BY MOIRA MCCORMICK | FOR THE SUN-TIMES
“The ‘war on drugs’ failed. Miserably,” said KRS-One, delving into the theme of his seething new song “Drugs Won,” the first single from The Teacha’s first new album in three years, “Now Hear This.” And while there are “tons of articles, and even books, on this very subject,” the venerable New York-wrought MC pointed out that “no popular-culture songs have been written” about the U.S. government’s interminably dogged yet ultimately futile attempt to stamp out illicit pharmaceuticals — until now.
When: 10 p.m. Nov. 29
Where: The Shrine, 2109 S. Wabash
Tickets: $32.50 general admission; $250-$300 tables (21+over)
Headlining The Shrine on Nov. 29, the rapper (aka Kris Parker) is described by the 2003 book “All Music Guide to Hip-Hop” as one of the genre’s “most outspoken and respected intellectuals” ever since his late-’80s bow with Bronx duo Boogie Down Productions: “Led by the often brilliant and incendiary MC KRS-One, BDP were pioneers of both hardcore and political (or “conscious”) rap — and if that seems contradictory, it also illustrates the scope of KRS-One’s talent for chronicling and even shaping his culture.”
In a recent phone call, KRS noted that he buffed up the signature beats from his formative years in that culture, for his just-released “Now Hear This.” The 18-track album features his 23-year-old son (also named Kris Parker) as lead producer, under the nom de guerre DJ Predator Prime.
“We wanted to bring the sound of ’80s and ’90s hip-hop to today; a very sparse, kick-drum snare-drum, boom-bap kind of sound. KRS-One explained. “And then, of course, the lyrics are addressing the salient issues of my particular audience, who want to be inspired by music that empowers them, makes them think.”
“Drugs Won” provides a cornucopia of food for thought — wrapped in KRS-One’s trademark vocal style, at once brawny and precise — on the gaping bicoastal inequity in U.S. marijuana laws and their catastrophic consequences for America’s disadvantaged: “It’s crazy how the East Coast considers herb the enemy/While every corner in L.A. is a dispensary,” he spits. “Cops roam around like a gang tryna jump us/Into the plantation prisons they wanna dump us/’Cause they’re really prisons for the poor.”
Equally blistering is “Invaders,” KRS-One’s gimlet-eyed take on what’s driving the current anti-Mexico immigration furor. “The racism of it is the piece I’d like to bring light to,” he said with a grimace in his voice. “The racism that Mexicans are facing.” (Armando Moran aka Mondo One, a former apprentice in KRS-One’s cultural-outreach nonprofit, The Temple of Hiphop [sic], kick-starts “Invaders” with a stirring Spanish shout-out to his people and their “futuro brillante.”)
Elsewhere, the MC tips his hat to audio engineers in “Sound Man,” one of two tracks guest-produced by DJ Static, whose regular gig is turntablist for rapper-activist Immortal Technique — and who is a delighted beneficiary of KRS-One’s follow-through.
“I’ve actually been his fan since the ’80s,” said Static (Alex Gyesi) who along with Technique is New York-based; KRS-One is now a SoCal resident. “I met him during a 2012 tour we were both on, told him I had music, and gave him a thumb drive. Fast-forward three years, and I get a call that he wants to use two of the joints.” Static revealed he’d fashioned the gritty central riff of “Sound Man” by sampling 40-ish seconds from “an obscure foreign-film soundtrack” then “chopping up and flipping” the sample. DJ Static declared it “an honor to work with one of [hip-hop’s] pioneers.”
KRS-One’s current tour employs his entire family, beginning with wife and manager Simone G. Parker. Son Predator Prime deejays, teenage daughter Tyme holds down the merch table, and the youngest, Isaac, who’ll soon turn 16, “sets up the stage, breaks it down, and then checks on his sister, at the end of the night, with the merchandise.”
Reflecting on his illustrious and ever-vital career, KRS-One mused, “I do believe that hip-hop is healing. And with ‘Now Hear This,’ that’s basically what we’re working to do — from the subject matter to the music’s style itself, the boom-bap. I’d almost say the album’s a wakeup call, but it’s not; it’s like … a vitamin! A hip-hop vitamin. And when I put it on, it rocks the party.”
Moira McCormick is a local freelance writer.