KRS-One was undoubtedly one of the first rappers who decided to use hip hop as a medium for political activism. KRS-One (real name Lawrence Parker) significantly impacted hip hop, first in his hometown of New York but then across the rest of America.
Parker, born in Brooklyn to a Trinidadian father and an African-American mother, practically raised himself from the age of 16 and lived out of a homeless shelter in the Bronx for much of his teens. While living in the Bronx, the rapper was nicknamed ‘Krishna’ as he began to explore his spirituality, developing an intense curiosity around the Hare Krishna Movement.
KRS-One first entered hip hop as a graffiti artist, then transitioned into rap upon meeting DJ and producer Scott La Rock, together forming the group and label Boogie Down Productions (BDP). In 1987 they released their debut album, Criminal Minded. However, La Rock was shot later that year after entering a beef between a BDP member and a local Bronx gangster. KRS-One would quickly decide to pursue a solo career, although still partially under the moniker Boogie Down Productions.
Parker’s breakthrough would come after five relatively successful albums under the name Boogie Down Productions when he decided to make his 1993 album Return of the Boom Bap. For the album, Parker would recruit some of the most renowned hip hop producers of the 90s, including DJ Premier and Kid Capri.
Although the early 90s saw G-funk ruling the charts, KRS-One continued to be hailed in his hometown for his conscious and political approach to hip hop. During his performances, Parker would freestyle over 80s dancehall instrumentals and would very much draw on his West Indian heritage. Acknowledging both his African-American side and his Afro-Caribbean side, many of the rapper’s lyrics promoted ideas around pan-Africanism, which was not present in the public consciousness during the 90s.
KRS-One was also at the forefront of another movement pioneering the H.E.A.L. compilation and the Stop the Violence Movement. The campaign resulted from the murder of a fan at his concert with Public Enemy. It was shortly after Scott La Rock’s murder as well. The movement’s main goal was to generate funds for grassroots organisations that help the vulnerable. Parker released the single ‘Self Destruction’ with the precursor that the proceeds from sales would go to the National Urban League.
KRS-ONE continues to blaze trails in each step of his career. He was the first to speak on the lecture circuit from the hip-hop community and he continues to tour. With such passion and ample food for thought, you always learn something new when you listen to his music. In the video below, watch him perform as he freestyles over ‘Agony Riddim’ from dancehall producer King Jammy.