“When you ain’t got no money, it’s quicker to kill
It’s human nature that’s way the jails are filled
And the MILITARY? From the time you sign up
to kill your neighbor man it’s a SIN already
And SIN meaning Selfish Inconsiderate Needs
Gimme what I want! I don’t care who bleeds
These days people ready to steal and rob
All in the name of I’M DOING MY JOB
But what about doing your work, what’s your purpose?
No human being is worthless”
As tempting as it is to dive straight into reviewing this album there’s a little bit of history to the title “Maximum Strength” you should be aware of first. Back in 1999 a largely forgettable movie called “The Corruptor” arrived in movie theatres, paired with a somewhat more memorable soundtrack largely comprised of Jive Records artists. Hip-Hop fans took note of KRS-One’s inclusion “5 Boroughs” on the album, not just because of the all-star roster on the song but because it served as a teaser for the rumored “Maximum Strength” album fans had been waiting for since 1997’s “I Got Next.” Unfortunately something went awry before the album hit stores – either Lawrence Krisna Parker scrapped it due to feeling the material wasn’t good enough or Jive Records shelved it due to increasing tensions with Kris (he ended his ten+ year relationship with the label in 2000). Either way release dates for the album vanished and for a brief period of time rumors ran rampant. Some said it was available as a bootleg, others said it had actually been released but only in Japan, so on and so forth.
As the years went on I had largely forgotten about the so-called “lost KRS-One LP” until the “Maximum Strength 2008” album landed on my desk. The album’s name has engendered a certain amount of confusion, leading at least one hip-hop blog to unearth a tracklisting that undoubtedly has more to do with the originally scrapped album than this new one – emphasis on NEW. The press release that accompanies “Maximum Strength 2008” goes out of its way to make this point abundantly clear, with phrases like “brand new album by KRS-One” and “12 all-new tracks.” Perhaps if KRS and Koch hadn’t chosen to call the album “Maximum Strength” they wouldn’t need to emphasize this point so much; then again there may only be a handful of people in 2008 who even remember that a KRS-One album with almost the same name got mothballed nearly a decade ago. One has to wonder what the purpose was in choosing the name at all. The cynical might argue they simply wanted to use already available album artwork to save a buck or two, but you would have to think Jive Records would own those assets along with the originally scrapped LP.
No matter what the story is it’s clear from the opener “Beware” on that KRS-One hasn’t lost his passion for lyricism and that “Knowledge Reigns Supreme again.” The man who was long ago recognized as the “t’cha” of hip-hop offers so many lessons that nearly any part of “Beware” could be a quotable soundbite although I’m partial to “my synopsis is knowledge ain’t where college is/knowledge is for leaders and wisdom is for philosophers.” Of course it’s much easier for KRS-One to spit these philosophical teachings thanks to a bumping Duane ‘Darock’ Ramos piano beat laced with police sirens. “The Heat” is aptly titled, clocking in at just over two minutes but bringing so much fire you’ll need an iced tea to cool off when it’s done. “Pick it Up” may cause even more heat by opening the eyes of the blind, noting that we live in “an autocracy, not a democracy” and using historical precedent to examine the system of government we have today. If this seems too heady for today’s hip-hop, an era where people are more interested in bling’n than thinkin’, then I’m pleased to say KRS-One is a throwback to the days when putting a message in the music wasn’t anathema to making dope shit. This isn’t didactic or preachy, this is just KRS doing what he does best, opening up minds with fresh rhymes.
“In corporate sponsored elections, who’s winning?
This the wrong direction from the beginning
Every candidate got scandal, they all sinnin
Tryin to convince you, tellin you what they been in
But the real issues, they get avoided
While our children still gettin exploited
They call me Blastmaster Kris
Edutainment, that’s what my tactic is!”
It takes a special kind of hip-hop MC to be relevant going on 20+ years, but Kris has always been a cut above the majority of his peers, let alone the many artists who have followed the trails he blazed to their success. While some rappers might be slowing down in their 40’s, Kris is the Randy Couture of hip-hop, seeming to defy Father Time himself by being stronger and faster than ever. Few rappers could spit as quickly, articulately and passionately as he does on “Straight Through,” ripping a Dirt beat while simultaneously questioning the heart of any MC who’s never made a pilgrimage to the Bronx. Duane ‘Darock’ Ramos does a majority of the beats though and does not dissapoint, finding the spiritual and emotional heart of “New York” yet making “Hip Hop” universal to everyone Kris wants to reach. Things even get a little ragga on “Let Me Know,” letting KRS flex his Jamaican steez over a beat that ends far sooner than one woud like.
Aside from any confusion generated by this album’s title, the single biggest challenge faced by KRS-One in getting “Maximum Strength 2008” to the masses is that no one song presents itself as a viable lead single. That’s almost to be expected at this point in the career of KRS though – legends make ALBUMS, not singles. KRS has created a compact new album with almost no filler that’s thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish, ably picking up where 2007’s “Hip Hop Lives” left off. The pessimists will argue that you can’t chart without a hot single or a remix featuring Kanye West and Yung Joc, but thankfully the wisdom that KRS-One shares is timeless and not easily swayed by the trends of the day. Whether or not “Maximum Strength 2008” will go down as the best-selling album in his catalogue one thing is clear – this album does not embarass him, his long loyal fans, or lovers of hip-hop music and culture – that’s good enough. If you’ve never taken a chance on any BDP or KRS album before this would not be a bad place to start – “Maximum Strength 2008” is a pleasure to listen to and you just might learn something too.