Early in his Career KRS One began to speak fairly heavily on religion. Quite often he provided critical analysis of religion, particularly Christianity. I think that lead many to be quite surprised and point the finger of hypocrisy at him when in 2002 he released an album called "Spiritual Minded". I suppose even the fact of doing a "Gospel Rap" album with the title being a twist on his debut classic, "Criminal Minded", was more than enough to make the average Hip Hop purist cringe or at least shake their head in disbelief.
I have to admit, it gave me some pause when I heard about "Spiritual Minded". KRS One making a Gospel Rap album?!?! It didn't actually sound like something I need to rush out and hear. Quite honestly, right around the turn of the century my reaction-time to a new KRS One album had started to slow down.
2001's "Sneak Attack" had some good cuts on it, particularly he was coming correct with the lyrics, but the beats were only "so-so" and the sound quality wasn't great. In any event, I still rocked with it. However, every since then I only picked up his new albums randomly and haven't really peeped everything*, "Spiritual Minded" was one that I skipped over. I had got my hands on it a while back, but just hadn't gave it a real listen. I just did that finally since it was sure to be a critical piece to the puzzle of KRS One and religion. The biggest issue is the production and I'm not a fan of the choruses, which are often sung in a gospel fashion. Yet, there's some shining moments. One of which is "Know Thy Self". It's a great example, that even though this is a "Gospel Rap" album, KRS One is still sticking to his traditional approach of dropping knowledge:
Regardless of having a few good tracks, I think many people consider the album a contradiction to his years of criticizing Christianity, but a closer look is required. First off, he never completely denounced any religion. He mostly focused on the fact that there are many inconsistencies, untruths, impure agendas, and deceptive people involved in the spreading of religion, so it is the responsibility of each individual to look beyond the surface and discover God on their own. Obviously he was studying the Bible, along with other religious texts. He knew so much about the contents of these books that he was clearly absorbing their words. Here's a breakdown of some of the key songs where KRS One explored and/or critiqued religion. These track showcase that although he had many issues with Christianity, he also was in tune with God and at least parts of the Bible.
Boogie Down Productions-Ghetto Music: The Blueprint (1989):
My first recollection of KRS One really getting deep into the subject of religion is on "Why Is That?". I was always impressed and surprised that he picked his lead single from this album to be a song that breaks down some stories and inconsistencies in the bible. KRS One even starts the track, "The day begins with a grin/And a prayer to excuse my sins". Ultimately, it's a world history lesson that focused heavily on the early days of Egypt and stresses the importance of people knowing and understanding their roots.
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/02-Why-Is-That_.mp3|titles=02 Why Is That_]
A few songs later there's "Jah Rulez". I love this song! It's a definitely BDP sleeper joint. The track is simple, but has flavor. The singing on the hook, done by Harmony, is powerful and beautiful. It's definitely rooted in the Gospel as she sings with pure emotion directly to God (this is how "Spiritual Minded" should have sounded!). Of course, the title itself relates to religion. Jah is most widely recognized in Rastafarian Religion as the name for God and was probably most popularized in the world thru it's frequent use in Reggae Music. Of course, KRS One heavily used Reggae in his music. I certainly don't claim to be any sort of expert on religion, but I do know that many Rastafari's beliefs are rooted in Christianity:
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/05-Jah-Rulez.mp3|titles=05 Jah Rulez]
Boogie Down Productions-Edutainment (1990):
"Blackman In Effect" questions the idea of civilization starting with Adam & Eve. He starts off just toying with the concept, getting into his flow, and ultimately setting up the concept. Towards the end of the verse he intensifies the discussion with, "Timbuktu existed when the cave man existed/Why then isn't this listed?/Is it because the Black Man is the original man/Or does it mean humanity is African?/I don't know but these sciences are hidden/For some strange reason it's forbidden..."
He goes deeper into the details on the second verse right off the top, "Near the Tigris and Euphrates Valleys in Asia/Lies the Garden Of Eden where Adam became a/Father to humanity, now don't get mad at me/But according to facts, this seems as fantasy/Because man, the most ancient man/Was thousand of years before Adam began/And where was he found, again they can't laugh at cha/It's right dead smack in Africa!"
It goes on to give another history lesson on Egypt and Africa, specifically how they were leading the world on teaching math, science, music and religion. All that plus a quick look at the roots of philosophy. He's covering a lot of bases in a short amount of time...
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/02-Blackman-In-Effect.mp3|titles=02 Blackman In Effect]
The album's title track, "Edutainment", backed with a Reggae sample, starts with, "Nuff respect and praise to the Creator..." In the second verse he drops some heavy criticisms of Christianity, particularly questioning how they allowed slavery to happen, "We are one, every heart, every lung/So why then was the Black Man hung?/He was hung by the so-called Christians/Who went to church and did not listen/See Jesus couldn't stand politics/so they nailed him to the Crucifix!". Later he continues, "If the Christians would have really heard Christ/The Black Man never would have lived this life". Powerful words...
Boogie Down Productions-"Sex And Violence" (1992):
"Poisonous Products" is definitely one of the best tracks on this album. KRS One isn't holding anything back, he's going for throats. In the first verse he critiques the U.S. for their involvement in Middle Eastern wars. Then in the second verse he's got some questions for the Christians, "You wanna be a better Christian/You wake up Sunday morning to watch Tell-Lie-Vision, Mission/Christians be saying 'Accept Jesus in your life'/Christianity was founded 400 years after Christ/What do you accept in your life?/Christianity? Or the teachings of Christ?".
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/08-Poisonous-Products.mp3|titles=08 Poisonous Products]
This song came at a time when I was really trying to figure what I believed in. I was already on a mission to find that Spiritual path, primarily influenced by Hip Hop and artists like KRS One. I was coming home late at night from hanging out, partying, drinking, chasing girls, but before I went to sleep I would sit in the room and read from The Bible, The Koran and a book on Rastafari's all at once. The interest all started from me reading the Bhagavad Gita, which I got for free at the Chicago airport from the Hare Krishna's in 1990...which ultimately connects right back to KRS One*. I was intrigued by the idea that KRS One was dropping a lot of information, but it was so interesting that it made me want more. He also challenged the listener to take it further than the information in his songs.
The closing piece to "Sex And Violence" is a spoken word piece called "The Real Holy Place". It has this creepy and mysterious vibe that sounds like he's recording it from a castle dungeon. Here he encourages the listener to look deeper, "For years they kept God hidden/Look for God in self, not what's written/If your slave master wasn't a Christian, you wouldn't be a Christian". There's a wealth of information to digest here, but the thing that I truly connected with was this idea, "I would say read the Bible, but it's not the original so it's really misleading/If you don't know the history of the author, then you don't know what you're reading". That immediately became not only one of my favorite song lyrics, but one of my all time favorite quotes.
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/15-The-Real-Holy-Place.mp3|titles=15 The Real Holy Place]
I think about it all the time. In a sense, It was a theory I already had in the back of my mind. I have long been reluctant of reading "intellectual" books and studying texts to learn certain things. I personally choose to gather my information and thoughts from my life experiences, dialog with people, and my own focused energy. Sure, you can learn a lot from reading, I'm not debating that. However, sometimes I'll be speaking to a person who is a heavy reader on a subject and I'll say something and they'll go, "Oh yeah, that's the theory of (insert author's name) in his (insert book name)" and they will assume that I read it. Yet, I haven't read that book. It's just a thought that came to me while sitting around pondering deep thoughts. I'm sure it was influenced by some experience or thought that my brain picked up somewhere, but I manifested it by just taking the time to let my brain process information. Certainly there are some great thinkers out there in history that we can learn from, but there's so many thoughts that we can manifest on our own if we exercise our minds and give ourselves the chance. I think people under-estimate the powers of their own brain and think they have to get their intelligence from someone else. I disagree.
Getting back to that quote, it makes perfect sense. You can't really grasp someone's full intentions and what their information is rooted in by reading their books or theories unless you really know that person. What is their background? What are their morals? How did they come to these ideas? All of these things effect the direction of the authors writing... KRS One also references that same quote in the track "Build And Destroy":
"Yes I am the original teacher/You gotta study the Koran, Torah, or Bhagavad Gita/The Bible, Five Baskets of Buddah Zen/And Once you read them sh**s, read them Sh**s again/But watch what you’re repeating/If you don’t know the history of the author, you don’t know what you’re reading!”
KRS One-Return Of The Boom Bap (1994):
KRS One closes this album with the DJ Premier produced "Higher Level". It covers a lot of ground. I don't even know where to start on this one. It talks about the contradictions of politics and religion, as well as finding your place in religion. It's a great track:
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/14-Higher-Level.mp3|titles=14 Higher Level]
KRS One-KRS One (1995):
"The Truth" focuses on symbolism in Christianity and the Bible's theory of how the Earth was populated. Despite the calming music and his fairly mellow delivery, this song is definitely aggressive:
[audio:http://www.fifthelementonline.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/10-The-Truth.mp3|titles=10 The Truth]
There's probably some other tracks where he touches on religion, but these are the main ones that stick out to me. Ultimately, my goal in writing this was to showcase that KRS One's lyrics have been rooted in Christianity since the late 80s, even if a lot of it was challenging some of the practices. Secondly, perhaps this can inspire you in one way or another, whether you agree or disagree with the theories presented here, to go out on your own and reconnect with your spiritual path. We can all use some time focusing on that.
Written By Kevin Beacham
*As far as post-2000 KRS One albums I gotta give it up to these for sure;
KRS ONE & True Master-Meta Historical (2010): This album is really good; musically, lyrically and
conceptually. Definitely worth a listen. Theirs a instrumental version too!
KRS One & Marley Marl-Hip Hop Lives (2007): An unexpected combo results in some solid tracks.
A few great ones on here.
Showbiz & KRS One-Godsville (2011): I haven't heard this yet, but I've been meaning to pick it up.
After hearing KRS kill it on Meta Historical and being a huge fan of Showbiz,
there is absolutely no reason I don't have this album...