For over a decade, KRS-One has campaigned that “I Am Hip-Hop” in part of his “Rap is something you do, Hip-Hop is something you live” mantra. With that conviction, The Teacha had to feel some kind of way when friend and associate Nas declared Hip-Hop’s death with his recent album title.
With his own latest album called Life, this lends itself to a symbolic discussion. Few would contest that KRS-One is a deep thinker. The MC, the man, and the icon discusses his opinions, comments on Hip-Hop’s lineage of respect, defends the South, and honors the late James Brown in a unique fashion. If Hip-Hop isn’t dead, it sure ain’t living right. That’s one thing Nas and KRS-One seem to agree on. Do you?
AllHipHop.com: The phrase “Hip-Hop is dead” has been in the vernacular for the last two months. It would be an incomplete conversation if we didn’t have your two cents on the issue.
KRS-One: [Laughing] I’ll give you a nickel!
AllHipHop.com: The resounding theme has been the death of Hip-Hop. Ghostface, earlier, he blamed Snap for its demise – and a lot of people agreed with him. Then Nas took it a step further, and made an album [Hip Hop is Dead], proclaiming the death of Hip-Hop. You’re someone who has been an inspiration to both of them, so what’s your opinion? Is Hip-Hop dead?
KRS-One: No, ‘cause you’re on the phone with Hip-Hop right now, so I would start there. Of course Hip-Hop cannot be dead. We’re looking at poetry, we’re looking at symbolism, we’re looking at vision even. I think Nas is warning us. I think one of the best ways to warn a culture is to shock it. I think Nas shocked Hip-Hop culture by declaring its death. By declaring its death, it means that it will live now. A lot of people don’t like the term “Hip-Hop is dead.” The people that I know, grassroots organizations, universities, and cats that’s livin’ the culture for real, they’re like, “Nah, this is crazy! This is actually the epitome of the apathy, complacency, and money-grabbin’, and bling bling, and pimpin’ – this is the height of it. Nas is pointing it out.
The actual song “Hip Hop is Dead” says “Go to the stations and murder the DJ,” That kind of sums it up. Really, Hip-Hop is dead ‘cause nobody is takin’ responsibility for it. DJs have lost their sense of responsibility to the culture. They’re just employees now. They’re not culture-bearers. Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, Flash, Grand Wizard Theodore, Kid Capri, Brucie Bee – these are the priests of the culture – Red Alert, Chuck Chillout – they made us who we are, they broke my records. Chuck Chillout did not wanna sound like Marley Marl [and vice versa]. Both of ‘em didn’t wanna sound like Red Alert, and the three of ‘em didn’t wanna sound like Jazzy Jay.
Today, everybody wants to sound like Funkmaster Flex, simple and plain! Even West Coast and Southern DJs think they’re playin’ Dirty South, they’re not. They’re just playing what the program directors are telling them to play, which is what these record company conglomerates are paying for. If we could just look at the truth, we could see what Nas is talking about. The truth is – the Hip-Hop he knew, the Hip-Hop we knew – Latin Quarter Hip-Hop, Rooftop Hip-Hop, Roxy Hip-Hop, Disco Fever Hip-Hop, Danceteria Hip-Hop, The Palladium Hip-Hop, that Hip-Hop is dead. No doubt about it.
In his song, Nas says, [paraphrasing] we used to do this, now we do this – and let’s go to the stations and murder the DJs. That is not Hip-Hop dying, that’s Hip-Hop alive! A couple of weeks ago, Nas and I were doing the Nike [Air Force One Anniversary party], and they tried to get him to say “Go to the stations and wreck the DJ,” as opposed to “murder,” I convinced him to say “murda!” Don’t wreck the DJ, murda the DJ!
AllHipHop.com: But Kris, this is the early ‘90s class saying this. Could it be that the early ‘90s generation is just reluctant to pass the torch on to the new generation?
KRS-One: Nah! I would not even go there, good question though! Let’s just talk about cultural continuity. When Kool Herc started in 1973 – let’s say ’72, ‘cause I was there – Herc says ’73 – in 1973, when Kool Herc came out with the biggest sound system, and there was Pebbly Poo and Clark Kent and everybody that he was influencing, it was called “the next generation of Hip-Hop.” The next generation after Kool Herc was Afrika Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay. Even though Afrika existed during Kool Herc, he’d walk up to Herc and pay homage, and say, “I’m gonna do what you do.” So Herc passes the torch, and Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay get the torch, and Jay gave Herc the highest respect everytime he touched a turntable. Herc didn’t have to wait in line to get into a Jazzy Jay party. If Herc wanted on, in the middle of Jay’s set, he’d put the headphones on Herc’s head. When you say “the torch being passed,” the torch was being passed – right up until we got to [Sugarhill Gang’s] “Rapper’s Delight” in 1979. The torch got dropped on the floor. And when the flame was just about out, Russell Simmons picked up the torch and said, “All respect due to Kool Herc, Afrika Bamaataa, Red Alert, The L Brothers.” And Queens had its own crew – Run-DMC, they paid homage and respect to the guys that came before them. Russell Simmons and his Def Jam [Records] has not stopped paying homage to the true-school. He pays respect, he pays for hotels; Russell is a big supporter of people like Kool Herc, Busy B, Brucie B – and it’s not broadcasted everywhere, but Russell is a supporter of people who put him on. We all shared the torch.
When I came out in 1986, I came out battling MC Shan, Mr. Magic, and Marley Marl. Now, the torch wasn’t handed to me, I had to fight for it. I demanded it. I had to fight my way to the top. What does that mean? It meant if I want to be in this culture, I’ve got to prove my value to those who came before me. Otherwise, I’m breaking cultural continuity – the line of respect. My first record was “South Bronx,” and in “South Bronx,” I shouted everybody out in the history of Hip-Hop. I’m telling people where I came from and what line of respect you are listening to. It wasn’t like Bambaataa cared. He didn’t care about KRS-One in 1986, ‘cause he didn’t have to. He’s still above me. “When is the next Zulu reunion, Bam? You are my god, you are my lord and savior. I would not be doing what I’m doing if it wasn’t for you, Afrika Bambaataa, so let me stay in my place and in my line of respect.” I stayed there [until] 1989, when I put out the “Stop the Violence” movement, that’s when I got my respect. They gave me a big plaque, and a whole bunch of other stuff – which I have to this day. Not a platinum plaque, not a gold plaque, but Afrika Bambaataa reached in his pocket and paid at a trophy store somewhere to have this made for me. He said, “Here, I am passing the torch.”
[Today], the South gives respect. They treat Kool Herc as Jesus, they treat Afrika Bambaataa as Moses, they treat KRS-One as David. I lived in Atlanta for six or seven years, and I could do no wrong there. I could go to any radio station, TV station, club – door open. I go to New York, I gotta wait on a guestlist. I go to HOT97, I’m the voice of the station, you playin’ my drops, and I gotta wait downstairs for you cats to tell me when’s it cool --- get the f**k outta here! That s**t makes absolutely no sense! That’s why the South is now on top – because they stayed true to the culture. Will they continue? That’s a big question mark. Not to reach in the lid – ‘cause I know how AllHipHop.com can get [laughs], I ain’t f**kin’ with y’all – but that was the problem with Nelly. The streets level, not the KRS level – and it’s reflected in the Beef DVD.
So you ask, “Where’s the torch?” We’re still holding it! We’re waiting for the real cats to pass it to. But I must say, the torch is passed to the South. I love the South. For instance, Usher. Usher is Hip-Hop, straight up and down! Why would I say that, ‘cause in every single one of his videos, he’s poppin’ and lockin’ and breakin’. Missy Elliot, she got Rock Steady Crew in her video! That means she paid them, flew them out, and put ‘em up in a hotel for her million dollar video, and once again promoted them to the world. You think I care if she got Timbaland or Dr. Dre producing? Missy Elliot gets the ultimate respect. Jay-Z is Hip-Hop. In one line [on “Heart of the City”] he said he was taking back from n***as for what they did to the Cold Crush [Brothers]. In one line, he entered the Temple of Hip-Hop. That’s all we lookin’ for! I got a torch, Herc got a torch, Bam got a torch, Nas got a torch. Pick a torch that you want, and try to get us to give it to you. But if you think you gonna challenge us, and make us wait outside, you gonna steal our lyrics, you gonna act like we don’t exist, and takin’ over The Source magazine and XXL. I saw The “New” Source got “The Bible for Hip-Hop”, and you open the magazine and see nothin’ but b***hes and hoes, God is gonna strike these mothaf**kas dead! They’ll never put KRS-One on their cover, even though I was the first one on their cover – after Slick Rick, and paid for The Source to exist. I [taught the founders about] “Music, Culture, Politics” but you won’t put me on the cover? That’s cool, I don’t need the cover – our children do. God’ll strike you, not me. Mark these words. This is not a threat, this is a warning from a prophet in the culture!