Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Boogie Down Productions

  • Criminal Minded [B Boy, 1987] B+
  • By All Means Necessary [Jive, 1988] B+
  • Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop [Jive, 1989] B+
  • Edutainment [Jive, 1990] ***
  • Sex and Violence [Jive, 1992] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Criminal Minded [B Boy, 1987]
Though one's moralistic quibbles do recede as history demonstrates how much worse things can get and how little music has to do with it, KRS-One's talk of fucking virgins and blowing brains out will never make him my B-boy of the first resort. I could do without the turf war, too--from the Lower East Side, not to mention Kingston or Kinshasa (or Podunk), Queens and the South Bronx are both def enough. But his mind is complex and exemplary--he's sharp and articulate, his idealism more than a gang-code and his confusion profound. And Scott LaRock was a genius. Sampling blues metal as well as James Brown, spinning grooves to toast by, blind-siding the beat with grunts and telephones and dim backtalk, he was spare and rich simultaneously. Music will miss him more than Jaco Pastorius and Will Shatter put together. B+

By All Means Necessary [Jive, 1988]
Deprived of the great murdered beatmaster Scott LaRock, KRS-One is reduced to a stark minimalism that matches his mood: still brandishing his piece on the cover, he's as serious as Jesse inside, occasionally pretentious but never full of himself. He criticizes the self-proclaimed kings of a scene too democratic to support royalty and the self-proclaimed godfathers of a scene too young to have an old school, identifies tribalism as the white man's game, and comes out strong for peace through strength. Only "Jimmy" is much fun, and "Jimmy" is a condom commercial. But at his best--"Stop the Violence," which might conceivably catch black radio in a community-spirited moment of weakness--he's as complex and cold-eyed as the kings themselves, with two extras: he's not middle-class and he's on a mission. B+

Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop [Jive, 1989]
KRS-One isn't just serious, he aspires to sainthood, and tough noogs if you think that makes him "boring" or "pretentious" or any of that racist, anti-intellectual cant--he comes so close that the whole of the record is greater than the minimalism of its blueprint stylee. Austerely sampled or all the way live, the music per se is almost hookless and swingless. But the dubwise skank of his natural groove carries his rhymes when the rhymes themselves don't capture the consciousness like a good hook should. Though I wish he didn't feel compelled to argue what color Moses was, his fundamental conceit--a peace harder than violence--is visionary. And when he takes no shit from the police, I say amen. B+

Edutainment [Jive, 1990]
insufficiently scientific ("Love's Gonna Getcha [Material Love]," "100 Guns") ***

Sex and Violence [Jive, 1992]
Brother Kris: "I think some of these journalists need to start getting punched in they face." Brother Kenny: "I got a big fist." Which just goes to show that you don't love KRS-One because you think he's right--you love him because he thinks he's right. Of course his ideas are dangerous--if they weren't, they'd be inconsequential. In words and music as tactless as a battering ram, he praises "humanism," names capitalism as the enemy, calls out fake Muslims, and, well, urges drug dealers to get into the education game. Definitive: "13 and Good," like "100 Guns" before it a morality-tale-sans-moral that makes me wonder whether he's studied Roger Abrahams's anthology of African folk tales or comes by the tone naturally--and yes, I'm sure I know what he thinks about that one. A-