The Hang of Music: Now A Word From Our Sponsor

That title is complete lies, unless KRS has been planning to send me cash in the post. I can understand that, cos he’s in demand, and air mail’s slow coming from the east coast.

If you get the KRS-One reference, then you won’t be surprised to hear that this week, I am listening to KRS-One and Scott LaRock, aka Boogie Down Productions, with their debut – “Criminal Minded”.

Braggadocio. This is a word; word. It is one of my favourite words. It is the word for when the focus of a song is to show how great you are by comparison to your opponent. I bring this up because it is almost solely used in rap, and Boogie Down Productions, aka KRS-One and Scott LaRock, use it a lot.

The way I see it, there are a number of staples of rap. These aren’t all good things per se. But they are there, almost as a rule.And the most important of these is telling the audience exactly how smart you are. Rap really is one of the only genres where being overly wordy, meta-referential and over-educated are all good things. So why is it also the field most drowned in a deluge of dumbed down and deluded dolts?

Even in this, 25 years ago, they are complaining about how things used to be: rap music has only got worse since then. I dread to think what Boogie Down Productions must think of hip-hop today.

Probably not much, as evidenced by Exhibit A, Track One; “Poetry”. “Not a demo; call it a lecture” on KRS-One and Scott LaRock’s take on the sorry state of rapping at the time, and what it should aspire to be. I could go into the lyrics and pull out a load of references to schools, and how they’re schooling their opposition. I could also show you examples of the care they’ve put into the lyrics – I can’t imagine many rappers use the word “hypothetical” more than once.

Dictionary. They haz one.

But pulling all those quotes would be dull. For me and for you. So I’m going to rest, happy in the knowledge that this is some good shit, lyrically, and you know it. They know and care what they’re doing with their words. So I don’t need to complain about one of my pet peeves – songs that DON’T MEAN ANYTHING!

I can now forget about KRS for the timebeing, and discuss his compatriot and colleague, Scott LaRock, who manages to bring the beats. And bring them he does. “Word from Our Sponsor” is just a lovely tune in and of itself. The same for “The Bridge Is Over” too. They don’t seem to just be protecting us from sucka MCs, but from sucka DJs too.

The title track, “Criminal Minded” starts with a noteworthy riff. It is a vocalised riff on the opening melody of “Hey Jude“. It took me a few moments to realise what they were doing, and even longer to place the song. That’s quite a bold move. I mean, I guess referencing the Beatles is hardly rocket science, but it’s not a normal thing for rappers to go back and nick old classic non-rap riffs. Err. I mean, it wasn’t then. I mean… Ah forget it!

Here, the unavoidable dopeness of Scott LaRock’s jams is proclaimed, loud and clear, by sampling Acker-Ducker. Which I love, but find infuriating because THE RIFF NEVER RESOLVES ITSELF! Jesus, but I keep expecting the rest of the riff. Anyway, spin it!

Dope Beat reminds me to mention the OTHER staples of rap. These are; talking about the beat, calling out your hometown, telling people your name on every track*, and casual misogyny… Now, I don’t want to turn this review into me just beating on the worse elements of rap music, but if I’m going to speak glowingly of Braggadocio** then I should also devote some time to pointing out how shit most rap is when it comes to women.

So “The P is Free” – I have to admit that I was kind of disappointed. I was hoping that this album might be more free of the casual misogyny that the typical hip-hop album. But sadly not: it’s still there in spades, if this track is to be believed. And that really is one of the worst sides of rap. As I said before; on paper rap is wordy, and emphasises the intelligence required to outsmart your opponent. This sort of intelligence should lend itself to something a little more egalitarian.

This is not to say that “The P is Free” is the worst offender. At all. Compared to a lot of rapping about “hoes and golddiggers”, this is pretty tame and measured – it describes a story, rather than a generalisation, and if KRS is to be believed, then she wasn’t doing herself any favours. But trying to find a description of a woman in rap who is not either a hooker, a gold digger or hyper insecure and jealous is like looking for a needle in a haystack: there aren’t even any needles in there!

Similarly, “9mm Go Bang” is a glorification of gang violence. Again, it’s a story, not a justification. But wasn’t the first song all about how rap has become too violent? So why is track three about KRS putting a gun to someone’s head?

Need I remind you that "guns, bitches and bling were never part of the 4 elements, and NEVER will be."

But I suppose they do redeem themself with “Super-Hoe“; a song about man-slags, and specifically calling Scott LaRock one. Whether this is really redressing the balance in a constructive way, and how serious this is, considering that the victim of the quip is RIGHT NEXT TO HIM on the decks, I really don’t know. The song doesn’t really criticise Scott’s behaviour, although it does call him a tramp, a pro and a rapist,*** and points out that he’s making women’s lives “a little “scarier”.

But these are all generic flaws. I could apply these criticisms to almost any rapper ever, and much more harshly to pretty much any other group. ANY. Whereas despite these flaws, I am happier with this album than anyone else I would care to level these accusations at. They are smart. They are serious, and take what they do with some pride. They have good beats and engaging lyrics. They claim to be trying to do poetry.

And if all that weren’t enough, KRS-One stands for “Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone”. How class is that? They mean it too.

Wait, what’s that Wiki – “For instance, the cover, which showcases Parker and Sterling surrounded by an arsenal of weapons, was hip-hop’s first major release to feature members brandishing firearms.” WHAT?! They’re to blame for all that stupid, machoistic crap? Fuck! Man, I thought I respected you guys, but damn, brother, I AM OUT.

* Presumably, if you swap from track to track, this is justified.

** Man, I love that word.

*** Rape and promiscuity – REALLY not the same thing at all!


Posted on February 10, 2012, in Music, The Hang of Music and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. If you like KRS-One, I think you might like my blog, Rhymes and Reasons. It is a series of interviews with hip-hop heads who discuss their lives in the context of a few songs that matter to them. The interviews tend to focus on questions of justice like racism, sexism, sexual violence, white privilege, etc. I hope you enjoy it.

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