I’m a big fan of KRS-One, the rapper. He’s unarguably one of rap’s most influential, visionary, essential, and downright entertaining figures to dateâ€”give me any of his BDP or ’90s records and I’ll be bumping that shit front to back for weeks on end. But KRS-One, the activist/proselytizer/theologian? Not so much. Kris is a pioneer and a master MC, but thing is, the guy’s a bit loony. Let’s keep in mind this is the same fellow who tried to petition the United Nations to recognize “hip hop” as an autonomous nation (chief exports: beats, rhymes, lyrical beatdowns and big booty hoesâ€¦okay, I made that last part up) and proclaimed “hip hop” a new world religion, not to mention his statement that his culture “cheered” on 9/11. Problem is, since the dawn of the new millennium, we’ve gotten a lot more of the latter than the former. Just about every KRS-One album since “The Sneak Attack” can be summarized as follows: “Today’s hip hop is wack. Hip hop was way better back in the day. By the way, I was one of the pioneers of this whole ‘hip hop’ thing.” Throw in some nonsense about “hip hop culture,” “hip hop is an art,” the “temple of hip hop,” and you’ve got yourself a latter-day KRS-One record.
Like most of the active greats, The Teacha still shows glimpses of his former glory, but for the most part he’s only as good as the issues he finds pressing at the given moment, which these days almost unanimously concern the state of hip hop music and culture, wild conspiracies, and subjects that quite frankly he doesn’t know enough about to speak on. There’s a fine line between activist rapper and ranting street corner preacher, and he crossed it about a decade ago, at which point he started releasing multiple halfhearted albums every year. Kris still attempts to bring the unparalleled energy of “Return of the Boom Bap” to his new LPs, but rather than remain at the same level of his music from two decades ago I’d argue he’s even regressed: his rhymes are more elementary, his beats stale, boring, and dated, and his quality control practically nonexistent given his huge volume of output.
In the past four years alone he’s released full-length collaborations with legends Marley Marl, Buckshot, Just-Ice, and True Master, and with “Godsville” D.I.T.C. mainstay Showbiz joins the list. Show produces the entire tracklist which comprises for some of the best production KRS has seen in years. Show’s sound is definitely rooted in the funky, horn-heavy D.I.T.C. sound he shaped in the early-90s, but he’s by no means stuck in ’92â€”opener “Improve Myself” is fresh as fruit off the vine. What’s Kris got to say?
“Original emceein’, yup, we rep
I got a special delivery like G-Dep
I don’t waste hip hop, that’s where the heat’s kept
I got a twenty-twenty flow you ain’t even seen yet
I don’t see a threat, I be a threat
You just-add-water rappers startin’ to look like Chia Pets
I be a veteran
Straight up graffiti-writer with bubble letterin’
But then again I’m like a doctor with medicine
And overstandin’, curin’ you from programmin’
I’m handin’ you the voice of a true outsider
Write my own rhymes, I draw my own fliers
The teacher will test for y’all
Y’all rappers are radioactive, I can’t even stand next to y’all
Corporate bringin’ you down like decimals
Growin’ y’all then clippin’ y’all like vegetables”
Herein lies the problem with “Godsville”: the outstanding vocal presence and legendary mic control of one of the G.O.A.T.s are completely intact, but the lyrics are on autopilot. “Show Power” is the same tired sucker-corporate-MC bashing he’s been rehashing for my entire lifetime without a single redeeming punchline, he lamely trumps his abilities on “Legendary,” and “This Flow” features some of the most insipid battle rhymes this side of 1985. The album’s saving grace comes in the form of “Another Day,” a melancholy piano-based track where KRS recalls his rough upbringing and motivation to stay at his craft. It’s powerful, effective, and immensely frustrating, because it shows that the Blastmaster is still fully capable of strong material and simply chooses to mass-produce the wackness.
“Godsville” is just over 30 minutes in length including an intro, a remix, and a single guest verse courtesy of Fred the Godson on “We Love This,” but even a half-hour of KRS sleepwalking is too much. The single-mindedness and complete lack of inspiration make it sound as if KRS wrote and laid down the entire LP in a single afternoon in order to make his dinner reservation. Showbiz does everything in his power to make “Godsville” palatable, and his efforts are commendable: the beats are fresh, funky, clean, and would no doubt make for great tracks if saved for his D.I.T.C. brethren. As a hip hop fan, it pains me to see one of the G.O.A.T.s reduced to the drunk, ranting old men in recliners from Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days”: hopelessly out of touch with a new generation yet utterly convinced he knows what’s best for them anyway. KRS, do everyone, if not just yourself, a favor and either hang it up or stop wasting our time with half-assed efforts every six months.