Rap heads will remember a lot of interesting feuds that took place during 2002, but one of the most brutal was the battle between hip-hop legend KRS-One and upstart new jack Nelly. It all started when KRS declared he had a beef with Nelly recording the song "#1," which originally appeared on the "Training Day" soundtrack. Kris had recorded "I'm Still #1" way back in 1988, and he felt that it was the definitive use of "#1" in a hip-hop song; arguably true considering he was in rap's upper echelons for longer period of time than Nelly has been recording total and he's still one of the most influential members of hip-hop music and culture going. It's also arguable that Nelly didn't intentionally mean this as a diss - he's probably too young to have heard the original; or if he has he didn't think his song really overlapped with a rap classic two decades removed. Nevertheless sparks flew and Kris dropped a diss song called "Ova Here" produced by the Beatminerz, performing it in a concert appearance which was widely bootlegged:
"Yo Nelly! You ain't Fo'Reel and you ain't Universal
Your whole style sounds like a N'Sync commercial
Ignoramus, I'm the baddest with the mic apparatus
Challengin the God of rap is madness, I'll snatch your status
With this ugly lookin Billboard you could stop them
But I got enough albums to make my own Top Ten
You limited, like the spread of traffic
You bite my style off the radio so when you speak you bet I hear the static
You better Chillout like Chuck, I kick like three Norrises
One of my sixteen bar rhymes is eight of your choruses"
With a crashing boom-bashing beat and a relentless verbal diss the likes of which hadn't been seen since he feuded with X-Clan, KRS-One fans were ecstatic about this track. Unfortunately Kris overplayed his hand somewhat. Though he's a hip-hop legend and obviously still as good at flowing and rhyming as he ever was, his fanbase is increasingly old school heads who still remember who he was and purchase albums out of loyalty; and regrettably his "Spiritual Minded" LP of 2002 didn't win new converts because of the PERCEPTION it was too preachy and that "gospel rap" was too far away from his "Criminal Minded" rap roots. Therefore when Kris dropped the line "don't buy Nelly's album on June 25th" in the second verse, it had little to no impact. Nelly's album went multi-platinum, and Nelly even included a few pot shots at KRS on his "Roc the Mic (Remix)." Even die-hard fans who own all the Boogie Down Productions albums and all the KRS-One solo releases might have wondered what the point was given Nelly's overwhelming commercial popularity and widespread TV and radio exposure - as boycotts go it was a total flop and somewhat embarassing for the rap pioneer to boot.
"The Mix Tape" does preserve that legendary diss song though in clear crystal audio, as well as unearthing some more gems from KRS-One that are audibly and lyrically much harder than his "Spiritual Minded" CD. While it's clear on this disc that KRS has given up profanity for good (there's no parental advisory) it's also clear he hasn't given up being a hardcore MC. Some may have slept in the last few years, not realizing KRS was still dropping the punchlines and complex verses ALONG with the intelligence and street smarts he's always been known for; so if you weren't down with hearing Kris rap biblical this might be the time to check for him again. Take the Adam James produced "Splash" for example - it's short (under two and a half minutes) but highly effective. The pounding drums and symphonic backdrop are worthy of a Kenny Parker or DJ Premier production, and it's obvious that Kris found it an inspiring backdrop to drop gems:
"I climb up the back of rappers
Reach over they head, and rap backwards at 'em
Excuse me madam; I used to throw these uzis at 'em
But I'm a teacher, skills I TRULY have 'em
These clubs I duly pack 'em
Potential lawyers engineers and doctors I do attract 'em
Go to your professors and ask 'em
If the songs off the 'Edutainment' in college they didn't blast 'em
Yes; I'm that ancient one
I set the framework for today's rappers to MAKE they funds
But no, you don't know me son
My facial features matches the Sphinx with it's nose redone
Steppin to me? I know you blind
Cause your whole flow, your show, your style, you know it's all mine
The first time you learned to spit
It was either me, Kane, Rakim or Slick Rick!"
As admirable and gutsy as it was for KRS-One's to try something new with a gospel rap album, it's nice to hear a more "street level" Kris back on the mic. He's already shown in a career spanning three decades the tenacity to outlast the flash-in-the-pan new jack MC's, but now "the t'cha" can also teach them how to be better rappers by example. Clever songs like "Down the Charts" and "The Message 2002" lay down a marker. The long overdue reunion of Mad Lion and KRS can be found on his self-produced "Stop It" as well, while the brutal "Problemz" is produced by the appropriately named Inebriated Beats. Even those who don't know his rap and flow will have to be impressed by his attitude and the knowledge he drops this song, because in the words of olympic wrestler Kurt Angle "oh it's true, it's DAMN TRUE":
"I'm the newest and the truest MC on the mic
I wrote over 500 songs, pick what you like
It ain't easy bein me, by day or night
But it's easy bein free to recite what you like
Hip-Hop is my inalienable right
When it comes to emceein KRS is a whole DIFFERENT type
Now go get it right, that I flow/spit it tight
In a fight I was the type to get a pipe
... BING BING BING BING, movin 'em back
BING, that's the sound of an aluminum bat
But it seems they new to these facts
Which means they new to the tracks, which means they DO hold us back
Too new to know all of that but still runnin they trap!
Do the math, radio gets a 20 record a week stream
But only three are ever seen - what happens to the other 17?
It's a PROBLEM! PROBLEM! Problem in hip-hop today!
We gotta stop treatin hop-hop like a product and more of a strategy
I got graphs, charts, sacred textbooks -- These cats can't battle me!"
Closing with a new version of "Ova Here" with different lyrics and the spoken word track "Preseve the Kulture" backed with a beat by BJ Wheeler, "The Mix Tape" clocks in at a very short length of under twenty-five minutes but lives aptly up to the old rap saying "keep it half short and twice strong." Even though Nelly may have won the war in the battle for chart respect and name-recognition, hip-hop fans as a whole will win in the long run due to the fact KRS has been re-energized by the battle and sounds ready to school a whole nation with his lyrical skills and the knowledge he has acquired over the decades. If his forthcoming "Kris-style" album builds on the foundation set here, 2003 could be the year his fans have long awaited and also be his greatest return to form since "Return of the Boom Bap." Hopefully he keeps this production crew, enlists a few of the heads from back in the day and a few new ones to boot, and keeps on dropping both educational and braggadocious rhymes - if so even Nelly's fans are going to have a hard time ignoring him for long.
Music Vibes: 7.5 of 10 Lyric Vibes: 9.5 of 10 TOTAL Vibes: 8.5 of 10
Originally posted: January 7, 2003