t would be more than a little insensitive to say that the murder of DJ Scott LaRock was actually beneficial to KRS One’s career, but it’s hard to imagine him enduring as long as he has without experiencing something as spiritually redefining as the death of his closest partner. When the pair, arguably, ushered in the death knell of old-school party rap with the release of Boogie Down Production’s proto-gangster rap classic Criminal Minded in 1985, no one would have imagined that the original South Bronx MC would have evolved into what he is today, hip-hop’s most dedicated prophet. After LaRock’s death, KRS One began to embrace hip-hop as a cultural force and legitimized rapping as a medium of education, becoming The Teacher, hip-hop’s original conscious MC. If you’re the type who gravitates to strong messages and anti-materialism in their hip-hop, you have KRS One to thank.
And now here he is, nearing his 39th birthday, releasing his thirteenth LP, still preaching against violence, misplaced hatred, government corruption—the same topics that have made him a legend and have become the thematic template for countless followers. His game has changed now, though. After founding the Temple of Hip-Hop in 2001, KRS has dedicated his time to overseeing the state and evolution of hip-hop culture. You can argue whether hip-hop needs its own church or not, but you have to respect KRS One’s intent, to ensure that hip-hop continues to be what it always has been, a peaceful artistic expression of the self.
I have to be honest: I don’t listen to those old BDP albums much anymore. They are undeniably classics, but they exist to me now to be respected and not enjoyed. There’s nothing wrong with this, if you consider them lectures from a teacher and not entertainment (KRS One liked to use the term “Edutainment”). You can love a great lecture, but you usually don’t return to listen to them that often. But thankfully Keep Right puts an emphasis on entertainment, and I must say, I haven’t enjoyed listening to the Teacher this much in a long time. He raps like the genre was invented yesterday and could be gone tomorrow, with passion and alacrity.
Lead single “Phucked” is a great example. It rocks a hard, club bass line, wastes no time making its point, and then it gets out, leaving you with the refrain to echo in your head. Lambasting MCs who didn’t heed his warning and searched in vain for mainstream acceptance, KRS is typically self-referential and unsurprisingly effective. “You heard KRS and you said ‘That’s preachy’. A wise young man says ‘Father, teach me’. A foolish young man wants to live life freaky… Now y’all fucked!” Very few MCs can say “I told you so” without sounding pompous. “Oh yes, knowledge does reign supremely. When I said it ’89, you didn’t believe me.”
But as a rapper, KRS is most effective when he shows his unwavering belief in hip-hop as a way of life, revealing an unparalleled respect for the culture. On “I Been There”, he raps “I walk the same path that Mase do. But he went in the church, I stayed out to face you.”
With many of its best tracks clocking in under two minutes, Keep Right never feels ostentatious. In fact, it’s an effortless listen. The moment you get bored with a weak track, there’s no need to reach for the search button, because it’s already over. KRS may never produce another epic classic along the lines of “My Philosophy”, but it’s to his credit that he respects his listeners enough to refrain from chasing past glories, instead opting to keep the energy level high and his message focused.
Of course, Keep Right suffers a tad from its dependence on a multitude of producers. Without any stylistic consistency, the tracks don’t hold well together as an album. But to concentrate on that minor flaw would be petty, seeing as Keep Right is as good a restatement of intent as we could have hoped for from KRS One and also serves as a compelling introduction to some of the new talent on the promising Grit Records label.
With that said, I’ll now pass this review off to The Teacher for a closing call to action:
“If you bought the CD, thanks for the purchase. But if you downloaded the album, then come to the concert! Don’t sit in front of the computer ‘til ya eyes hurt. Git up, git out, join the movement.”
Reviewed by: Gabe Gloden
Reviewed on: 2004-08-18