Kriss Kross & Chris Kelly Paved The Way For Rap Teen Idols

(Chris Kelly reminisces about his beginnings on "RapFix Live" in February)

By Maurice Bobb

Kris Kross' Chris "Mac Daddy" Kelly may have passed away Wednesday (May 1), but his legacy as one half of the pop-rap duo that made millions “Jump” while wearing their clothes backwards, will live on.

In 1992, “Jump” became the fastest-selling single in more than a decade and grabbed the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and stayed there for eight weeks. The Atlanta-bred duo’s debut, Totally Krossed Out, moved more than four million copies and catapulted the young spitters to pop culture superstardom.

“At one point, it was a point where we couldn’t even go to the mall,” Kelly said when he joined Jermaine Dupri on "RapFix Live" via Skype back in February. “Back then, we ain’t have Twitter, we ain’t have Facebook, we ain’t have none of that kind of accessibility, so when we was seen, it was always a big hoopla. At one point, we couldn’t go a lot of places.”

Kelly, who was 13 at the time, had a rhyme flow that was beyond his years, bringing to mind a Little League version of Naughty by Nature’s Treach, who was also one of hip-hop’s rising MCs at the time. Kelly, along with partner in rhyme Chris "Daddy Mac" Smith, were bigger on pop music’s perch of popularity than modern day Justin Bieber. They were rap’s first teen idols. Kris Kross was Justin Bieber before there was a Justin Bieber. Their level of influence amongst teenagers and even young adults reached levels unheard of since Michael Jackson, who they opened for on his Dangerous World Tour back in ’92.

“You kinda can compare it to Michael Jackson cuz we lived a sheltered life, but we didn’t live a sheltered life because at some point, it kind of eased up,” Kelly said. “But at one point, it was hectic, couldn’t do nothin’ really.”

Kelly was joined on "RapFix Live" by Da Brat, the first female rapper to ever go platinum and whom he helped discover in the early stages of her career with a timely introduction to Jermaine Dupri, who was live on set. “We was always a team, we always had the same vision,” Kelly said of JD. “The vision was to put Atlanta on the map and let people see how we was livin’ in Atlanta at that time and that period.”

So So Def mogul Jermaine Dupri discovered the youngsters at the mall, where they held court like celebrities did before they were known by anyone on the music landscape. Dupri was the mastermind behind the group’s sound and packaging, but their swagger was all their own. It wasn’t manufactured like other groups in the past. Their image was their own, it was them, which made their influence all the more substantial.

"Kris Kross wasn't actually on So So Def, they was on Ruffhouse, which is the same label as Cypress Hill and all of them," Dupri explained. "These guys at Ruffhouse gave me an opportunity to put out my first group and that was the springboard to get my company off."

Countless rappers took to Twitter after news broke of Kelly’s passing, offering up their thoughts on the group’s influence on not only their younger selves, but the game as a whole. One tweet in particular, from the Roots’ ?uestlove, summed it up perfectily. "You can get the finga...the middle" --Mac Daddy #KrissKross,” Quest tweeted, referencing the group’s second single, “Warm It Up.”

In February, the pair performed at So So Def Records’ 20th Anniversary concert. Although the group hadn’t recorded any music together since their last LP, 1996’s Young, Rich & Dangerous it was as if they’d never stopped performing together, running through their catalog of smash hits, which included the timeless single that started it all. The crowd knew the chorus word for word: "Jump Jump/The Mac Dad will make you...Jump Jump/The Daddy Mac will make you...Jump Jump/Kris Kross will make you...Jump Jump.”

Believe that.