Motivated by post yesterday that spoke on some problems I had with "Criminal Minded", I decided to write a review for it. This album will be a influential piece for the blog all week in various different aspects!!
Just before "Criminal Minded" dropped my local college station, WNUR 89.3, played the whole album to get people hype*. I was bugging out. I was supposed to be leaving to go somewhere that day and I could NOT leave the house and miss any part of this album. It's not like I didn't know I was going to buy my own copy in the next week or so. It didn't matter. I had to hear it NOW. The different styles and techniques were had me glued to the radio. He had a unique approach that was street but elegant, humble yet egocentric, traditional yet forward-thinking and original. I knew it was something special.
I suppose the biggest mystery about this album is the production. The original album liner notes give the credit to KRS One and Scott La Rock of Boogie Down Productions. Yet there was that unexplained “Special Thanx to Ced Gee”. Years later the story started to come out that they were using his SP-12, he was definitely pushing some buttons and there’s certainly some beats on there that have a Ced Gee feel. In the added liner notes of the “Criminal Minded” Reissue KRS One gives Ced Gee credit for many songs on the album (IE: Chopping up samples for “South Bronx”, laid the drums/over-dubs for “The Bridge Is Over”, possibly the producer of “The P Is Free Remix”, Producer of “A Dope Beat” with Scott La Rock, etc…). I also remember catching BDP in concert in the early 90s on tour with Poor Righteous Teachers, X-Clan, D-Nice, and K-Solo. During D-Nice’s set he had a short interlude piece where he took credit for producing parts of “Criminal Minded”. He had his DJ play some of the beats and gave himself props on top of them. I seem to recall one of them being “Poetry”, but it’s a bit hazy. I also feel like at some point later in life KRS One disputed this claim…I might be tripping on that one, but I just know there is some production “grey areas” here.
“Poetry” is the perfect opener for the album. It’s probably my overall favorite song on the record. It’s showcases great style and technique. Lyrically, it’s probably most remembered for his off beat/on beat style a la “That’s it, that’s all, solo, single, no more, no less”. He is using multi-syllables rather well on here, which was a technique rising into popularity around this time. However, his captivating flow, refined vocabulary, unorthodox delivery and mind-piercing logic tend to overshadow that additional element. Since he was already in full battle mode with the Juice Crew, I always assumed that his “I am a professional, this is not a demo” line in the first verse was a quick shot at Kool G Rap, who had released his debut single, “It’s A Demo” semi-recently. I also long wondered if in the last verse when he spits, “I’m the teacher of the class, I do not pass no test” was a reference to Kool Moe Dee’s “Rappers Report Card” that had been included in his latest album, although KRS did receive a A-**. In any event, the main premise of the song is KRS One setting himself apart from the other MCs. He makes a compelling case with a series of boasts & challenges, while at the same time out-classing the competition with style.
I remember back when this album first dropped I listened to “Poetry” back to back with “Elementary” several times in a row to determine which was better. Now, I think “Poetry” is definitely the better of the two, but “Elementary” has some strong characteristics. The beat is real stripped down and raw and KRS One adjusts his vocal tone accordingly and comes off a bit more intimidating here. He exercises excellent use of phraseology, where it’s not just what he says, but the manner in which he does it which makes it stand out.
I think the album has two sleeper joints, “A Word From Our Sponsor” and “A Dope Beat”. For me, as an MC, “A Word From Our Sponsor” was the most personally influential song on the album. I was intrigued by the oddly used cadence and how he would string together relevant words to form a point, “Unfold, blossom, bloom…” It was the only song that I wrote a rhyme patterned after from that album, it was one of 3-4 songs that I ever patterned any of my rhymes from actually. I was set on being original, but that style was so inviting I had to try it.
“A Dope Beat” may get looked over because of the heavy use of AC/DC. Rock certainly wasn’t anything new to Hip Hop, particularly at the time, thanks to Rick Rubin and Run-DMC, but hardcore B-Boys were often distracted by heavy guitars. On “Criminal Minded”, with it’s predominate Street B-Boy style, “A Dope Beat” stood out as the “one of these doesn’t belong” sound in some ways. However, it’s one of the albums finest lyrical moments. It’s where he first introduces his vegetarian life-style, “I write the crazy fresh lyrics and I don’t eat meat”. It’s probably one of the most personal songs too, as he sneaks in these tid-bits of info about himself. I was always a fan of this song, but I found over time that it’s my most-listened to track on the album.
As for the album’s hits, that honor would go to “South Bronx” and “The Bridge Is Over”. These two records really launched his career and were directed at his rival-of-convenience MC Shan. They both go down in history of two of the very few Rap Battle tracks to stand the test of time, because first and foremost they were great songs that just so happened to be taking off heads at the same time. Both tracks leave no doubt that KRS is a master strategist. For the most part, he doesn’t rely heavily on generic insults or cheapshots (besides the fact the whole logic behind the diss is ultimately a cheapshot) to win over the listener. He simply gives bullet-pointed historical “facts”, that when presented from his viewpoint give the illusion that he is right and MC Shan is wrong. Nevermind, that Shan would probably agree with him on many of the points, reluctantly on some, but never stated anything in contrast to them. That doesn’t matter, KRS One suggests that MC Shan did and it sounds believable. Truthfully, although I would like to believe everyone was into analyzing the lyrics on that level, most people were just ready to side with KRS One because he made better songs, was offering something new/different and gave the better live performance. KRS understood that winning a battle was as much about bending perception as it was about raw skill. He had both talents at his disposal.
“South Bronx” centers primarily on the history of Hip Hop in the Bronx and a touch of Brooklyn, beautifully detailing how this Culture developed. You might forget he’s even talking about Shan he if didn’t throw a few shots in from time to time like, “You got dropped MCA because the rhymes you wrote was wack” and “Instead of trying to take out LL, you need to take your homeboys off the crack”***.
“The Bridge Is Over” could probably win the award of most creative battle record off all-time. It definitely takes a whole different approach. Rather than hardcore technical rapping or the comedic jokester route, KRS One takes elements of both, but flips it on the sing-songy Reggae tip. Just listening to this you can envision how great it must have been to see him do this live. This one definitely sneaks in the cheapshots that he generally avoided, including insulting MC Shan and Marley Marl’s sexuality and his harsh depiction of Roxanne Shante as “Only good for steady f***ing”…ruff. Of course, Shante was no light-weight or goodie two shoes on the mic, she said a long list of worst things to her opponents; Sparky D, U.T.F.O, Frukwan (of Stetsasonic), etc… In any event, many years later I recall KRS One saying something like, that was the only line he ever said that he regretted or something to that effect.
Building from that, another thing KRS One is often credited for is helping popularize the use of Reggae Music and Chatting in Hip Hop. He wasn’t the first, but he certainly was more effective with it. There are two other tracks that represent that flavor here, “9 MM Goes Bang” and “The P Is Free” Remix, both of which also showcase his story-telling ability. “9 MM Goes Bang” is relatively self-explanatory; plenty of guns, some drugs, and riding in a BMW. Despite the graphic cover images and bold album title, this is the only track that really details any criminal activity. Beyond that, there are just a few random gun references thrown in here and there on the album. “The P Is Free” Remix takes a fairly unique spin on the crack epidemic, which was the hottest rap topic for a while. He gives the world a glimpse of the issue thru the perspective of women basically resorting to prostitution in order to satisfy their addictions. The original version was more on the R rated tip, where the remix is cleaned up and the most explicit language is “hoe”. That leads to a whole other interesting thing about “Criminal Minded”. For all the hardened elements associated with the record, it is profanity free. That’s a whole other topic…
With that in mind, I suppose “Super-Hoe” is the most explicit song on the record. With the exception of the beat, I never really liked this song. It was a bit odd to me. It’s essentially the “DJ Anthem” on the record, which was standard practice of the time, but instead of lauding his DJ skills, KRS One boasts of Scott La Rock’s sexual prowess and that was just…weird. He never even once, describes them hanging together and getting ladies or anything of the sort to make it seem a bit more common-place male driven ego-ridiculousness, it’s on a whole other level…ha. However, it’s probably worth admitting, though sad, that I was certainly in the minority in this thinking. Many of my friends considered this their anthem, which truthfully makes it even more strange…to me. I still wouldn’t have liked the song, but it would have probably made more sense if KRS One just wrote it for Scott La Rock to rap himself, he had some experience as a vocalist on the 12:41 “Success Is The Word” record already anyway. This is probably the most “odd man out” track in KRS’s career****.
Essentially “Criminal Minded” is a great album from so many aspects; skill level, ingenuity, ground-breaking production, creative styles, powerful images (musically and visually), classic battle tracks, etc… It is definitely one of the most influential and best Hip Hop albums of all time.
One other thing that is interesting, later in his career a word often associated with KRS One was contradictory, but “Criminal Minded” is probably rooted in more contradictions than any other part of his career. We’ll explore that tomorrow…
*Thinking back, this was a weird concept. For me it didn’t matter, I was too much of a fan so I had to own my personal copies. For all the records I heard them do that with; “Criminal Minded”, "Tougher Than Leather” and Super Love Cee & Casanova Rud, I brought two copies of each of those records, the cassette tape and the vinyl LP. However, most people probably didn’t share that theory and a radio dub was just fine for them. Sounds like I might have found the root of the early bootleg…ha.
**On Kool Moe Dee’s Rappers Report Card, KRS One’s lowest grade is in the “vocabulary” category. I think he was definitely unfairly graded here, just in case you needed that insignificant opinion…ha
***The “dropped off MCA” line is in reference to a 12” by MC Shan in ’85 called “Feed The World” that talks about world hunger. It’s obviously coming from a good place, but Shan is a little insensitive in how he makes some of his points, which I assume is unintentional. It’s certainly no lyrical masterpiece. However, KRS is being a bit dramatic calling it “Wack”…ha. The “Trying to take out LL” comment is talking about the A-Side track to “The Bridge” single (in which “South Bronx” is the answer to), it’s called “Beat Biter” and accuses LL Cool J of stealing one of MC Shan and Marley Marl's beats.
-SHOP "CRIMINAL MINDED":
Deluxe CD Edition: 2 Disc Set. Full Album on one disc and the disc 2 is filled with rarities,
unreleased versions, instrumentals, and a interesting radio interview.
Also, includes extensive liner notes and all the album lyrics!!
Criminal Minded Picture Disc LP: The classic album on a picture disc of the album cover!!
Criminal Minded Puzzle: 12X12 100 Piece Album Cover Puzzle!
Written By Kevin Beacham