It’s sometimes easy to forget how rarified the air KRS-One occupies in hip-hop. The man’s recorded career stretches close to 25 years. Over that near quarter century, he’s released a little over 20 albums. That’s remarkable for an artist in any genre, and close to unheard of in hip-hop. Even if he’s technically only half-way there to meeting his own definition of an “old school artist,” it’s safe to say that as a hip-hop artist, KRS-One has done it all.
And now, his career has entered a third act. These days, KRS has been recording albums that feature collaborations with another MC (such as 2009’s Survival Skills with Buckshot) or one producer (Hip-Hop Lives with Marley Marl). Meta-Historical falls into the later category: an album with True Master, a longtime Wu-Tang affiliate, and producer of such gems as Ghostface's "More Fish," RZA’s “Tragedy,” Wu-Tang’s “The Abduction,” and a host of other tracks by other Wu artists like Killah Priest, Gravediggaz, and Sunz of Man.
Of course, when you’re an MC that’s done it all, your audience gets pretty familiar with what you have to offer. On the lyrical side, KRS provides on Meta-Historical more of what he has come to be known for during the last decade of his career: more history lessons, more discussions of spirituality, more talk of balancing the street life and dropping knowledge on the lecture circuit, and, refreshingly, more wry humor. Like many of the albums that he’s released since I Got Next, Meta-Historical is a bit uneven, but it’s one of his better albums in the past close to 15 years.
The album struggles to find its equilibrium out of the gate. KRS lyrical swords are sharp on the album’s opening track, “Murda Ya,” with lines like “KRS is official: No bells, no whistles/ Step into the class and don’t make me dismiss you” and “You shake you booty, yo/ But I’m more of an MC to pull rapper’s cards out like Yu-Gi-Oh.” However, True Master’s repetitive three-note, two-bar loop wears out its welcome quickly. “Gimme the ‘90s,” starts off well, with its thumping drum track and guitar licks, but falters when KRS, when during his second verse, kicks a ‘90s “lyrical montage” (similar to the one on 1993’s “Hip-Hop Vs. Rap”) that features a bunch of references to the ’80s and ’00s. True Master provides an almost ethereal beat for “Palm and Fist,” but on the idea behind the song (the power of words, perceptions, and identity) is superior to its actual execution. Furthermore, despite Meta-Historical’s 43-minute length, it feels like there’s too much filler. Close to half of the album’s 20 tracks are excerpts from an interview that KRS conducted while recording the album, and only about half those skits merit inclusion.
And yet despite these flaws, much of Meta-Historical works. Notably there’s “One Those Days,” which yes, features KRS re-interpreting the chorus of the Monica song of the same name, which is the type of thing only the Blast Master could get away with. On “Knowledge Reigns Supreme” the teacher drops knowledge on surviving on the streets; it’s not ground breaking subject matter, but KRS sells it with his trademark conviction. “Old School Hip-Hop” is KRS’s superior ode to rap music’s yesteryears on the album. He certainly puts more effort into his lyrics: “I don’t do tricks for them, I put that 1986 mix on them/ I stand upright most of these cats been crawling/Follow your calling, follow your calling/ These clowns are falling, stalling, and most of them boring.”
“1, 2, Here’s What We’re Going to Do” features RZA, the Wu-Tang Abbott himself, who spits his rapid-fire jewels about the importance of living positive: “A good man strives to be better/ ad put knowledge and wisdom over drugs and cheddar/ He puts food in the cabinet and attracts people like magnets/ Crack-mattic when it comes to statik.” KRS’s other collaboration with a Wu-MC, “Street Rhymer” with Cappadonna, is alternately great and somewhat infuriating. Great, because the track features one of KRS’s lyrical performances on the album. He starts off spitting fire, rhyming, “I might’ve went lighter, but they all biters/ I’m a freestyler and writer, they neither/ They can’t face this tiger, I’m nicer/ Brighter, tiger, these cats hiding out like Al Qaeda/ I got this club locked down like Elmira/ You rap minors are whiners, you rap like vaginas/ I take it back to 69ers, black low-tops with three strips on the sides-uh.” But the track is also nfuriating, because Cappadonna kicks a painfully average 16-bar verse that doesn’t add anything to the track.
Meta-Historical is exactly the sort of album KRS can be expected to release at this point of his career. It reflects the voice of someone who’s got nothing left prove, but clearly isn’t done speaking his mind. And True Master does an admirable job holding up his end up the bargain, providing an album’s worth of material for someone who a non Wu-Tang artist, and not going through the motions while doing so. Meta-Historical may not fire on all cylinders all of the time, but it’s a competent album with a vision, which is a rarity in this day and age.
KRS One & True Master-One Of Those Days
[audio:http://fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/10-One-Of-Them-Days.mp3|titles=10 One Of Them Days]
KRS One & True Master-Old School Hip Hop
[audio:http://fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/12-Old-School-Hip-Hop.mp3|titles=12 Old School Hip Hop]