KRS-ONE & Marly Marl - Hip Hop Lives

Posted May 28, 2007

There’s no retirement plan for rappers. Hip-hop never envisioned itself getting old and so...

Hip Hop Lives Album Review

There’s no retirement plan for rappers. Hip-hop never envisioned itself getting old and so now, some thirty years after Kool Herc invented breakbeats, it’s a young man’s game with an overwhelming focus on the next hot thing.

You can’t talk about hip-hop history without talking about KRS-One and Marley Marl, and now the two have united to drop the new album Hip-Hop Lives. The title is an obvious response to recent claims of the culture’s demise; the album even begins with a funeral, followed by a shocking resurrection. The collaboration of KRS, undoubtedly a master MC, and Marl, one of the producers responsible for the New York hardcore sound, is an old-school dream team that finally puts to the rest the heated South Bronx vs. Queensbridge Bridge Wars beef. But can these legends still keep it fresh? Can they keep pace with the Kanye West’s of the world? As much as true-school hip-hop heads may not want to admit it… not really.

For his part Marley Marl lays down some solid production throughout, relying on the fundamentals he helped create while bringing in some new flavor. No one’s going to confuse him with Timbaland’s staggeringly complexity, rawness is his strength. This Is What It Is has an exploding synth sample over a riding piano and a funk bass line, production that will have the crowd moving with the kind of energy only hip-hop can deliver. Nothing New has a raw beat punctuated by horror movie piano notes, a sound that gave rise to the hardcore rap careers of Kool G Rap and Masta Ace. A few tracks do fall flat, most notably the tracks Over 30 and House Of Hits which promise something they don’t deliver; in fact you’re still waiting for the beat to hit when the track ends. Overall this is like watching Jordan play for the Wizards, he’s still great, but he’s just not the greatest anymore.

KRS-One calls himself the teacher, and his rhymes should be required listening for any young aspiring MCs. Anyone who’s ever seen him live knows he’s a force of nature and on The Teacha’s Back KRS hits every syllable like his life depended on it. This is what you want from a MC, someone who puts his soul on the mic every time. The man’s over 40 and if there was a national battle contest, KRS would still slay folks. Other rappers would dis his clothes; he’d destroy their entire persona. Kill A Rapper has KRS speaking on all the unsolved MC murders police are unable (or unwilling) to solve, from Tupac to KRS’s best friend Scott LaRock. It’s hard to imagine a more relevant topic for MCs to spit on, but no one will touch it. Is MIMS going to lay it down like this? Bow Wow? Yung Joc? Hip-hop still needs KRS’ teachings, no doubt.

Hip-Hop Lives falters for the same reasons it succeeds. Rakim laid down a tenet of hip-hop when he said, “It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at,” but KRS has flipped that formula entirely. On I Was There he rightfully lists his place at almost every significant moment in hip-hop history, and then asks, “Where were you?” Where was I when Kool Moe Dee challenged LL Cool J? I was five, I was probably watching Transformers. Rising To The Top echoes this sentiment, reminiscing about Roxanne Shante and a time before music videos. The central theme of the album then becomes if you weren’t rapping in New York in the mid-80s, you can’t be real hip-hop, and ironically if that’s the criteria than hip-hop is creeping closer to death everyday.

KRS is the teacher, but every good teacher knows his students have something to teach him as well, a lesson he seems to have forgotten. KRS and Marl shouldn’t retire, hip-hop still needs them and they can still deliver, but they’re more teachers than saviors. Young hip-hop heads should listen, learn, and then come up with their own new shit. That’s truly the only way this culture’s going to stay alive.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted May 28, 2007
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