It used to always be this way -- the illest MCs also happened to be the biggest MCs in terms of their public personas. Chuck D and Public Enemy went multi-platinum by expressing their outrage at society while at the same time focusing that same exacting attention back on themselves. Kool Moe Dee could rap about his dick and democracy with equal dexterity. And then there was The Blastmaster.
Back in the day, KRS-One (born Lawrence Parker) was the de facto leader of Boogie Down Productions, one of the most influential hardcore hip-hop outfits of the late 1980s. Dubbed "The Teacher" for his political commentary and social spittin' on the mic, Parker reached his zenith/nadir with 1990's Edutainment. On one hand, the record was a musical and lyrical success, upping the ante for what could be said in a hip-hop song. At the same time, message rap was nothing new at this point -- see "White Lines" by Grandmaster Flash -- but KRS-One began to see himself as less of a rapper and more of a self-styled "philosopher": I am poet, my words will heal you, he rapped. Intent on becoming rap's Che, to some he merely came across as Che...esy.
Fast-forward (the "seek" button, to you younger readers) to 2002, when Parker released the gospel effort Spiritually Minded and the odds-and-ends collection The Mix Tape. These releases perhaps best illustrate the dichotomy of Parker. On one, he raps invigorating hymns about a higher power. On the other, he sinks to new depths, rapping about "rival" Nelly: House fag rapper, your bottom done fell out/You don't even know how, I told you/Blaow! One to the knees, blaow one goes right through.
Last October, Parker claimed at a New Yorker conference that the hip-hop nation "cheered when 9/11 happened... I say that proudly." According to Rolling Stone, "the rapper explained his views by saying that prior to the attack, World Trade Center security guards prevented black people from entering "because of the way we talk and dress. So when the planes hit the building, we were like, "Mmmm -- justice.' [9/11] doesn't affect us. 9/11 happened to them, not us. The rich... those who are oppressing us. RCA or BMG, Universal, the radio stations.'"
Despite what that statement might lead you to believe, Parker's no stranger to public speaking. Alongside other old-schoolers like Public Enemy's Chuck D, he has taken to the college lecture circuit, which seems to have bolstered his opinion of himself while conceivably helping make up for disappointing record sales. (In the past couple of years alone, he's variously described himself as an "American philosopher" and the "John the Baptist of Hip-Hop.")
To be fair, Parker has done a lot for the hip-hop community, even as much of Hip-Hop Nation probably wishes he'd stop speaking for them. He co-founded the H.E.A.L (Human Education Against Lies) movement, as well as the Stop the Violence Movement and the 1989 all-star charity single "Self-Destruction," which raised half a million dollars for the National Urban League.
Yet only a few years later, upset at being "dissed" by Prince Be of P.M. Dawn -- Be had suggested in a copy of Details magazine that "KRS-One wants to be a teacher, but a teacher of what?" -- Parker tossed the portly rapper off the stage and commandeered the stage for his own set.
And so it is with Parker: equal parts poet and punk. Of course, we all have different facets to our personalities, and the appearance of one side doesn't necessarily negate the other. At the same time, we also have to know that our actions can weaken the power of our words, and vice versa.
Parker's words, when blasted through a microphone, are some of the greatest hip-hop has ever produced. His actions? Perhaps "The Teacher" still has some learning to do.
KRS-One, The Blastmaster will appear at Amos' SouthEnd on Thursday, January 13. Call 704-377-6874 or log on to www.amossouthend.com for more information.
Creative Loafing received notification after press time that the KRS-One appearance at Amos¹ was cancelled.