KRS1 live at the Jazz Cafe

by Sheena Salmon

KRS1 made a triumphant return to the UK stage last night at Camden’s Jazz Cafe. Proving beyond doubt that he still has it. With plenty to say about the state of the UK including a critique of Theresa May and a brutal take down of radio station Kiss FM, the iconic star gave a master class in free style rapping. And the crowd lapped it up. Performing all of his classic hits the rapper answered his critics and demonstrated that the spirit of hip hop is alive and well.

For those of you unfamiliar with KRS1 he

First appeared on the rap scene in 1986 as Boogie Down Productions releasing his first hit single “South Bronx” with his late DJ Scott La Rock, KRS “the one” made it clear that Hip Hop was going to have to take itself a lot more seriously than simply being a music genre.

KRS, an acronym for ““Knowledge Reigning Supreme”, has been called the “conscience of Hip Hop” (Rolling Stone), “the greatest live emcee ever” (The Source), the “spokesperson for Hip Hop” (Wall Street Journal), “master teacher” (Zulu Nation) and the “son of Hip Hop” (Kool DJ Herc). With 20 published albums to his credit and his numerous appearances with other artists, KRS-One is believed to have written the most rhymes in Hip Hop’s history. In the 1990s as “hip-hop” grew more and more commercialized and corporate, it was KRS-One that openly rejected such cultural exploitation and materialism grounding Hip Hop in its original principles of peace, love, unity and safely having fun. Teaching everything from self-creation to stopping violence; from vegetarianism to transcendental meditation, from the establishment of Hip Hop Appreciation Week (every third week in May), to establishing Hip Hop as an international culture at the United Nations (2001), KRS-One has single-handedly held the history and original arts of Hip Hop together now for over two decades.

In addition to lecturing at over 500 universities in the United States and publishing three ground-breaking books; “The Science of Rap” (1995), “Ruminations” (2003), and the Gospel of Hip Hop” (2009), KRS-One has also established the Stop The Violence Movement (1989), influenced the creation of the “West-Coast All-Stars’ anti-gang anthem “We’re All In The Same Gang” (1990), warned the Hip Hop community against giving up their humanity for technological advancement (H. E. A. L.—Human Education Against Lies-1991), and has established the Temple of Hip Hop for the spiritual exploration of Hip Hop’s culture (1996). It was KRS-One who first argued that “rap is something we do; Hip Hop is something we live”

But are his ideas and music still relevant today? In a word yes. KRS1 performed his hit 9mm, thought by many to be the first ever gangster rap recording and featured in the award winning cult classic film ‘La Haine’ to a word perfect crowd in fine voice. The film was said by critics at the time to be an accurate portrayal of disaffected youth, struggling to get by in the tower blocks of outer Paris, looking back on that film today it is hard to see that much has changed. With ever growing inequality and the rise of the far right spreading across Europe, KRS1’s lyrics seem particularly poignant. He has always spoken against the commercialisation of hip hop and pointed out that Kiss FM had refused to feature him. Ironically, the last time he was featured on the station was in the late 80s when Kiss was a pirate radio station coming out of a bedroom in Hammersmith. This caused much laughter but I wondered how many researchers at Kiss actually knew that? During his tour KRS1 will also be speaking at several universities. He is a critically acclaimed author as well as a poet, and important social commentator, something that is often overlooked.

Rap and Grime in particular are thriving in the UK and we have many talented artists out there. But if you really want to experience the true spirit of hip hop make sure you catch KRS1. It’s a treat, it’s a spectacle, it’s an education…

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