Recently, Chuck D described KRS-One as "the Duke Ellington of hip-hop." In the past three or four years, that comparison has become startlingly accurate, both in the quantity of the output of the respective artists, as well as the tactical method in which they attack each project. On his latest project,The BDP Album KRS returns to his own roots as well as the roots of New York hip-hop, all while referring a possible apocalyptic future.
The BDP Album (the first of three KRS-One albums due to drop this year) sees KRS' brother Kenny Parker returning to the wheels of steel after nearly a decade of separation. While Kenny Parker was Boogie Down Productions' mainstay DJ after the murder of Scott LaRock, once KRS went solo, the emcee work with his brother became more and more sparse over time. With Parker producing all the songs on this album except one, the concept of this project seems to be both brothers reuniting while conceptualizing their respective place in modern hip-hop.
Interestingly, KRS seems angrier than ever. While his early '00s output on the Keep Right and Life albums seemed contemplative, on the opening vocal track, "Tote Gunz," KRS salutes his own skill and history in hip-hop, while warning challengers of the consequences of challenging the Teacha at his level. But, while KRS (and hip-hop) has a vaunt history of boasting, KRS seems downright vicious, comparing battling him to homicide with graphic depiction.
But, "Tote Gunz" and its ilk on the album don't seem to just be battle raps. Rather, while the oft-sampled Biggie line "I tote guns / I make number runs" reverberates through the track, it doesn't seem to be that KRS is bragging about a history of violence. Rather, as with some of the very best early BDP tracks, the emcee seems to be using a catchy, almost Godfather-esque line to snag attention, only to draw the listener to his real chosen topics at hand. In fact, while the Biggie line specifically talks about guns and drugs, on the entire album, never once does KRS mention using guns or drugs at all. Rather, throughout the disc, he both commends hip-hop for being a force of social change and reprimands it for holding back the very same.
KRS' voice has grown louder and heavier. Where he used to clip along to James Brown drum lines, now he seems to roar, alternatively using the bass lines to raise his voice up high and trampling them with his exclamations. While KRS seems to be using his mid '80s delivery style throughout the disc, on a few tracks, he adopts his dancehall patois, which was hinted at on Criminal Minded's "9mm", mastered on Return of the Boom Bap's "Uh Ooh" and just now perfectly integrated into NYC-style hip-hop, making the styles seem synonymous instead of purposefully incongruent.
Meanwhile, Parkers' beats are some of the most interesting that KRS has rumbled over top off in the past decade. Parker is clearly indebted to the old school, propelling his beats forward with 808 drum cadences (even though the songs are most likely Pro Tools affairs). But then, on top of the thumping, Parker places futuristic buzzing that both seems to come from both the dubstep of 2014 as well as the electro funk dance club circa 1982, somewhat similar to the approach of the Beastie Boys on Hot Sauce Committee Part Two. As much as his brother's lyrics, Parker's circular approach to his beats show the connection between old school and future school.
Most remarkable is the final vocal track, where KRS uses an older style that he developed to forecast the future. On "2012," like an academic, the emcee uses ancient Mayan text tied together with European history to address the concept of the Mayan apocalypse, all while using it as a metaphor to argue that people can change any situation that they find themselves in. Hopefully KRS' philosophy is enough to avert the ancient apocalypse, because it would be a shame to let a little thing like rapture get in the Blastmaster's way now that things are getting really interesting.