The door to the bank vault on the ground floor of 140 Peachtree Street, the location where a photo shoot and interview with South Atlanta Magazine was scheduled to take place, was wide open. Its golden innards displayed what was once a complicated cacophony of mechanical systems used to open and close it. Keeping what was valuable inside until called upon. Almost as if the access to metaphorical wealth was prime for the taking for whomever was ready to go inside and retrieve it. This particular bank and vault had been closed for decades but the location, a venue used for occasions like this one, was perfect for Hip Hop legend KRS-One, a metaphorical vault of wisdom himself. In fact, the location suited the legendary lyricist and noted lecturer just fine. He liked the set up as soon as he and his wife of three-plus decades Simone G. Parker, herself a respected music mogul and businesswoman, got to the bottom of the narrow staircase. Nicknamed the “Teacha”, KRS-One went through the motions of the photo shoot, posing in a chair, then standing with his arms crossed, then later leaning against the vault door. He was in his element after 30-plus years of taking stages all across the world (he’s still touring by the way, only slowing down due to the coronavirus pandemic) the rap legend has been the subject of many a picture.
On this day, a cool April Saturday afternoon in a city he now calls home (sort of), he was ready to discuss a number of topics. Better said, the VH1 Hip-Hop Honors Award (in 2004) and BET I am Hip-Hop and Lifetime Achievement award (both in 2007) recipient was willing to discuss any and all topics. Class was in session.
Asked where he lives these days he answered, “To be honest with you I live in America.” The Teacha was in full professor mode early into our interview. “I’ve been coming to Atlanta for many years, long before I lived here. I have been here for 20 years but I veer off to California, I’ve been living there as well for 15 years.”
The act of touring has always been the “bread and butter” for recording artists, and rappers are no exception. KRS-One has been touring the world for decades, and having a home-base can be difficult. But when your whole family, Simone, his son Kris, 28, Isaac, 21 and daughter Tyme, 22, has a role to play in the production of the actual tour itself, “home-base” is wherever the family is. As for mixing work and family KRS-One says, “Touring does that.”
The family last toured together in 2019. “That was the last tour we did as a family,” said Simone. It was a European excursion that had the family move all over the continent. The master in his element and his biggest supporters never too far from his side. According to Simone the family enjoyed that time together, “It was a great experience.”
The vault of wisdom was wide open on this day. A discussion about the state of Hip Hop today, resulted in KRS-One giving the longest, most measured and thought-out answer of the two-hour session. After all, this is what helps define him as an artist, as a connoisseur of the craft. This is a topic he could happily spend the entire interview on, and nearly did. “Hip Hop that you’re listening to today, I wouldn’t call it Hip Hop,” he said. “It’s a trap, it’s pop, whatever it is. You know that it’s not what original Hip Hop made you feel like.”
This didn’t mean he doesn’t like what he’s hearing today, in fact, he happens to enjoy a lot of it. “To me it’s like, make your own lane, it’s fine,” he said.
In comparison to today’s Hip Hop, or whatever we’re calling it these days, KRS-One was quick to remind me, and anyone else that was nostalgic of the legendary masters of the “boom-bap”, that they were all available to see when venues reopen and concerts become a thing to do on a Friday or Saturday night again. “The Rakims, The Big Daddy Kanes, the Salt & Pepas are alive and well,” he said. “We’re all touring so 80’s and 90’s Hip Hop is doing well in terms of viability.”
He continued on the ‘80’s and 90’s era rap, “In terms of viability people still want to see it. There’s no letting up and also, a younger audience is interested as well.” Rakim had a show at a club in Marietta the same night KRS-One was downtown Atlanta conducting this interview and photo shoot. Hip-Hop royalty converging like comets in the metro Atlanta universe.
The topic of Hip Hop, and how it came to partly define his life, came up numerous times as well. If there was one person on Earth to talk about the impact the culture has caused and continues to manifest today, it is KRS-One. “The music is the calling card,” he added of his early days in what is now nearly a 40-year career. “Back then we were saying to society, ‘We exist’.”
Born and raised in New York City, more specifically the “Boogie Down” Bronx, KRS-One, Lawrence Parker, 55, is considered a Hip Hop legend of universal acclaim. Songs like “South Bronx”, “The Bridge is Over”, “Criminal Minded”, “Love’s Gonna Get’cha (Material Love)” and “Step Into A World (Rapture’s Delight)” have passed the test of time. KRS-One said about those songs, “I’m still touring with those songs till this day.” Examples of his lyrical staying power are too plentiful to list in a single story but let’s give it a shot with two of his classics on a topic relevant to the current state of America, and more specifically, American law enforcement.
“Sound of the Police” – “Be an officer? You wicked overseer!/ You hotshot, wanna get props and be a savior/ First show a little respect, change your behavior/ Change your attitude. Change your plan/ There can never really be justice on stolen land/ Are you really for peace and equality?/ Or when my car is hooked up you know you want to follow me.
“Black Cop” – “Thirty years ago there were no Black cops/ You couldn’t even run, drive round the block/ Recently police trained Black cop/ To stand on the corner and take gun shot/ This type of warfare isn’t new or a shock/ It’s Black on Black crime again nonstop/ Black cop, Black cop, Black cop, Black cop.
80’s and 90’s Hip Hop is doing well in terms of viability.KRS-One
The April 20 triple-conviction verdict (second-degree murder, third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter) of former Minneapolis policeman Derrick Chauvin for the 2020 murder of George Floyd puts songs like these in even more perspective than when they were written and produced for the album, Return of the Boom Bap in 1993. It stands to be said that those songs came to be a year after the Rodney King assault trial verdict that resulted in four Los Angeles Police Department officers being found not guilty despite video evidence and the Los Angeles riots that followed on April 29, 1992. KRS-One’s rhymes, songs, some may even call them lessons, have always had a way of turning the mirror towards society. “From a surface perspective, the songs “Sound of the Police” and “Black Cop” are always needed in today’s music because these particular songs document, not only how long Black people have been crying out for equal justice under the law, but these particular songs cover the idea of policing from a global perspective, and not just from a local or American perspective,” he said.
He described songs like those as “voicing the views of the so-called marginalized and the experiences we encounter when dealing with mostly white urban police officers.” The murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a white police officer and now convicted felon Derek Chauvin in an urban setting surrounded by what became Black witnesses to that crime, are all recent examples. “Are songs like “Sound of the Police” and “Black Cop” needed in today’s music,” asked KRS-One rhetorically. “The quick and surface answer is” yes”. In times of mass despair, corrupt leadership, and the breakdown of common civility amongst citizens, the responsibility of social order, wisdom and truth, usually falls into the lap of the artist.”
He made sure to add that a “deeper answer” to the previous question could also be “no”, because of two reasons. The first being that when those songs were most popular to rap artists during the 80’s and 90’s [See: “Self-Destruction’’ and “We’re all in the Same Gang” for examples] that kind of subject matter was not only accepted, but in regard to certain artists -Public Enemy, X Clan, KRS-One, Brand Nubians, Arrested Development, etc.,- it was expected. “Songs like those were wake-up calls for whoever could hear us at the time,” KRS-One said of his contemporaries. “Is such a tactic still useful today?,” he asked. “Maybe not and maybe it does not have to be.”
As an independent artist these days KRS-One plays the shows he wants, tours when he wants and says what he wants. His deal with Jive Records ended in 1997 with the gold album “I Got Next” and he has enjoyed calling his own shots ever since. His thoughts on record labels and how they want to see their artist under contract is a common theory whenever artists refer to labels. “They need to see you chained,” he said. “I have the key in my pocket, but that doesn’t matter, they need to see you chained.”
When KRS-One tells the story behind “I Got Next” and the single that pushed the classic album to gold status within a week of its release, “Step Into A World (Rapture’s Delight)”, he sits up a bit straighter in his seat. This is a serious story and lesson. The vault is open for this one. In fact, the doors have been blown off the hinges. He wants my attention when telling a story about betting on yourself and believing in your God-given gifts. Following a bet with label A&R about being able to produce a platinum album, KRS-One went to work on proving people wrong. “I went right into the studio and the ancestors were walking with me,” he said with a laugh. When he heard the sample of Blondie’s “Rapture” (produced by Jesse West) he knew he had a hit on his hands. “When I heard it the first time I was like ‘that’s the one’”. He would go on to shoot the video for “Step Into A World” in Florida and completed the album in record time.
Departing. Earth. Aimed. Toward. Heaven.
SimOne G. Parker
“We basically gave Jive the whole album,” said KRS-One. He was ready to prove the label, which was turning more towards pop music [See Brittany Spears and NSync], wrong one last time. “Being able to be independent with your family doing the business is the key,” he said. “My career is testament to being independent and moving on your own.”
KRS-One is still moving on his own, not only with the promotion and celebration of “Hip Hop Appreciation Week” occurring the third week in May, but also with collegiate lecturing, another way he gets to open the vault to an audience that might not necessarily know where the South Bronx is, or might not have heard about the battle with the Juice crew’s DJ Mr. Magic, DJ Marley Marl and MC Shan. “Till this very day we only stopped due to COVID,” he said. Presently, KRS-One has not only released two singles “Don’t Fall For It” and “Black, Black, Black” from his amazing 2021 album project “Between Da Protests”, he has also released a short documentary movie entitled “Street Light” which is also the title of his equally amazing 2020 album project. In addition to hosting his “Temple of Hip Hop” weekly calls every Sunday at 7:00pm, KRS-One spearheads a Black History series of lectures, entitled “Black Ourstory: A Philosophical Look At Black And History” available on DVD along with other presentations at KRS-One.com.
Nothing is going to stop KRS-One from opening the vault of knowledge that is his mind. Not even COVID. Not even the end of the interview. A few days later I emailed him a question about the unfortunate passings of fellow MCs DMX, Black Rob and Digital Underground founder and producer Shock G, and his response was what one would expect from The Teacha. “I know they are in a better place. All of them, in one way or another, were fighting against some aspect of themselves they wanted to get rid of. We can all do some self-reflecting here.
“They are on the other side now and we wish them a safe journey. Their influence on Hip-Hop will never be forgotten.” He ended the response with an acronym from Simone G. Parker for “death” that I never heard, or have seen before, but will never forget: Departing Earth Aimed Toward Heaven. The Teacha left the vault of knowledge open for one last look before getting in his white SUV and riding off into the Atlanta afternoon sunset.