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KRS-ONE: A Biography from Boogie Down Productions

KRS-ONE (Lawrence Parker) has been speaking on behalf of Hiphop's preservation for more than a decade. Although Hiphop has had other voices for change and cultural unity, it has been KRS-ONE (Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone) that has remained the loudest voice for Hiphop's philosophical and spiritual awareness.

Leaving home at the age of 14 to pursue general philosophy, world religion and a career in Rap music, young Lawrence found himself part of the homeless population of New York for more than five years. Living on the subways, the cold benches of Central Park, and frequenting the group homes and men's shelters of New York City, Lawrence would educate himself in the public libraries. While homeless, Lawrence would volunteer to give out food with the Hare Krishnas who would teach him the secrets of thier Hindu religion. When Lawrence would return to the shelter, cynnical security guards would tease him about his affiliation with the Hare Krishnas. In teasing him, they would call him "KRSNA," a title that would officially become his nickname throughout the shelter system.

Later, in 1984, at the Lacomb Avenue group home on Soundview Avenue in the Bronx, Lawrence met a Graffiti artist named "Zore." Zore would teach Lawrence the fundamentals of Graffiti Art. Lawrence would then change his name to KRS (an abbreviated version of KRSNA). Together they would visit the 4, 5, and 6 train "layups" to perfect their craft with Lawrence now "tagging" the name KRS! It wouldn't be long before other Graffiti artists would begin writing similar names which forced KRS to add a more identifying element to his "tag." Thus KRS "ONE" was born.

Sometime around 1985, while residing at the 166th St. and Boston Road men's shelter armory in the Bronx, KRS-ONE met a young social worker by the name of Scott Sterling. After an argument over subway tokens, the two became friends when they realized they shared a mutual friendship with a young producer named "Ced-G" (Ultra-Magnetic MC's). In addition to this mutual friendship, KRS learned that his social worker (Scott Sterling) was really DJ Scott La Rock of Club Broadway International. It was Scott La Rock who would introduce KRS to the thriving club scene of New York and together they decided to form a Rap group called "Boogie Down Productions."

Known to many as the "Teacha," KRS-ONE began "edutaining" Hip-Hop culture with his very first hit record "The South Bronx," published in 1986 for B-Boy Records. Athough "The South Bronx" was an Emcee battle record, KRS-ONE (at that time the frontman for Rap group Boogie Down Productions with DJ Scott La Rock), used this platform to teach Hip-Hop history and propel the conscious Rap movement into the heart of "undaground" Hip-Hop.

In 1987, KRS-ONE and DJ Scott La Rock (BDP) recorded and published, the now classic Rap album, "Criminal Minded." In August of this same year, while enjoying an overwhelmingly positive street response to their album, Scott La Rock was fatally shot while trying to break up a dispute. KRS-ONE, now a solo artist, experienced first hand the hardships of losing a close friend while growing up in the harsh realities of New York's street-life. It was around this same time that KRS realized he was being "ripped off " by his record label, B-Boy Records, and began to pursue a better recording relationship elsewhere.

In November of 1987, KRS-ONE secured an eight album recording contract with Jive Records. After purchasing Scott La Rock's half of Boogie Down Productions and settling other financial obligations, KRS-ONE began the recording of his second album "By All Means Necessary." This album continued KRS-ONE's relentless campaign to uplift the consciousness and moral responsibility of Hip-Hop culture. Featuring such songs as "Stop the Violence," "My Philosophy," and "J-I-M-M-Y," KRS-ONE tackled such topics as: violence prevention, the state of the recording industry, and safe sex. Keep in mind, these topics were not regularly entertained in the lyrics of KRS's contemporaries at the time. "By All Means Necessary" sold over 500,000 copies and put KRS-ONE on the mainstream map.

In 1989 KRS-ONE was approached by Ann (Tokyo Rose) Carli, the A&R of Jive Records at the time. She expressed her remorse over a young man that was stabbed for his gold chain at a Rap concert. She introduced the idea of a "Stop the Violence Movement" inspired by KRS's "Stop the Violence" song. KRS agreed, and began to rally together most of Hip-Hop's major recording artists. Ann Carli would then contact, author and columnist, Nelson George to help spearhead the project. In the end, the "Stop the Violence Movement" was a huge success. Selling over 500,000 12 inch singles of the song "Self Destruction," this song proved the potential for Rap music as a tool for social justice. Proceeds from this song were donated to the National Urban League.

During 1989, KRS recorded and published his third album "Ghetto Music - The Blueprint of Hip-Hop." This album became an immediate cultural success when KRS questioned the ethnicity of many of the Prophets of the Holy Bible, and challenged the validity of the American Educational System as it related to Black (African) history. "Ghetto Music - The Blueprint of Hip-Hop" sold over 500,00 copies.

In 1990, KRS began focusing more upon Hip-Hop as a legitimate culture, as opposed to putting most of his focus into the selling of his records. KRS realized that social change is impossible for those who do not own and control the fruits of thier creative intelligence. Many people pleaded with KRS to "...keep his mouth shut" and simply be content with his superstar status. However, KRS felt the compelling need to follow his true calling of establishing Hip-Hop as a legitimate culture and raising the self worth of all who would listen. Going against the wishes of his friends, associates and peers, KRS recorded and published his fourth album "Edutainment." This album sold over 500,000 copies.

In 1991, KRS became increasingly frustrated with the way in which Hip-Hop culture was being depicted in Rap music. As a result, he abandoned his highly successful recording career and called upon Rap music's biggest stars to form an organization called, "Human Education Against Lies." Joined by his friend and study partner, Dr. Zizwe Mtafuta Ukweli (Professor Z), KRS would record a special side album entitled "Civilization vs. Technology." However, when KRS recorded this album, times had changed in the Rap music industry. The so-called "Gangsta Rap" era had just begun and KRS found himself having to make a choice. The choice was - go back to his first album concept which helped to influence the "Gangsta Rap" era, or stay faithful to his vision of a unified Hip-Hop culture of peace and prosperity. Of course, KRS chose to stay faithful to his vision, even though his record sales began to drop.

By 1992, KRS-ONE (Krist Parker) was one of the most sought after collegiate speakers in the country. Visiting over 200 universities including: Clark, Yale, Moorehouse, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Temple, Howard, Spellman, and UCLA, KRS presented his message of attaining Health, Love, Awareness and Wealth through various unorthodox methods commonly found in Hip-Hop culture. In this same year, KRS would record and publish his fifth album "Sex and Violence." This album warned against negative effects of irresponsible sex and violence, and urged Hip-Hoppers to consider Hip-Hop's political and spiritual potential. This album sold over 250,000 copies.

In 1993, KRS declared himself an "undaground Hip-Hop Emcee," where his representation of Hip-Hop culture would become more important to him than the selling of records. Some felt that KRS had no choice because of his waining record sales. However, KRS explained over and over again that, "...its not about a salary, its all about reality." And the reality was that Hip-Hop, the culture, was being exploited as "hip-hop" the product. KRS felt, and publicly expressed that, " is of critical importance that Hip-Hop as a culture be preserved and properly documented for the empowerment of our children."

During this same time, many of Hip-Hop's pioneers were being totally disrespected by those Rappers that were ignorant of Hip-Hop's history. Many of Hip-Hop's pioneers who paved the way for others, and created the very techniques now used in Rap music production, were being ignored and trampled over by a new Rap music mentality that only cared about making more and more money for themselves. KRS felt that this was inherently wrong!

In 1994, KRS recorded and published his sixth album "Return of the Boom Bap," and focused primarily upon establishing Hip-Hop's common spirit. This album sold over 300,000 copies. During this same year KRS was recognized by the entire Hip-Hop commuity as the "Best Live Performer of All Time." Some argued that he was the best live emcee of all time, but throughout these criticisms, KRS remained focused upon establishing Hip-Hop as a legitimate culture of peace and prosperity. In this same year, KRS was approached by "Media Assasin" Harry Allen to organize a Hip-Hop summit at the Alfonse Schomberg Center for Black Studies in Harlem for the purpose of announcing a Hip-Hop archive called "Rhythm Cultural Institute." KRS agreed and brought together most of Hip-Hop's pioneers, organizations, and artists to discuss the formation of such a project.

Most of Hip-Hop's pioneers, organizations, and artists agreed on the need for Hip-Hop's proper documentation, but no one could agree on how such documentation was to be acheived. Looking beyond all the "in-fighting," jealousy, and lack of vision present within Hip-Hop at the time, KRS began to think about the creation of a Hip-Hop preservation society that would secretly commit to the preservation of Hip-Hop as a culture. With his long time friend and study partner, Professor Z, KRS would begin discussing the creation of the Temple of Hiphop.

In 1995, KRS-ONE recorded and published his seventh album "KRS-ONE," which established KRS as a Hip-Hop spiritual leader with the song "Ah-Yeah." "KRS-ONE," the album, sold over 300,000 copies. Having been in the recording industry now for nine years, touring all over the world, influencing and producing numerous artists, KRS-ONE found himself the most influential Hip-Hopper in Hip-Hop's history. Enjoying a worldwide street respect, matched by none, KRS-ONE continued his campaign to establish Hip-Hop as an international culture of peace and prosperity. It was during this time that KRS coined the phrase "...Rap is something you do, Hip-Hop is something you live!"

In 1996 KRS-ONE took a break from recording, and published the first "how-to" book on Rap music entitled "The Science of Rap." This book explained in detail the techniques for longevity in a continuously evolving Rap music industry. It was during this time that KRS announced the birth of the Temple of Hiphop and began expressing to the Hip-Hop community "...I am Hip-Hop!" Many Rappers and journalists took offense to KRS saying "...I am Hiphop!" But KRS would explain, "we are all Hip-Hop, it's just that I may have been the first person to have realized it." KRS would go on to say that, "Hip-Hop is not over there somewhere, external of self; Hip-Hop is our ceative intelligence originating from God within self. To say, `I am Hip-Hop`, means I am the strategy for my own self improvement. We must eliminate the distance between what we think and what we do."

In 1997, KRS-ONE was still being criticized for not selling a million records, which had become the norm for Rappers of his stature. KRS would respond again by saying "...haven't we learned the lesson that, no matter how rich or famous you become as a Rap artist, if the culture of Hip-Hop is not your primary focus, all success gained by way of corporate validation is temporary and of no use to your real life as an adult." Many would respond by saying, "...if you are the Teacha, you should also have success in your recording career."

Knowing that these critics would never see KRS's true vision and commitment to the culture of Hip-Hop, he used his knowledge of the industry's "hit-making" methodology to show that platinum and gold albums are the results of standard marketing and promotion formulas. These formulas often contradict the principles of true Hip-Hop culture. Wanting to prove his point and not wanting to abandon his vision, KRS masterfully recorded and published his eighth album "I Got Next." This album sold over 500,000 copies proving his point and "shutting up" his loudest critics.

KRS also noticed that the Rap music industry was not hiring Graffiti Artists to do various graphic art work like album covers, touring backdrops, T-Shirts, jackets etc.. He also noticed that B-Boys and B-Girls were not prevalent in so-called "Hip-Hop videos." To KRS-ONE, Hip-Hop was more than Rap music and should be presented in it's totality.

KRS went on a hunt to find a B-Boy crew (Breakdancers) worthy of sharing the stage with him. One day while visiting the National Black Theatre, KRS was amazed to see a group of B-Boys astonishing the crowd with Breakin' moves that captivated the attention of all in attendance. After their performance, KRS met the B-Boys and learned that they were Breakin' (Breakdancing) on the streets of New York City regularly.

The leader of the group, Nasty Nyce, explained to KRS that he focused primarily upon a style he called "the concrete style." Different from other styles of Breakin', Poppin', Lockin, and Uprockin', which required a cardboard mat to perform upon; "the concrete style" focused upon one's strength, and the ability to perform on concrete street surfaces without damaging one's body. KRS was impressed and invited Nyce and his Breakin' crew, "The Breeze Team" to tour with him.

In 1998, totally engulfed in the peservation of Hip-Hop culture, KRS began to seek more political ways of empowering true Hip-Hoppers and Hip-Hop's pioneers. In this same year, KRS was offered an executive position as Vice-President of A&R for Reprise/Warner Records. He accepted this position and moved to Los Angeles. During this time, KRS established an L.A. Temple of Hiphop membership, a radio show every Sunday night on the old 92.3 The Beat, entitled the Temple of Hiphop; and as A&R, signed various artists including Kool DJ Herc, Kool Moe Dee and Mad Lion among others.

In 1999 while still an A&R executive, KRS was touring, lecturing, building the Temple of Hiphop's worldwide membership and extensively studying world religions and general philosophy with an emphasis on Metaphysics. He also published another side album entitled, "Criminal Justice - From Darkness to Light," by the Temple of Hiphop. Due to Warner Records' inability to promote Rap music, this album never made it past its promotional stage.

In 2000, KRS realized that the corporate structure of the music business was destructive to his soul as a Hip-Hop philosopher. He also realized that in the position of being Vice President of A&R, such a position attracted people that were only interested in money and what KRS could do for them. Everywhere KRS looked for loyalty to his vision of a unified Hip-Hop culture of peace and prosperity, he found only greed, immaturity and backstabbing. Subsequently, he resigned from his executive position and returned to New York City.

In 2001, KRS realized that the unification of Hip-Hop culture was not going to happen within Hip-Hop, nor with mainstream Rappers. He also realized that Hip-Hop, as an international culture for peace and prosperity, had to be presented to governments, organizations and world thinkers, capable of perceiving Hip-Hop on this level. Looking beyong the constant criticism and lack of support from the Hip-Hop community, KRS approached the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to begin the work of establishing Hip-Hop as an international culture of peace and prosperity among the governments of the world.

During the 4th annual Hiphop Appreciation Week (May 14th-21st, 2001) KRS and others introduced the Hiphop Declaration of Peace at the United Nations Headquarters in New York City on May 16th, 2001. During this same period, KRS liberated himself from a 14 year recording relationship with Jive records and published his ninth album entitled "The Sneak Attack" for Front Page/In The Paint/KOCH joint venture. This album sold over 200,000 copies.

Currently, KRS-ONE is teaching and lecturing at the Temple of Hiphop in Atlanta, Georgia on the spiritual principles of Hiphop as a strategy toward Health, Love, Awareness and Wealth. His 10th album entitled "Spiritual Minded" and his spoken word lecture album entitled "The Fundamentals of Hiphop" are scheduled to be published in 2002. As you can see, by supporting KRS-ONE, you are contributing to the total preservation of true Hiphop Kulture.

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