Interview: KRS-One – Author, Producer and World-Renowned Emcee

Posted: November 20, 2009 in books, interview, music
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Date of Interview: 11/20/2009

© 2009 Clayton Perry

Whenever a listing of hip hop’s “greatest” emcees is created, one name consistently ranks in the top tier: KRS-One.  As a solo artist and founding member of Boogie Down Productions, Lawrence Parker has maintained unprecedented levels of notoriety and respect throughout his quarter-century reign as “The Teacha.”

Within the past few years, KRS One has received countless “Lifetime Achievement” Awards – honoring his impact on hip hop culture, as well as his philanthropic efforts revolving around the Stop the Violence Movement.  On October 6, 2009, his first book, The Gospel of Hip Hop: The First Instrument, was published under the powerHouse imprint.

In the midst of a promotional tour for the Gospel of Hip Hop, KRS One managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry — reflecting on the philosophical teachings of Edgar Cayce, the prophetic wisdom drawn from Louis Farrakhan, and the burden of responsibility hip hop’s emcees must bear.

Clayton Perry: A couple days ago, I watched one of my favorite films, Brown Sugar, so I thought it appropriate to start this interview with the following question: “When did you first fall in love with hip hop?”

KRS-One: Wow! When did I first fall in love with hip hop? To be honest with you, and I don’t mean to say this in a cliché kind of way, when I was born.  The park jams, graffiti writing, B-Boys, gangs, kung-fu – all of this was always in the background of my life. I’ve never known a time where that didn’t really exist. See, I never met hip hop. I always was it, so it’s difficult to answer the question accurately. So, wow, when do you first fall in love with something? If there was ever a time that I met hip hop, it would be with Scott La Rock. ’69, ’70, ’71: I’m there at Cedar Park with Kool Herc. In 1973, I’m living at 1600 Sedgwick Avenue. I’m there at the park jams. Everything’s going on and you kind of just grow up with hip hop in your life. Then you realize at some point in your life that this is what you’re going to do. This is what’s going to define you. And I think that moment came with Scott La Rock. I always wanted to be part of hip hop or to live in the culture.

Clayton Perry: What do you think makes hip hop culture so unique?

KRS-One: A funny thing about hip hop —  it’s different from every other music genre, because the audience is hip hop. We have this great crowd response thing that the MC and the audience, or the DJ and the audience, are all one event. Your first stage in the culture is that you’re just the culture itself. You can create anything with the awareness you have of yourself at this point. You are just hip hop, and that’s what I was growing up. I’m just hip hop. I’m down by law. I’m a graffiti writer, b-boy, MC, DJ, beat boxer. I’ve got my own fashion. I’m part of my own community. And that’s what we are, hip hoppers. Then you need a guy like Scott La Rock who is actually DJing in a club. It’s a controlled environment. And yes, you might have been hip hop all along. You know everybody and you know the culture and you know the mythology, the traditions, and all of that comes along with it. But now, someone puts a mic in your hand and puts a break on and tells you: “Produce hip hop. Produce the feeling that you grew up with.” And that’s when you meet hip hop. And it was like this. Broadway International brought what was called Broadway RT – Broadway Repertory Theatre – where Scott La Rock used to DJ on 145th and Broadway, upper Manhattan. And he would be DJing right there, and that’s when I first met hip hop, because he invited me to the club. I was homeless. My social worker invited me down to a club to see him spin, and I was completely blown away – straight up! And so, here you’re inspiring me to answer, to go back a little bit, because when you say, “When did you meet hip hop? When did you first fall in love with hip hop?” As I think about it, I think we might fall in love with hip hop several times.

Clayton Perry: Oh, yes! [laughing] What a relationship! Falling in and out of love. [laughing continues]

KRS-One: Yeah. Falling in and out of love. [laughing] That’s a brilliant way to put it. Very poetic. Yeah, falling in and out of love with hip hop. Any real love is going through that, too.

Clayton Perry: Throughout the course of your career, you have been recognized as one of the greatest MCs in hip hop, and you have also received several lifetime achievement awards, where you have been honored for the influence you have had on the music and the culture. What do you consider to be your greatest contribution? What do you think people are pinpointing exactly when they bestow you with a “lifetime achievement” award?

KRS-One: Everybody’s got their own opinion. Look at BET, for instance. 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award. That was very political in a lot of ways. People didn’t really see it because it was personal, but during that time, I was an abject critic against BET’s programming, and its depictions of hip hop at that time. And BET is fair in one thing: they do try to go along with what the people say they want. They don’t lie about that. I can criticize their polling methods and all of that kind of stuff, but really BET tries to keep its particular audience enthused in its programming. And they went out to their audience and they said, “Who is the lifetime achiever this year?” A couple names were thrown out and my name was up. Everybody said, “KRS.” Now what’s interesting is that, number one, BET wasn’t playing my music. Steven Hill totally ignored me, absolutely. Ten years of my career, Steven had nothing to do with KRS. So I was like, “I ain’t messin’ with him, he ain’t messin’ with me.” But then, the people say, “Yo, KRS, lifetime achievement.”

Clayton Perry: When BET approached you with this recognition, how surprised were you?

KRS-One: Here’s the irony of it all. This is called the “I Am Hip Hop Lifetime Achievement Award.” The ironic part of it all is that BET represents a group of intellectuals that don’t believe hip hop can even be a culture, that hip hop is even a community. They’re saying or preaching too much, and people just want to dance and chill, and that’s it. “Why are you making us think about hip hop?” They’re from that line of thought, and I can’t fight it. A lot of their thinking influenced mine. People like Jeff Chang, for instance. He and I had a nice discussion over whether hip hop should be institutionalized, by trying to create a hip hop institution, or should hip hop be left alone to be free in the world? And all of this influence led us to create what is now the Gospel of Hip Hop. Now, going back to your question. When you look back on what the greatest contribution is from me, it would be the teaching of hip hop. One thing I’m noticing is when I first said, “I am hip hop,” in 1994, a lot of people had questions with that, and reservations about that, as well. It was a debate. I threw my perspective out, and everybody tried to eat it up. We openly debated. It was great. Michael Eric Dyson, a good friend of mine, Dr. Dyson, wrote a scathing piece in Blaze Magazine saying to me, “It’s impossible to be hip hop. You can’t be hip hop. Hip hop is not a culture.” And I wrote a piece back in the same magazine saying, “Of course we are hip hop. This is the birth of a new culture, and here we go.” And we went back and forth. Now, in 2004, I’m a VH1 hip hop artist, and in walks Michael Eric Dyson. He just says, “I am hip hop.” Same thing with BET. Now I was thinking: “You don’t play my records, but you create a hip hop award show, and want to bestow me with an ‘I Am Hip Hop’ Lifetime Achievement Award?!?” [laughing] So me and Steven Hill sit down, talk this up, and I do eventually accept the award. I told him that I’ll accept the award if afterwards you have a meeting with me about the state of hip hop and Rap City and BET and all of that.  And there I discovered that they were going to take Rap City off the air. Therefore we had no argument. But he did take the meeting with me and we did discuss it. I found out that he was a really cool guy. He found out, I guess, that I’m a diplomatic gentleman, whatever that says. But at the end of the day, he’s corporate and I’m culture. We’re never really going to see eye-to-eye.

Clayton Perry: One thing I have learned over the years: sometimes you just have to agree to disagree! [laughing]

KRS-One: Right! [laughing] I was at Red Bull BC [Breakdance Championship] One the other day. Had a great time over there. I’m hosting. I turn to the kids – do I have to say kids? They’re all sixteen. Nobody’s probably over twenty-one in the building. They’re all beat boys. And I turn to them and I say, “Rap is something we do.” They go, “Hip hop is something we live.” I remember when I said that in ’95, it was like, “What? Huh? What?” Now I can’t even get it out. I can’t even finish the sentence without young people going, “Hip hop is something we live. I am hip hop. I belong to the hip hop culture. I’m part of hip hop nation. I’m repping my culture.” That way of thinking took fifteen years for hip hop to get comfortable with. And so, the greatest contribution as I look at it is to have assisted in hip hop’s maturity, to have assisted in its nation-building, in that sense. Let’s say when 2100 looks back on us, because now that hip hop exists, it will never not exist. In 2100, when people try to keep the tradition alive, the pioneers of hip hop will look just like Abraham or George Washington, or anybody who starts nations. So far, at least, my greatest contribution right there is the Gospel of Hip Hop because that makes hip hop not only a repeatable science, but a nation, an actual community. And it inspires others to write their gospels.

Clayton Perry: What other gospels would you like to see come to light?

KRS-One: I was talking to Freddie Foxxx and I said, “Yeah, we need a Book of Bumpy. The Book of Bumpy Knuckles.” Each of us has a story, a spiritual story, and hip hop has been joining in on the front of America hiding its spirituality. I mean hip hoppers pray and don’t go to church. No synagogue, mosque, nothing. But they believe in God, and try to follow a moral life. Try at least. A lot of us are like that. I think this is not only my greatest contribution so far, but I think hip hop’s zenith: we are declaring the fact that not only are we a specific group of people in the world, but we have direct access to God. We’re connected to the universe individually, here we are, right here. What a great jump-off for our children’s children’s children’s children.

Clayton Perry: Your new book is branded as “a spiritual manual for citizens of Hip Hop Kulture.”  When you look out at the contemporary musical landscape, what do you think is the greatest spiritual battle that we, as “Hip-hoppas,” have to overcome?

KRS-One: A belief in ourselves. The greatest battle is to believe that we exist. If we could just believe we exist, half our battle is over. If we knew we existed, like, we knew we were hip hop, and we knew that we were different from everybody else, that we are the b-boys of the word, we are the graffiti writers, we are the MCs, we are the DJs, we have our own fashion, we have a uniqueness about us, in the world: when we realize that, we also realize our sovereignty. And this is also the second stage in the Civil Rights Movement. This is the second stage. This is what the children of the Civil Rights Movement, us, are supposed to be doing. First we wanted civil rights, and we got it. Now we need civilization rights, and we’re going to get that, too. The right to build your own community, to govern yourself, in that sense.

Clayton Perry: On the page preceding the opening chapter, you cite the following quote from Edgar Cayce: “Heaven is not a place you go to, it is a place you grow to.” Taken out of context, I would like to know when you first stumbled upon that quote, as well as the immediate impact it had on you. And then putting it back into context, I would like to know why you decided to open your book with it.  What does that particular quote mean to you?

KRS-One: Well first of all, Edgar Cayce is the man. Straight up and down. This dude, they used to call him “the sleeping prophet.” Most of the quotes that are in the book are my attempts to guide hip hop to a further spiritual or philosophical knowledge. So Edgar Cayce, right up at the top, is telling you exactly where we are at. We are into psychic ability. We don’t front on that. We are into speaking to the dead, speaking beyond time, meditation, creative visualization, fasting, prayer; these things, we’re into that. So, if you do research on Edgar Cayce, you’ll see right there where he’s at, and you will already know what type of document this is, and what type of politics, what type of spiritual paradigm I am coming from. On another level – I’m going to be arrogant on this and say – real philosophers know about the work of Edgar Cayce, number one. Number two, real American philosophers hide the work of other American philosophers. Too many American-born philosophers quote philosophers from Europe, quote philosophers from Asia, and quote people from other times, too. The reason I put Edgar Cayce front-and-center is because he’s from our time and he’s from the United States of America. Let’s start right at home. Let’s start right here. These are the reasons. I believe in the validity of the statement, “Heaven is not a place you go to. It is a place you grow to.” That also tells you what the book is going to be about. Heaven is not an abstract place. It is not far off. It is not unreal, an illusion of fantasy or figment of your imagination. It’s not a cloud in the sky up in space. It’s actually a state of mind. It’s not an illusionary state of mind, it’s actually an adjusted state of mind where you can actually see heaven all around you. Jesus spoke, and so many prophets spoke about heaven being laid out all around us, but we just don’t see it because we don’t care to see it. So the point is you’re going to live and grow to heaven. This is the first part. Second piece of that is that it’s time for new knowledge. That’s what the Gospel of Hip Hop is putting forward, anyway. It’s time for new knowledge. It’s time for us to update the principles that we are used to. Let us talk about growing to heaven, that heaven is a state of spiritual maturity, not a place that you actually go to. That’s a slightly different approach, but the hip hop approach, the way that we are all already practicing heaven. In the inner cities, it’s just never been written down in that sense. This is an urban philosophy, urban lifestyle. Our children will call it a religion, but for us right now, it’s just a documentation of our culture spiritually.

Clayton Perry: In addition to Edgar Cayce, you also quote the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan on several occasions. One quote in particular struck me very hard.  It’s kind of long, but I’ll just cut to the chase.  In a nutshell, Farrakhan talks about the importance of teachers and how the artist plays an important role in society.  In fact, he tells us: “The artist is the most important person!  YOU ARE THE TEACHAS!  The people listen to you, they don’t listen to their preachers!  Preacher’s day is done!” I thought that quote was really, really interesting. What social responsibilities should artists have to the communities they represent? Although you are quite clear in expressing what an artist’s social responsibility should be, what do you think it will take to actually make them responsible?

KRS-One: Well, you know, it’s interesting. When I heard Minister Farrakhan say it, I was floored, because here you have a preacher. Minister Farrakhan is a preacher, in every sense of the word. And here he is acknowledging the truth. And the truth is hard. See, this is where it goes back to philosophy. Sometimes the truth will even destroy you. And that’s why a lot of people don’t want to really look at the truth. They want to skirt around — and it’s cool, I mean, I’m not criticizing. But I am separating. I’m making a separation here, quickly, between the analysis that you’re talking about and where everybody else is coming from. First of all, we don’t quote American philosophers. I had to stick Minister Farrakhan in there. As it was written, this is not about anybody’s religion, at all. We respect everybody. I even think that Satan has sinned there. Everybody gets respect. No doubt. Hip hop stands independent, no doubt. However, there has been one dude that’s been in our ear since…

Clayton Perry: …forever!

KRS-One: Yeah, man!  Since the ’70s. Forever, this dude’s been in our ear. Minister Farrakhan!  Now keep in mind, too, this is an elder. Minister Farrakhan’s been sick. He beat cancer. He’s always getting criticized. His work was hard – death threats, all that s**t. And then the Nation of Islam itself don’t let Minister Farrakhan start talking about the internal structure of the Nation. He’s brutal, even with his own people. He’s a leader. So, at the end of the day, I felt it fitting in a book like this that goes down forever, and also is a book from the youth — like I’m the youth compared to Minister Farrakhan – let’s start the book off with the dude that Public Enemy rapped about, that Kane quoted, that we all heard and admired and saw the struggle first-hand. And even if you don’t agree, you’ve got to agree with this dude’s eye on hip hop. From day one, Minister Farrakhan’s been pointing at us, telling us we are divine and we need to stop this nonsense. Minister Farrakhan’s never pulled punches with hip hop. He’s called us out, called cats out.  Big gangsta dudes, he had them on their knees, crying. He had Ja Rule crying – straight up and down! This is a man in our culture taking meetings and summits. Sad to say, I ain’t see no Jews do that. I don’t see no Christians come like that. There’s one Christian that I mention in the book. His name’s Clarence McClendon – Bishop Clarence McClendon. I met him out in California. He was running a hip hop church in California and was getting heat for it. And I went there and I got saved in his church, right there.

Clayton Perry: Oh, wow!

KRS-One: But I mention him in the book because he put out a thing called The X Blessing. And he talked about how biblically hip hop is the new way in the new world. And he, as a Christian minister, this dude was saying, these dudes are going to come smelling like weed with guns in their pockets, and we Christians are not going to know how to deal with them. We’re not going to know. He was telling them: “Get prepared. This is how God always works. It’s the least one, the one you don’t expect, the one who looks like they bugging – that’s the one God’s gonna pick and raise up.” I quoted his whole thing. That, too, is in the Gospel as well. But that’s about it. Everybody else was dissing. And to get back to your question about what’s the responsibility of the artist. Preacher’s day is done. Of course you got to read into that, I mean, because the preachers day is not done. It has only just begun. But what Minister Farrakhan is speaking to is that old style — “We gonna make it.” Same old quotes. “No weapon formed against me shall prosper.” Same old quote on the Muslim side. “All praise to Allah.” Farrakhan says all that is over now. There’s a new day popping, and everybody feels it, but very few people have the courage to step up in their position because you’re going to get dissed by those who have to hold on to the old power. And you’re going to get praised by those who are standing at the door trying to get in. And so you’ve got to decide yourself in even putting a gospel like that forward — which goes back to the question you posed about the responsibility of the art. You’ve got to ask yourself the question: “Who am I?”

Clayton Perry: Yes!  It is a question that many of us spend an entire lifetime trying to answer.

KRS-One: This is why your question is half-half for me. It’s yes and no with this responsibility to the artist, because really to be honest with you, it’s not even about the artist. It’s about the man or the woman. It’s really about what type of person are you. And I honestly believe that you’ve got to be ordained to do these things. Like to feel like a Poor Righteous Teacher or a Public Enemy or to feel like any of X-Clan — that’s an inner thing. That’s a thing that motivates you, like you as a man or as a woman are the type to not let injustice go past you. You as a man, as a woman, cannot be bought or bribed in that sense. So you’ve got to be a certain kind of person to want to help people, to want to save people. I used to get criticized for that, too. They said I had a savior complex. I was trying to be a messiah. I was starting a cult when I mentioned the temple of hiphoppas. People were like, “Oh, Kris is starting a cult.” And when I put out Spiritual Minded. Then it was: “Oh, Kris is a Christian, now.” And when I started talking about hip hop building its own secret society. Folk said: “Kris is with the Illuminati, now.” And I can imagine, what’s people going to think now of the Gospel of Hip Hop? [laughing]

Clayton Perry: It’s enlightening to hear you say all of this, because I get a lot of heat from people, because I’m really big on artist responsibility. I know you said you were half and half on it, but when I had the chance to study abroad in college, I was floored by how international audiences digest American culture.  99% of the time, that is the only way in which black people, and hip hop culture in general, are introduced to the world – through multimedia.  No disrespect to Charles Barkley and other superstars who use the recycled — “I’m not a role model. That’s not my responsibility.” – line. But I feel that once you have elevated yourself via some platform and you make your life work available for mass consumption, you have to embrace that and say, “I am a role model even if I don’t want to be.” So, with all that being said, there is a quote in the Gospel of Hip Hop where you breakdown and create an acronym for the word sin – selfish, inconsiderate, needs. There are a lot of artists out there who are claiming, “I’m the best rapper alive. I’m the best rapper ever.” But I don’t really feel like the product they’re putting out is changing lives. It’s selling albums, but I don’t really feel like it’s making the type of music that would inspire social or political change. So when I look at an artist like yourself, who doesn’t have that commercial success, but for some reason, people are coming back to you and doling out mounds of critical acclaim, what does that say?

KRS-One: Well, to be perfectly honest, the music doesn’t match the statement. Your music is not matching your claims. And this is what the issue really is.

Clayton Perry: On page 10 of your book, you write: “…many have forgotten the love of GOD.  Desperate and impoverished and suddenly propelled to the top of the World’s social circles, they marvel at the effects of their own artistic skills caring little for the cause of such skills; they just want to eat.” What’s your take on this current state of rap music and rappers that proclaim themselves to be “the best rapper alive”?  Do you think their comments are misguided?

KRS-One: You’re so right in this way, but let me just tell you how I deal with it in this sense. There is good in all of this. Let me criticize, first. First, the statement that you read in the Gospel, that was said with the spirit of not so much a judgment, but an observation as to the state of hip hop right now. These dudes don’t know where their food comes from. And it’s really for them to read this themselves. This message will get to them in some way, shape or form, that you don’t know how to do what you are doing, so you’re doing of it is temporary. And this is what the Gospel of Hip Hop lays out — it’s actually saving their lives and their necks as well, because deep down inside, if you really want to get money, and you say, “I really want to get this cash.” If you really want to get this cash, you can’t act like the way a lot of these dudes act. It’s impossible in real life. You can’t do it. So, to be on a TV or radio or Internet, and you say, “I’m the best rapper alive. I’m the greatest alive,” they don’t realize that you’re bringing that onto yourself. We already learned that if you say you’re criminal-minded, that you are going to attract criminal-minded activities to you. We learned the hard way that lesson. Bad Boy learned the lesson.  Look at Ready to Die. If you’re going to put a record out that says you’re ready to die, well come on, man, this is what it is. So at the end of the day, these guys are going to probably have to learn the same lesson again, and the lesson is, “I’m the greatest. I’m the best. I’m the this.” Well the greatest and the best is also socially responsible. I do believe that. It’s just that a lot of these guys are young, and it is right to say you are the best.

Clayton Perry: OK.

KRS-One: But here’s my second part to this. It is right to say you are the best. In hip hop, you’ve got to say that. That’s how you’ve got to come off, otherwise you’re a punk, and you have no right to rap at all. You have to step up, “I’m the best.” But then you find yourself in a club with KRS one night. It’s industry night. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s somewhere where real dudes are in getting it in. And you may have the hottest record on radio, or on the Internet, you may be selling millions of CDs, but I tell you the truth. I’ve been around since ’77, but professionally twenty-three years since Criminal Minded stopped South Bronx. In those twenty years, I’ve seen dudes with platinum s**t, crazy, all over the place. That means nothing when you step before the people. Now, if you say, “I’m the best,” then be the best. That means you say it, that’s why I’m on my way, that’s why I’m on my way to be the best. But then with hip hop, see, hip hop tests you. Now that don’t mean you in the club and say, “I’m the best,” but then you never in the club. Or you say, “I’m the best,” but you never really where dudes are spittin’. And I be where cats be spittin’ that. I be in the battles. I be at the Lion’s Den up in Harlem. What I’m pointing out is that these guys have the right to say whatever they want in their fantasyland. In a poetic sense, they have the right to say whatever they want. Freedom of speech. We live in a free country. However, at some point you’re going to meet Supernatural in the club. And you’re going to be embarrassed. I’m not fronting. You’re going to be embarrassed, and it happens over and over.

Clayton Perry: I can only imagine! [laughing]

KRS-One: I can’t tell you the list that I’ve embarrassed. I wasn’t even trying to, because I’m not that type to try and show somebody up. I come in humble, but I’m going to do me. I come in there, I’m doing me, and these cats can’t even take it. Platinum dudes, they won’t want to go on after KRS. They don’t want me in the building. They don’t call me for tours. None of that. You know, I was the host of Rock the Bells. Cats was getting it in. In, in, in. We was getting it in. I bought some Hulk gloves and went to work. Crazy. But you don’t think they see that? These kids see that, too, these rappers that are claiming to be the best at this and the best of that. They know, really, what it is, and they have to say that really. Let me say this. I do have an aura of elitism, that I am the best. But I would never irresponsibly run around yelling – “I’m the best!” – the way we’re hearing it come across. “You’ve done nothing. You’ve only been on the scene two years, if that. You have one record, and you’re claiming king,” and all of this. No doubt, that’s poor. But what it also says, though, is it’s ignorant. If you can get past the criticism real quick – because it’s wack – when people do that: you claiming the best but you’re not. You claim mastery, but you’re not a master. You haven’t mastered your craft, yet. Slow down. But that’s the problem with the young’n’. See the young’n’ always has that problem. I had that problem, too. But I had to learn to control my arrogance.

Clayton Perry: As the old saying goes: “Heavy is the head that wears the crown!”

KRS-One: Definitely. I feel for Kanye. I feel for Drake. I feel for these guys who do have to wear their career on their shoulder, on their chest, to make everybody know they’re the best, because it’s brutal out there. It really is. When I was coming up, I had Melly Mel on my back. I mean, imagine that s**t. I mean, I would not be who I was if it wasn’t for Melly Mel. Let’s just start right there. That it’s. Melly Mel. That’s me, KRS-One, straight up and down. And here now, I’ve got to actually stomach the fact that this dude wants to battle me, live at the Latin Quarter, because I am saying: “I’m taking all comers. I’m from the Bronx. And I’m starting with Bronx MCs.” So Melly Mel took offense, and was like, “No, you ain’t the best around here. Melly Mel is.” And I said, “Oh, no. You’re finished.” And the battle, it went on. And I came out victorious, and a lot of people saw it. And that’s what it was. But that don’t mean you run around, still saying you’re the best. To this day, I still give Melly Mel reverence, saying to you what Molly Moll, the late Mr. Magic, everybody that I battled in that sense. But you’ve got to have some sportsmanship about yourself. And that’s what a lot of people are not really exercising – is the sportsmanship to the whole thing. If you are the best, then you are just the best. That’s it. You don’t yell it. You don’t say it. You don’t have to say it. Your skill is going to show the world who the best is.

Clayton Perry: Well, humility is a trait that is often hard to come by! [laughing]

KRS-One: True! [laughing] But it is good to be in a community where all the artists think they’re the best. That’s a good thing. It’s a brutal thing, because there can only really be one. So there is a process of elimination, no doubt. But hip hop is vast enough where if you ain’t talkin’ that s**t, then ain’t nobody coming at you like that. But if you want to step into the arena, and how you step into the arena is by saying “I’m the best over all of you.” “Oh, well now let’s put that to the test. Let’s see if that’s really what it is.” And I’m that dude. I’m that dude right there who walks around with no other purpose than to put that claim to the test. Sometimes it’s not even my words. It’s just my presence. When I walk in a building, or walk into a party — I be at these industry parties when I get a chance. And I see how people move. I see how the room moves around, like, “Oh, s**t, KRS is here.” And I’m like, “Yeah, KRS is here, what? You thought it was going to be fake all night?” You know how many cats say that and can’t look me in the eye. And on the flip side. I’ll tell you a real story about Wayne. Real Wayne. I like his style. I think Wayne is bussin’ off at you as an MC. I haven’t seen his show, so I’m reluctant to call him an MC.

Clayton Perry: Why is that?

KRS-One: I mean, I’ve seen his show, and he was just getting money. I haven’t really seen him in his element, like going in, hungry and off-stage, to call him an MC-MC. But I like his metaphors. I like how he puts his words together, for the style in which he’s coming with. Now he claims the best, too.

Clayton Perry: Oh, yes, Wayne definitely thinks he is the best rapper alive or dead! [laughing]

KRS-One: I remember the BET Hip Hop Awards, when I was there to get my Lifetime Achievement Award. Right in the wings, Wayne was like, “Yo. The Teacha.” And I’m like, “Yo, don’t even start.” So I give him a pound, and I say, “Let me tell you something. You are the number one MC today.” He said, “Yo, don’t f**k with me, Kris. Don’t say that s**t, man. Don’t f**k with me.” Coming from you? Don’t fuck with me.” Everybody was staring around – like a hundred people. And he’s like, “Don’t f**k with me, man.” I told him: “Stay focused. Don’t get distracted. Don’t get with that bulls**t. You are the number one MC. Stay focused. Take hip hop with you.” Everybody clapped. The s**t was ridiculous. He broke down into tears. It was ridiculous. Somebody got it on film, somewhere. Cameras were all over the place. I was just telling him, “You the number one. You the number one.” But the point is: he took that s**t seriously. And I said it seriously and he took it like, “Wow. KRS-One validated my whole s**t right now. Oh, s**t.” And he was waiting for that. He was looking for that. He could always pop that yang, he could always say, “Yeah, I’m the best, and I’m selling . . .” But there’s a part in his soul that wants Africa Bambaataa to come by and shake his hand. There’s a part of his soul that wants to be accepted by Chuck D or have a KRS come over. All them dudes from 50 on down — everybody — and I’m saying it because I’m living it — this ain’t gossip. I’m living these things. These dudes are coming to me with real questions about their lives: this, that and the other. I probably need a reality show. I need to stop bulls**tting and go get a reality show so that people can really see.

Clayton Perry: Why don’t you give Viacom a call?!? [laughing]

KRS-One: Man, I should! [laughing] I’ll just be walking down the street and run into somebody — an artist, an executive, somebody you knew or something like that, and they be like, “Yo, let me tell you, man. It’s like this. It’s like that.” It’s not always tad and bad news. A lot of times cats be like, “Yo, I just got blessed crazy. I’m on my way here, here and here.” It’s not always death and destruction in hip hop. It’s not always, “Yo, ni**a, what’s up? We beefin’.” Hip hop got a lot of love in it. Cats are exchanging information, resources. People are getting together. I just got a new album from Masta Ace and Ed O.G, and that s**t is kind of hot. I also say it because I’m on it! [laughing] But Masta Ace slid off. I did some eight bar thing for him some months ago, and he gave it to me. He said, “Look. It’s finished. Here listen to it. Tell me what you think.” So I listen to the whole album. The whole album was good. I was like: “Damn, listen to Ace. Listen to Ed O.G, man.” These cats, they doing it, and you can only do it for love, now. You can get a little money, no doubt. There’s still money out there to get. But not no more selling no CD. You’ll get a little something. But really, if you ain’t doing it really for the love of it right now, you not really doing it. You can’t really do it. And it’s funny how the universe works that out. The cats that did it for the money, now, can’t do hip hop, because there’s no money in rap music.

Clayton Perry: Well, I guess you can say that Mother Nature ran her course and let all of the genuine MCs persevere! [laughing]

KRS-One: True! [laughing] But the money in rap music is getting smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller, and everybody’s running to movies and fashion lines and restaurants and whatever other entrepreneurial thing they could come up with, but nobody’s really thinking about hip hop. See, the Gospel talks about that, too, about how we drove the car far and now we need to gas up again. And everybody’s just saying, “Up. We’re here. Let’s get out of the car, and leave the car because we’re here now. We drove the car. We have corporations.  We’re in everything, now. Hip hop is everything.” So that’s it, now fuck hip hop. It just fades away. No! Not on KRS on watch. So this is where the Gospel comes to us because we’re saying, “No. More than ever now, let’s decide who is hip hop and who really isn’t.” And not me saying, “This is hip hop and this isn’t.” But you will say to yourself, “I love this culture. I ain’t part of this bulls**t.” And f**k, with your own mouth, you say, “Boom. I’m not down.” But if you are down, with your own mouth, you don’t say, “Yo, I am hip hop. This is me. I’m this. I feel this. This is what I’m about. This is what I’m going to eat off of. This is how I’m going to define myself.” And that’s what we’re really putting forward. I think it’s a brilliant time, really, for it. It’s a brilliant time to do it. It’s the right time to do it. Do you realize that the Gospel of Hip Hop, even though I stay away from the term religion, is really defining culture?  Your culture is your religion, and your religion is your culture, in that sense. What you live daily is your religion, is your culture. I live hip hop daily, and millions of other people do, too. So it can be called our religion.

Clayton Perry: One last thought, as we bring this interview to a close, I wanted to get some comments on “Self Destruction,” which celebrated in twentieth anniversary in 2009. When you look back on its creation and evolution in the public imagination, what is your lasting impression of that song?

KRS-One: Oh, man, it’s funny you mention that. Jesse West is working on a mix and I came up with a song called “Self Construction,” which celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the Stop the Violence Movement. We did “Self Destruction,” the record you’re referring to, in 1989. And 2009 marks twenty years, so we we’re going to come out with a brand new song. It’s excellent, by the way. We have two versions of it, one called “Self Construction” and one called “Self Respect.” But the movement still exists. And it’s funny, what I learned when I first started with the Stop the Violence Movement in ’89, I thought that it was supposed to be a national movement where everybody was gathered in peace and in support of a stop the violence movement. Over twenty years I’ve learned now that that’s a fantasy. That’s not going to happen. Adults like violence, simple and plain. They like it, they want it, they need it. And we’re not giving it up so quickly. Plus, violence is natural. It’s a necessary part of nature. Nature is very violent, or it least appears that way to us, in that sense. Nature will burn down her own forests just to create a new one. Pregnancy and birth is violent. Self-defense, even, can be violent. Having realized this, I realized that this movement cannot rely upon people. It cannot rest upon the trust of people. People are fickle. One minute they’re in, one minute they’re out. Most of the people on the record were there—they were there for their hearts, no doubt, but they did expect KRS to go ahead and lead the movement. And KRS never intended that or intended for that, so it kind of just waned. And one thing I’ll say is that I learned over twenty years the difference between being an artist and being an activist, and they are two different things. The people who shout positivity on records, they’ve got the red, black and green going, the dreadlocks, their women have the head-wrap with the long skirt and the backpack and it’s all black and we’re doing it and it’s all thug. And what I learned is really, honestly, I get more support from thugs, pimps, hoes, hustlers before I get the support of the so-called conscious, hip hop community or conscious urban community, neo-soul, whatever it’s called. They’re afraid of what KRS is about or just plain critical of it, in that sense. But nonetheless, I don’t have an opinion either way. The job of the teacher is to teach. So it’s a shame. I mean, I hope that the so-called conscious hip hop community — and let me be specific — hip hop’s so-called conscious artists, I hope they read the Gospel of Hip Hop and at least glean some understanding from it, or hip hop from this perspective, and it helps them. But to be honest with you, based on the experiences that I’ve been having, it’s going to be the thugs that’s going to get this book first and start acting on it. And in a way, that’s probably how it should go down. But it will be a shame if we repeat again the same nonsense we do every time a philosopher, a prophet, a leader — any time that dude steps up to say, “Yo, we got a new way out of the ghetto. We’ve got a new way off the plantation.” It’s always those who think that somehow they’re going to be threatened or shown up, it always become a Cain and Abel kind of thing. “Why did God bless him and not me?”

Clayton Perry: Have you thought about distributing the book to schools or jail ministries?

KRS-One: Yes, as a matter of fact, it’s difficult because the United States doesn’t allow spiritual materials to be taught in public schools. I’ve got to be really careful with where I teach this at, because of the separation of church and state. And I had this conversation with a teacher just the other day at a book signing, just about this very issue. How can you teach the Gospel of Hip Hop in a public school? You can’t. What we have to do is create a textbook from the tenants or principles of the Gospel of Hip Hop. If you even want to teach the principles of the Gospel at all, keep this in mind: the principles of the Gospel of Hip Hop is just the truth. This truth can be taught, really, through any medium, as long as it’s hip hop. You can teach this through anything. If you were an architect, if you were into medicine, law, anything. The idea that we teach in the Gospel of Hip Hop is self-creation, that hip hop gives us the ability to self-create, and we go through a few of the techniques of that self-creation. That could be taught in any medium, really. There’s nothing unique about that. What’s unique is to apply hip hop logic to the logic of self-creation. A new kind of creative visualization. A new kind of way to notice God, in that sense.

For more information on KRS-One, visit his official website:


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