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Classic Albums: 'By All Means Necessary' by Boogie Down Productions

Classic Albums: 'By All Means Necessary' by Boogie Down Productions

"We all planned our goals. We knew exactly what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. I a as a group, we don't mourn..."

That was KRS-One talking about the rise of his group, Boogie Down Productions, and the aftermath of a murder that should have devastated him and his crew. B.D.P. should have been riding high on the success of their debut album, Criminal Minded. But the aftermath of their breakthrough project was overcast by a shroud of death and despair. Scott La Rock was murdered just six months after BDP's first album was released, and it briefly threw the future of the group in doubt. But KRS-One was emboldened to soldier forward and immediately set about recording the second B.D.P. album. Grieving would only be a moment, he decided, once that moment was done, it was time to get to work.

"We had our chance for mourning," KRS-One added in that 1987 interview. "You have that one day, you cry it out—and that's it. We don't mourn and keep going and keep going and keep going. You celebrate, if anything, because we're advancing constantly. If we had flopped, then I would be sad that Scott's gone. 'Our career went down the drain' and this and that. His son will live with what he didn't have materially. So everything's straight."

Kris Parker's dedication wasn't callous; it was cathartic. He would honor his fallen partner by using his senseless and tragic death as a catalyst for change. And the first change was in KRS-One himself. Scott's murder drove KRS to push B.D.P. into a more socially-aware direction. His rhymes had always been intelligent: Criminal Minded examined street life from a raw, real but thoughtful perspective. His street tales felt more like commentary than glorification, but this time around, there would be no mistaking the message. KRS was going to offer an alternative to the grimness and hopelessness of 80s New York City and urban decay. A young fan was stabbed to death at the Dope Jam Concert, held Sept. 10, 1987 at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. And in the aftermath, KRS decided how he was going to speak to his people.

He wanted to teach through his music.

But there were other major changes affecting B.D.P. KRS would keep the group moniker going without his fallen friend; bringing in longtime affiliates like D-Nice (technically the group's unofficial third member already), Just-Ice, KRS-One's brother Kenny Parker, and his new wife, Ms Melodie. It made the B.D.P. Posse a more familial affair, even if the actual sound of Boogie Down Productions' new album was going to come mostly down to KRS and Kenny Parker.

And there was also the issue of B-Boy Records. Boogie Down Productions was the label's biggest success by far, and the label's founders Jack Allen and Bill Kamarra were drowning in debt and there were rumors the company was a front for more illicit activities like pornography. KRS orchestrated an exit from the label, after discovering that he was not legally bound to B-Boy; Allen and Kamarra more or less signed Scott and B-Boy to a production deal and Kris was a free agent. B.D.P. was subsequently the subject of a small bidding war, before landing with Benny Medina on Jive Records. The leap to a major would prove fruitful for B.D.P. as they got ready to release the follow-up to Criminal Minded.

Boogie Down Productions Boogie Down Productions

The Dope Jam killing, along with gang violence at Run-D.M.C. shows in 1987, led to widespread media criticism of rap concerts as hotbeds for violence. "These media attacks were not new," wrote music journalist Nelson George in 1990's Stop The Violence: Overcoming Self Destruction. "There have always been people who didn't like rap or the way its stars dressed or who felt intimidated by it's passionately committed, inner-city audience. The Nassau Coliseum violence gave these folks new ammunition. They didn't want to understand the music. They didn't write about protecting rap fans from young thugs. They didn't write about the responsibilities of the promoters or the security forces to prevent such occurrences. They didn't make distinctions between teh gangsters and their victims, or acknowledge the strong, positive messages of many rappers. Instead they spread fear."

At a time when popular music was addressing everything from apartheid ("Sun City") to famine ("We Are The World"), urban violence hadn't become a cause célèbre. As KRS adopted the mantle of "The Teacha," he teamed with George and launched the Stop The Violence Movement, an organization devoted to addressing the rising bloodshed. With a financial boost from Jive Records, KRS set about recruiting prominent recording artists for a project to help address what was going on in the community. But in the meantime, he still had a day job of being one of the dopest emcees on the mic.

"My Philosophy" was the first single from the new B.D.P. album and it firmly announced KRS-One Mach II.

The single was a call-to-arms for the culture; it signaled that Boogie Down Productions was not going to fold in the wake of Scott La Rock's murder. It also announced KRS-One as a socio-political emcee and cultural commentator, with the song and video paying homage to Scott and urging a cease to the violence. It set the stage for By All Means Necessary, which featured KRS polished his skill while elevating his topicality.

Over minimalist production that echoes ...Minded without retracing it, KRS addresses the drug trade as exploitative and capitalism run amok on "Illegal Business"; the Jungle Brothers drop in on the safe sex anthem "Jimmy," a comedic tour-de-force that highlights the unusual chemistry between the Native Tongues eclectics and those brash b-boys from the Bronx.

With the release of By All Means Necessary, Public Enemy's It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, and Eric B. & Rakim's Follow The Leader, 1988 was (and remains) seen as a year that consciousness in Hip-Hop rose to the forefront. With more eyes on Hip-Hop than ever before, the mainstream was beginning to recognize rappers as mouthpieces for a generation of young Black people who—even across mainstream Black platforms—had been greatly overlooked.

Along with assuming leadership of B.D.P., another new element in KRS-One's life was marriage. He and Miss Melodie tied the knot in 1987.

KRS One and Miss Melodie

Kris Parker and Ramona Scott met around the same time Kris had met Scott Sterling, when Parker was living in the Franklin Armory Men's Shelter where Sterling worked as a social worker. KRS-One would show up at parties where Scott La Rock was DJing and Scott worked at the clubs. KRS and Ramona became an item, and he soon moved out of the shelter and in with Scott and her family. "Just to give you a picture of what that was like, she, her sister, Pam, and her mother lived in a very small apartment," he recalled in 1990. "It was all they could afford. After the whole family knew my position in life, they said, 'Well, why don’t you come and stay with us?' And I was—the way I was raised, I mean, a man in a house with three women—I said, “I’ll come when I get a job; I’ll come when I have something to offer.'”

KRS and Scott were serious about Hip-Hop, and Ramona was serious about supporting Boogie Down Productions.

"We had a family meeting one night, and they were asking me, 'Well, what is it you want to do? What is it you’re going to do with your life?'" he explained. "I said, 'Well, I’m going to be the number-one rap artist out there. Period. However I get there is how I’m going to get there, but I will be there eventually. I am looking to settle down.' Then they looked at each other, but there was a belief. There was a faith. I’m in her house."

Boogie Down Productions exploded, and Miss Melodie was right there. As KRS reconfigured the B.D.P. banner, she became an integral part of how the crew moved forward, and memorably contributed to what would be a landmark moment for Hip-Hop and the Stop The Violence Movement.

In January of 1989, KRS and Nelson George recruited a litany of legendary Hip-Hop artists from around New York City.

Public Enemy, Daddy-O, MC Delite, Wise and Frukwan of Stetsasonic, Doug E. Fresh, Just-Ice, Kool Moe Dee, MC Lyte, Heavy D joined KRS-One, D-Nice and Miss Melodie on a track co-produced by KRS and D-Nice with Hank Shocklee. "Self Destruction" was a rallying cry against death and crime in the community, and proceeds from the single went to the National Urban League. Rappers weren't just selling records, they now had a level of importance with young people that was impossible for anyone to ignore.

With "Self Destruction" and the Stop The Violence Movement, KRS-One had thrust himself into the center of that conversation. He was often compared to his contemporaries as commentators for the culture.

"I see Rakim more or less as a silent figure," he told Charlie Ahearn in a 1990 conversation with Interview Magazine. "[He's] someone who is just respected, with no words—don’t say much, don’t do much—but he is someone who is respected because of his beliefs in Islam. In Chuck D I see the militant. I see the front lines. I see the one who is going to die first. And in myself I see the middle, the organizer of the two. I’ll go second. But we’re all going to go. You know what I mean. There has always been a conscious effort to destroy any upliftment of the Black race, whether that be physically, mentally, psychologically, morally, culturally, or economically."

Classic Albums

The album cover for Criminal Minded with KRS One and Scott La Rock

Classic Albums: 'Criminal Minded' by Boogie Down Productions

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I see Rakim more or less as a silent figure, someone who is just respected, with no words—don’t say much, don’t do much—but he is someone who is respected because of his beliefs in Islam. In Chuck D I see the militant. I see the front lines. I see the one who is going to die first. And in myself I see the middle, the organizer of the two. I’ll go second. But we’re all going to go..."

- KRS-One (INTERVIEW Magazine, 1990)

Even with the emergence of "The Teacha," and the undeniably sociopolitical focus of By All Means... (down to the album's iconic, Malcolm X-evoking cover artwork), Blastmaster KRS-One is still in full effect as the cockiest, most bombastic emcee in Hip-Hop. The anthemic "I'm Still #1" is quintessentially KRS: arrogant, charismatic, and unflinchingly brash. Over a brilliant flip of "Cramp Your Style' by Ray Love's All The People, KRS brings Bronx block party energy to the recording booth, in a performance for the ages. The confrontational "Ya Slippin'" flips Deep Purple's "Smoke On the Water" in a quasi-sequel to Criminal Minded's AC/DC-quoting "Dope Beat," as KRS lets you know you shouldn't bet against him in a battle. And "Part Time Suckers" breaks down sucka emcees by dissecting the art of emceeing itself; in one of the best examples of KRS-One's elevated view of rhyming.

I am more than just a recording artist kicking dust/I'm a sandstorm taking human form..."

- "Part Time Suckers"

Criminal Minded is BDP's first album, but it was on By All Means Necessary that KRS-One evolved into the persona that so many fans know today. The second album is where "The Teacha" was truly born, when Kris Parker took the tragedy of his friend's murder and turned it into an instrument to wake people up about what was going on in the community. And KRS would hold firm to that image and ethos for the remainder of his career. It doesn't matter if it's fashionable or not, The Teacha has remained The Teacha. He would build on By All Means Necessary on 1989s Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip-Hop and 1990s Edutainment; a run that cemented Boogie Down Productions as having one of the all-time great album runs in Hip-Hop.

In many ways, By All Means Necessary is B.D.P.'s most definitive work. And it remains a landmark for an emcee who wasn't done reinventing himself, or challenging his contemporaries and his audience.



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