MC Shan: "Me Battling KRS-One Saved Hip-Hop"

By Stereo Williams

"You love to hear the story again and again of how it all got started way back when..."

Hindsight is everything when applied to the early days of Hip-Hop. Like the start of an earthquake, you never really know how long it’s going to last. As the global phenomenon, sparked from a back to school party in The Bronx, inches closer to the 50 year mark, the significance of that battle at a make-or-break time for the culture cannot be overstated.

The genre and the culture it built up around itself were both at a very volatile point in their lives. Various types of MCs had seemingly exhausted the spectrum of creativity, when the Blast Master and Shan catapulted it to the next level by taking it back to its essence.

“That battle saved Hip-Hop,” Shan told Rock The Bells in an exclusive conversation. “Hip-Hop was at a standstill. We had all the Kid n’ Plays, we had all the Salt n’ Pepa’s, we had all the Kwamés, we had the MC Shans with the gimmicks: The left shoe and right shoe different colors. Hip-Hop came to a point where it was about to be what them people said it was, it was about to die,” he added.

In a fickle industry like music, Hip-Hop’s long term future was still uncertain when Shan and KRS planted a flag that would stand forever. 

“Then came the original element of Hip-Hop on the record side, as opposed to me hearing Busy Bee and Moe Dee battling on cassettes,” remembered Shan. “That record and [our] battle crossed the world and it took Hip-Hop back to its original element with what me and Kris did. It wasn’t about the dancing and all that. It was like ‘Oh, that’s Hip-Hop.’

One of the more notable aspects of the battle was that it stayed on wax, but according to Shan things started to get dicey leading up to the now infamous fight for New York supremacy. 

“It did start to get a little dangerous leading up to the battle, because he wasn’t no punk and I wasn’t either,” notes Shan.

“He ran with a crew and I ran with a crew, so if anything popped off it was gonna be something but we were well past any type of beefing by the time it all went down. Very early in the beginning what we figured out with each other was, if we go into it just fighting, we’re not gonna make any money. These venues wanna see us at a show together, and me and Kris did hundreds of shows together, but we figured it out early on that whatever we got going on was for the stage, but once we get off stage, we can go and I’ll sip a whizzle, and you can drink your gator water or whatever you do, but that’s what it came down to,” he added. 

In addition to maintaining good business, the two titans also wanted to use Hip-Hop as a vehicle to promote uplifting fellow artists.

“We didn’t want to perpetuate violence. Remember, Kris was on the ‘Stop The Violence’ movement, and we were about something different back then in Hip-Hop. It was more elevating the culture, letting people see what was going on in the hood, with time for defending ourselves records, that they were killing us in the hood and we were like the Grios that spoke the culture,” said Shan. “The rap music nowadays doesn’t do that. It takes the same platform and helps to destroy what we built over the years. A motivating factor for people of a lesser money value.” 

For those that grew up in the 90s, the battle of South Bronx vs. Queensbridge may not have resonated in the same way as those that saw it manifest in real time. Ironically, it would be Sprite who would change that, featuring the duo face-to-face in a boxing ring for a 1996 commercial.

According to Shan, that Sprite commercial was the first time the two men had come face-to-face in battle.

“In all reality that is actually the only time that me and Kris have been put in a battle situation. On stage we have never actually gone head-to-head like he got the mic, [then] I got the mic, the way we did in that Sprite commercial,” said Shan. “We were having fun. I can tell you that. We were having fun. Me and Kris were interacting with each other, making jokes. I still have the footage from behind the scenes at the Sprite commercial. We were just having a good time. If you remember Kris always says ‘I took Shan out 30 years ago, but we never had a battle according to Hip-Hop rules, and - I’m not talking about these new rules we got where it’s who sold more records and all that - Kris’ll kill me on stage. Lyrically I’m a little different than him. We both stand for our greatness but with the attitude that comes along with HIp-Hop, if you don’t think that you’re the greatest you’ve already lost. Even ’til today I always pull Kris’ leg like ‘You suck. I will burn you lyrically but you’ll kill me at a show.’”