full length album “Criminal Minded.”

I was working at the Adelphi University radio station WBAU and KRS and Scott came to the station and they were blasting Magic on air! Magic thought that we were all coming at him..."

- Chuck D

Criminal Minded

There had been Rap records that combined Reggae and Hip Hop, and graphic depictions of street violence before Criminal Minded, but none had done it as masterfully. Over production by Ced Gee of the Ultramagnetic MC’s, KRS flexed his vocabulary and wordplay on “Elementary”, “Poetry”, “Word From Our Sponsor” and “Criminal Minded." He seamlessly combined Dancehall Reggae with Hip Hop on “9mm Goes Bang”, “P Is Free Remix” and “The Bridge Is Over." Never had an Emcee flipped multiple styles on one album so effectively. From the albums ammunition heavy front cover, to its typo laden back cover, this was the streets on wax – raw and unapologetic.


BDP co-founder and DJ, Scott La Rock was murdered, while allegedly settling a conflict between group member D-Nice and another person less than five months after the release of Criminal Minded. KRS never missed a beat. I remember seeing KRS, Biz Markie, Rakim and MC Shan live at the Richmond Coliseum not long after Scott’s passing. KRS was accompanied only by a reel to reel tape player manned by DJ Red Alert. He gave one of the most energetic stage performances that I’ve ever witnessed. No pyrotechnics, no hype man, no dancers.

On May 31st 1988 Jive Records released By All Means Necessary by Boogie Down Productions. From KRS re-enacting the iconic Malcolm X “shotgun at the window” pose to the first single and video “My Philosophy” Hip Hop knew that it was about to witness another banger. “Part Time Suckers”, “My Philosophy”, T’Cha-T’Cha” and “I’m Still #1” are master classes on lyricism, execution of style/cadence and are considered classics. The remix for “Still #1” (the numero uno re-recording) sees The Teacha rhyming in Spanish and obliterating MC Poet. 

The song is considered one of the best remixes in Hip Hop courtesy of the great DJ Doc Rodriguez. “Jimmy” is one of the dopest safe sex Rap songs and “Stop The Violence” was the precursor to a movement. The album was dedicated to the memory of the then recently departed Scott La Rock and the chants of “Scott La Rock – he’s in here” were heard throughout. 

Education + Entertainment

On “By All Means Necessary” we saw that KRS was injecting a lot less street knowledge than what was Criminal Minded and more political consciousness that was beginning to take place via Public Enemy. There’s more political commentary on “Illegal Business” (from By All means Necessary) than there is on the entire Criminal Minded album and that was intentional and a sign of what was to come.

In 1988 KRS released “Jack Of Spades” from the motion picture “Im Gonna Git You Sucker” and further cemented his dopeness. In 1989 he formed the Stop The Violence Movement and released “Self-Destruction” with an all-star lineup which included Public Enemy, Stetsasonic, Heavy D, MC Lyte, Dougie Fresh and Just Ice. “Self-Destruction” addressed Black on Black crime and all proceeds were donated to the National Urban League . Two years later the Blast Master created the H.E.A.L. movement (Human Education Against Lies) and released “Heal Yourself” with MC Lyte, Queen Latifah, Kid Capri, Run-D.M.C., Ms. Melodie, Harmony, Big Daddy Kane, LL COOL J and Freddie Foxx.

The Evolution

From 1989 through 1992 Boogie Down Productions released an album every year – Ghetto Music: The Blue Print Of Hip Hop, Edutainment, Live Hardcore Worldwide and Sex and Violence. Even though KRS continued to put M.C.’s on notice, he was much more teacher at this point than braggadocios M.C. On songs like “Why Is That”, “Blackman In Effect” and “You Must Learn” Kris gives literal African history lessons, while “Beef” is the only Rap song at the time (or since) to graphically break down the journey of the cow from the farm to your plate. No M.C. would have ever thought to create a song from the perspective of “Loves Gonna Get’cha” where KRS gives various scenarios of how the love of material items can lead to one’s downfall and death.

By 1992 Kris clearly felt the need to remind the people that he was still nice with the mic device, and he did so on “Duck Down”, “Like A Throttle”, “The Original Way” and “Ruff Ruff” from Sex And Violence. At a time when drug dealers were being celebrated, KRS advised the urban drug dealer to invest his earnings in schools and community on “Drug Dealer." 1992 also marked the last year that KRS released music under the Boogie Down Productions moniker. 


From 1993 until now KRS-One has given us 18 full studio albums under his name. Return of The Boom Bap (1993), KRS ONE (1995) and I Got Next (1997) mark the last times that Kris would release music through a major label. Return Of The Boom Bap gave us the hits “Outta Here”, “Black Cop”, “I Can’t Wake Up”, “Sound of Da Police” and the title track. KRS ONE delivered “Rappaz R. N. Dainja” and I Got Next produced “The MC”,”A Friend”, and the enduring “Step Into A World”.

The fact that KRS released somewhere around 15 independent projects is beyond impressive. The standouts are Survival Skills (2009) with Buckshot of Black Moon, Street Light (2019), Between The Protests (2020), The World Is Mind (2017) and IMAMCRU12 (2022).

Blastmaster KRS

The album cover for Criminal Minded with KRS One and Scott La Rock

Classic Albums: 'Criminal Minded' by Boogie Down Productions

Mar 03, 2022

KRS-One Performing at 2021 Verzuz Battle

KRS-ONE Drops New Album 'IMAMCRU12'

Feb 23, 2022

16 Classic Political Rap Albums You've Gotta Hear

Feb 05, 2021


Since the beginning of the year KRS has released “The Beginning “, “Crazy” and “Knock ‘Em Out” (this track was played at his Verzuz against Big Daddy Kane last year). All of these tracks caused chatter online over the last few months with listeners commenting on the fact that KRS is “flowin’ like the young boys” with the triplet flow on “Crazy” and peeping how KRS hasn’t lost a step while listening to “The Beginning”. These three tracks all appear on IMAMCRU12 among some others that reveal a KRS that we haven’t seen before. KRS spits on “The Beginning”:

Who’s this /you don’t know me homie, I’m the one and only/I turn your tool into a toll, tell ya you owe me/you aint gotta go to the past to know me homie/I’m KRS-One my power is now and controlling”.

Lines like: “Im the Guru, so when my teaching Premiers its Gangstarr, hittin’ you and ya man in the same car” show that KRS keeps his swords sharp and is still serious about delivering clever wordplay.

On February 2nd KRS released the official video for “Can You Dance”, a song and video that is uncharacteristic of the KRS-One that we are used to. The song is a dedication to Hip Hop dances of yesteryear including The Wop, The Biz Dance, The Humpty Dance and The Dougie, with Doug Fresh making a guest appearance in the song performing his iconic dance. “Raw Hip Hop” speaks of the beginnings of Hip Hop through the crack era with the hook: “Drop on the spot graf writers don’t stop, bottom to the top this is real Hip Hop”, shows that KRS still pushes culture in 2022.

The legacy of KRS-One is one of a producer who worked with Just Ice and Steady B on some of their biggest hits. The man who introduced us to Channel Live and Mad Lion, and has collaborated with MC’s across several eras. Even his beefs and conflicts span eras (M.C. Shan/X Klan/PM Dawn/Nelly). Most importantly KRS is an MC who has always placed knowledge and poetic value over hit records and trend following. He came in the door pushing the importance of culture and three decades later he hasn’t deviated. On the intro to “KRS-One Attacks”, Kris shouts into the microphone that he will be here forever. Many MC’s have made that proclamation, but so far KRS is the only one who has made that into a reality. IMAMCRU12 currently holds the #2 position on the Top US Hip Hop Album charts, one step below Kanye West’s 2004 album College Dropout.

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