Back in the early 1980s, when a teenaged Lawrence Krisna Parker began tagging the Bronx River Projects in New York City with the graffiti name KRS-ONE, he didn’t yet know he had a talent for writing and rhyming that would help change how Hip Hop is perceived as an art form. Throughout a long career that includes six years as frontman for the Rap group Boogie Down Productions, KRS-One (also known to fans as “The Blastmaster”) has established a politically charged and message-conscious style that’s rich in historical, philosophical, religious and literary references.
In 1985, Parker was a 20-year-old high school dropout, living in a Bronx shelter. He met a social worker there named Scott Sterling, who DJed by night under the name Scott La Rock. Together they started the Boogie Down Crew — a sprawling collective that was eventually pared down to Parker, Sterling and human beatboxer Derrick “D-Nice” Jones, and renamed Boogie Down Productions.
BDP’s first album, 1987’s Criminal Minded, was stripped-down and stark, providing a showcase for KRS-One’s abilities, especially on the opening song “Poetry,” where he makes the case for Hip Hop’s potential as an educational medium, referring to himself as “The Teacher.” The album also embraced violent imagery, however, and it sparked one of the most prominent feuds in Hip Hop history, with two songs calling out producer Marley Marl and his Juice Crew for their perceived slight of the Bronx. The rivalry became known as the Bridge Wars, and led to a series of back-and-forth responses on albums by both groups for the next few years.
Criminal Minded sold several hundred thousand copies, but the course of BDP was irreversibly altered when Scott La Rock was shot and killed in August 1987 over a dispute that he tried to defuse involving D-Nice. BDP’s next album, By All Means Necessary, was dedicated to La Rock and took its title (substituting “all” for “any”) from a famous speech by Malcolm X. The album covered a diverse range of topics — violence in Hip Hop, political corruption, safe sex, AIDS — making it one of the earliest examples of the “conscious Hip Hop” genre.
Further albums by BDP — Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop (1989), Edutainment (1990) and Sex and Violence (1992) — explored a wide range of social issues and political viewpoints, invariably with an Afrocentric agenda. By 1993, KRS-One had retired the name Boogie Down Productions, and began releasing albums as a solo artist. He has continued to record ever since, perhaps most significantly with Marley Marl on 2007’s Hip Hop Lives, which settled the Bridge Wars once and for all, and was conceived as a companion piece to Nas’ 2006 album Hip Hop Is Dead.