Saturday, October 10, 2009

October 10: Boogie Down Productions, "Criminal Minded"

Artist: Boogie Down Productions
Album: Criminal Minded
Year: 1986 (recorded), 1987 (released)
Label: B-Boy

Though many may feel that Public Enemy were the founders of hardcore and political hip hop music, the reality is, one of the most important influential groups ever had them beat by over a year. Rarely delving into anything "gangsta" and concentrating on more conscious and socially aware hip hop rhymes, Bronx, New York based Boogie Down Productions remain one of the greatest hip hop groups to ever record. Containing two of hip-hop's most legendary figured, emcee KRS-ONE and DJ Scott LaRock, the group were THE premiere rappers from the finest borough in all of New York City. The sound and style of the group changed everything it meant to be a hip hop artist, and their influence is still a massive force nearly three decades after they first recorded. Samples of the music of Boogie Down Productions can be found all over music, from Michael Jackson to Cypress Hill to talentless hacks like Jennifer Lopez. KRS-ONE himself even gives his name to an all-out tribute song by Sublime that is featured on their 1992 album, 40oz To Freedom. The song itself sings about how, due to his amazing writing, the members of Sublime learned about "the real world." It is these wide-ranging tributes that prove the massive impact that they had on the entire world of music. Recording their debut record in 1986, it took Boogie Down Productions more than a year to actually get the album out for sale. However, as soon as it was out, Criminal Minded quickly took the world by storm and remains one of the greatest and most important hip hop albums ever recorded.

When it comes to "game changing" records, Criminal Minded ranks high on the list. If one looks at the overall history of hip hop, this can easily be seen as the record that began the transition from the old school of "rep your 'hood" to the more aggressive, socially and politically aware style that remains to this day. This transition can be clearly seen within the albums' two most famous songs, "South Bronx" and "The Bridge Is Over." Both of these songs are widely believed to be a responses to MC Shan's "The Bridge," and it is due to these "dis" tracks that the songs also represent the first real "feud" within hip hop. The songs center around the riviera between the Queens and Bronx boroughs of New York City, and after these two singles were released, it was abundantly clear that the latter had won, as it effectively ended the career of MC Shan. The latter of the two songs remains the epitome of the hip hop "dis" song, and the proves that one can be just as brutal and clever without resorting to swearing in every other sentence. The song is absolutely relentless, with KRS-ONE slamming Shan in countless ways such as, "'d better change what comes out your're better off talkin' bout your wack Puma sneaker...'cause Bronx created hip-hop, Queens will only get dropped, you're still tellin' lies to me..." Many of the lines from "The Bridge Is Over" have been re-used over the years, and it is largely due to these two songs that KRS-ONE became the hip hop legend that he remains to this day.

Quite literally, everything about Boogie Down Productions and Criminal Minded stand today as revolutionary, from the rhyming KRS-ONE to the DJ style of Scott LaRock. LaRock remains one of the most inventive and dynamic DJ's ever, and the samples he presents, as well as his fantastic scratching are still largely unrivaled to this day. On Criminal Minded, DJ Scott LaRock uses samples from many "traditional" artists like James Brown and late 1970's go-go funk pioneers Trouble Funk. However, LaRock shows his amazing ability and diversity as he uses the key riff to AC/DC's "Back In Black" on "Dope Beat," as well as throwing in a sample of The Beatles' "Hey, Jude" on "Criminal Minded." Even mixing in live beat-boxing from D-Nice, it is beyond clear that DJ Scott LaRock was a DJ of the highest caliber and his skills and style have been copied countless times since. Tragically, DJ Scott LaRock was murdered only five months after the release of Criminal Minded when he and the entire Boogie Down Productions crew traveled to another area of South Bronx in an attempt to defuse a "beef." After resolving the issue, the group was leaving when their vehicle was riddled with bullets, and LaRock was mortally wounded in the neck. His death shattered the hip hop world and became the catalyst for the "Stop The Violence" movement and recordings that emerged over the next few years.

Though there are many throughout history, when it comes to hip hop luminaries, few even come close to the impact and power of the one and only KRS-ONE. Standing for "Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone (Everybody)," KRS-ONE has earned nicknames like "The Teacher," "The Blastmaster," and "The Philosopher" over the years. Always delivering his rhymes with a clear and forceful manner, KRS-ONE represents the class of emcee that simply cannot be ignored. Addressing everything from the aforementioned "beefs" to more relevant issues like drug addiction, to one of the earliest "gangsta" type tales, KRS-ONE truly re-wrote the book on hip hop rhyming. With "9mm Goes Bang," KRS-ONE presents one of the most violent rhymes ever written, yet if one listens closely, it appears to be a tale of self-defense. Regardless of the point of view, it remains shockingly violent in its vividness and the almost singing delivery of KRS-ONE gives it a very unique mood and tone. Artists from N.W.A. to 50 Cent owe much of their careers to this album and more specifically, "9mm Goes Bang." Flipping to a far more socially conscious theme than anything that had been previously recorded, "P Is Free" is the tale of a drug addicted prostitute. Themes like this had simply never been presented on record, and again, the vivid picture painted by KRS-ONE creates one of the most unsettling, but unignorable rhymes ever recorded. Even with amazing songs like these, it is when KRS-ONE gets into "battle mode" that he is truly at his finest. His incendiary "disses" and the phenomenal way with which he flips his words is truly unparalleled. Once again going right after Marley Maul and MC Shan, KRS-ONE rips into them saying, " people in the place to be, KRS-ONE attacks...ya got dropped of MCA 'cause the rhymes you wrote was you think that hip-hop had its start down in Queensbridge? If you pop that junk up in the Bronx you might not live..." Though many have imitated, the fact of the matter is, only a small handful of emcees can even remotely compare to the brilliant writing and unparalleled delivery of one of hip hop's true innovators, KRS-ONE.

The term "keeping it real" has been used so many times over the decades that it has become truly cliché. However, the truth of the matter is, over the past twenty-five years, few artists have "kept it real" as truthfully and perfectly as KRS-ONE and Boogie Down Productions. Portraying the world around them in a vivid and unrelentingly honest manner, they opened the plights and issues of the inner city for the world to see. Addressing everything from drugs and prostitution to, almost ironically, senseless violence, Boogie Down Productions made it clear that there was far more to hip hop then the lighter, dance-hall style of the genre that had dominated until that point. Their debut album, Criminal Minded truly set the mark for hip hop greatness, as everything from the production to the samples to the scratching is nothing short of extraordinary. Topped off by the mesmerizing and unrelenting rhymes of KRS-ONE, Boogie Down Productions remain in a class all their own more than three decades after they appeared on the music scene. Every track on the album is superb, and there once the group has your attention, you simply cannot turn away from the awesome power of the music and lyrics. It is this characteristic, as well as the truly unsurpassed content of the music and lyrics that make Boogie Down Productions' 1987 debut album, Criminal Minded one of the most pivotal moments in music history, and by far one of the greatest albums ever recorded.

Standout tracks: "South Bronx," "9mm Goes Bang," and "The Bridge Is Over."

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