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KRS-One

Biography

KRS-One
Corio/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images

A pioneering Bronx-based hip-hop group with a socially conscious message, Boogie Down Productions (BDP) is the hip-hop vehicle of rapper Kris "KRS-One" Parker. Parker originally formed the group with DJ Scott LaRock who was gunned down in 1987 while trying to break up a street fight and help spark KRS-One's ambitious antiviolence crusade. But it was BDP's Productions' blend of hip-hop with reggae dancehall and rock influences that set the group apart from other message-oriented rappers, as well as KRS-One's dexterous verbosity and blunt beat sense.

Growing up poor in Brooklyn and the Bronx, Kris Parker was introduced to rap music through his mother's collection of discs, including some by the Treacherous Three and Grandmaster Flash. Parker ran away from home at 13 and began living on the streets. During the day he would read about philosophy and religion at the library, and at night he'd practice rapping at the homeless shelters where he lived. At 17 he got his GED.

While staying at the Franklin Armory Shelter in the Bronx, Parker met social worker Scott Sterling, known on weekends as DJ Scott LaRock. The two formed BDP and released Criminal Minded on the independent B-Boy label in 1987. The album's smooth grooves and hard rhymes foreshadowed gangsta rap. In August that year LaRock was murdered.

Parker kept going with his brother Kenny, releasing By All Means Necessary (Number 75 pop, Number 18 R&B, 1988) the following year. The album introduced the rapper's "edutainment" style of rap in songs like "My Philosophy" and "Stop the Violence," the latter of which Parker turned into a movement in 1989 to help curb black-on-black violence. BDP's albums sold relatively well. Both Ghetto Music (Number 36 pop, Number Seven R&B, 1989) and Edutainment (Number 32 pop, Number Nine R&B, 1990) went gold and continued Parker's message of nonviolence, with the latter scoring a modest MTV hit with "Love's Gonna Get'cha (Material Love)." Although Live Hardcore Worldwide failed to make it onto the pop chart, Sex and Violence reached Number 42 (Number 20 R&B, 1992). Return of the Boom Bap, KRS-One's solo debut (in reality BDP was increasingly a solo project), reached Number 37 (Number Five R&B, 1993), while the commercial success of KRS-One (Number 19 pop, Number Two R&B, 1995) and I Got Next (Number Three pop, Number Two R&B, 1997) bolstered his fan base.

By the late 1980s, Parker had begun doing college lecture tours wherein he would touch on a range of topics including Afrocentrism, religion, politics, violence, and his own revisionist views of American history. In 1991 he organized a group of artists including Chuck D, L.L. Cool J, Queen Latifah, British folkie Billy Bragg, and R.E.M.'s Michael Stipe for the consciousness-raising compilation H.E.A.L. (Human Education Against Lies): Civilization Vs. Technology. Toward the end of the 1990s KRS began erecting the Temple of Hiphop — an organization dedicated to the teaching of hip-hop history — and became a mentor/tutor at Harlem's Riverside Church. He also took an A&R gig with Reprise Records in 1999, which he held for two years.

In 2000, KRS-One finished his contract with Jive by releasing A Retrospective; the following year, on Koch/In the Paint, he released The Sneak Attack, his first studio album in four years. In 2002, he shocked many fans by issuing Spiritual Minded. He continuing releasing new music through the decade, most notably with 2007's Hip-Hop Lives, a collaboration with Marley Marl — the DJ-producer KRS had explicitly dissed on 1986's "South Bronx" — thus bringing to an official end to hip-hop's "Bridge Wars," where Bronx MCs battled their Queens counterparts. In 2008 KRS-One released Maximum Strength which was something of a returned to form with "The Teacher" waxing poetically and skillfully on everything from politics to corporate malfeasance to ancient history.

Portions of this biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

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