Hip-hop icon KRS-One has ventured out on his own for his ninth album, The Sneak Attack (April 24), but his values remain as close as ever to his righteous core.
As animated and impassioned about the current state and future of hip-hop as he was nearly 15 years ago when his debut, with the seminal duo Boogie Down Productions, came out, KRS (born Kris Parker) expounded in his typically focused and direct style recently about why he chose to sever his longtime relationship with Jive Records and release The Sneak Attack on Front Page Entertainment (with Koch Entertainment), the label he co-founded seven years ago with his wife, Simone Parker.
"We got all our knowledge from Jive Records and Warner Bros. (he recently held an A&R post there), then we went over to start our own company with the knowledge we gained."
Following a four-year hiatus in the shadow of 1997's I Got Next, which featured the smash jam "Step Into a World (Rapture's Delight)," KRS said he is only returning to the limelight because his hip-hop services are required.
"I specifically did that record because I wanted a big single," he explained, "because I knew that I was gonna calm down and really begin my study of philosophy and religion more seriously."
The midtown Manhattan hotel room where he's seated is filled with high piles of thick tomes and decorated with an altar-style table holding an open Bible circled by candles and burning incense.
Calling his new album a return to the social wakeup calls of By All Means Necessary (1988) and Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip-Hop (1989), KRS, 35, said he's observed the ways of The Man for long enough now it's time to warn the masses of the machine's evil ways.
"The sneak attack is coming," he explained. "The United States military is training soldiers to enter the inner cities and how to deal with riots, uprisings and basic urban warfare." He paused. "Here's my theory: Most of the National Guard and Marines are hip-hoppers you look at the Gulf War, that was hip-hop. If hip-hop unifies, when the order is given, Go into the cities and kill!, our unity will prevent that."
On fiery cuts such as "Why," "Get Your Self Up" and "Mind," KRS' message is unmistakable: get with the program or risk getting lost in the crackdown. "Hot," the album's first single and video, is actually one of The Sneak Attack's least politicized tracks, reverting instead to Kris' untouchable powers as a boaster toaster. "Land of the Boogie Down," an ode to his hometown New York borough, the Bronx, brilliantly tropes Men at Work's 1982 hit "Down Under," placing its chorus, "You better run, you better take cover," in an ominous new light.
Although regular KRS collaborators Kenny Parker and Mad Lion get behind the boards for a few cuts, it is "The Teacher," as he's sometimes known, who produced most of The Sneak Attack himself, even providing scratches on one song. It's a superhuman effort from the most adamant supporter of the well-rounded B-boy. KRS' concern for hip-hop culture runs so deep that his record contract contains what he claims to be the first "cultural clause."
"It basically says that hip-hop is recognized as breaking (break-dancing), MCing, graffiti art, DJing, beat-boxing, street fashion, street language, street knowledge and street entrepreneurship," he explained. The clause is no joke: a civil suit can be filed if its terms are not adhered to. "If the company goes against the culture, the deal is null and void. I said, 'If you're gonna sign KRS-One, you have to respect the culture.'"
KRS-One is currently on tour with underground MC Afu-Ra opening (see "KRS-One Takes Sneak Attack On Tour").