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POP BEAT

KRS-One: Hard Raps From a Teacher in the Street

April 18, 1992|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

KRS-One, the guiding force behind the rap group Boogie Down Productions, has the disarming wide-smile persona and charm of Magic Johnson.

The engaging young rapper, whose group will headline next Saturday at Golden Hall in San Diego and April 26 at the Hollywood Palladium, speaks rapidly and articulately about issues ranging from social injustice to the state of rap.

But one question catches him off guard during an interview in a New York recording studio: How does it feel to be the grand old man of rap?

Just 26, KRS-One (real name: Kris Parker) pauses as if uncertain just how to take the question. He finally just throws his head back and laughs.

"I guess I have been around a long time, but that's what I always wanted to do," he says, still smiling. "That's my goal. I'm not worried about the new groups out there.

"They may do better here and there, but I don't have to look at the charts to see if the message of my records is getting across. I just talk to people on the street and on the campuses. They tell me."

While young by pop-rock standards, the rapper operates in a field so obsessed with change that the biggest stars become obsolete overnight--and KRS-One has been a major player on the scene ever since BDP's brutal, trailblazing "Criminal Minded" album in 1987.

Rather than stick with the stark gangster theme, however, the New York native began moving in subsequent albums toward the role of rap philosopher or, as he puts it, "teacher." His raps stressed the importance of pride, education and self-restraint in the black community.

The approach has earned him considerable respect, but a new generation of fiery young rap Turks--as well as old ally Public Enemy--is now outselling BDP dramatically.

That's why some observers see BDP's new "Sex and Violence" album as a blatant attempt to regain some of the early chart heat and street sizzle.

"Here's what happened," KRS-One says of the new album. "When I do lectures or walk the street, people kept coming up to me and saying, 'I love your work, but give us another "Criminal Minded." ' They wanted something hard.

"So that's what I did. But the message is still positive. I'm talking about things people need to know about . . . about things like how sex and violence are so wrapped up in this country's culture and institutions."

Besides dealing with a wide range of social issues, however, the album takes potshots at some of the young rap Turks, including what he describes as "wanna-be" gangsta rappers and the militant acts that decry whites as "devils."

"I'm talking about all the groups that claim to be Muslims to sell records . . . because they know that Muslims have a great deal of respect in the black community," he says.

"The truth is nobody was a Muslim until Public Enemy came out. Then, everybody was Muslim this and Muslim that. It's a bandwagon thing. Islam is a way of life . . . it's a religion. It's not just something you put on a record. I'm not naming names because I don't want to give any of them light, but I'm talking about the groups that say black people are God and white people are devils. That's the epitome of stupidity. The devil is a consciousness, not a race. Colin Powell is no different to me than George Bush."

KRS-One makes it clear, however, he is not talking about Chuck D. or Public Enemy. "Chuck is in line with everything I'm about . . . except I'm more of an intellectual. He's more the street fighter and the rebel. I'm the revolutionary. We're both marching together."

IN THE STORES: The Cure's "Wish" and Slaughter's "The Wild Life" shape up as the hottest sellers among the new albums scheduled to be released Tuesday. Also due that day: George Strait's "Holding My Own" and Kid Frost's "East Side Story." For CD collectors, there's also Neil Diamond's "Double Diamond: Neil Diamond's Greatest Hits from '66 to '92."

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