A particular classic hip-hop song starts out with a ‘sample’, which is an audio clip borrowed from an unrelated source: “So you’re a philosopher? Yes (deejay scratching). Yes. I think very deeply.”1 Judging from a superficial perspective of mainstream music today, you wouldn’t think the song relates much in modern times. Most of the popular songs today, seem to be nothing more than egotistical rants about money, fame and style. That seems like a far cry from KRSONE’s 1988 classic, My Philosophy. That song, in particular, holds a favorable memory for many Hiphoppas, as one that harkens to a time when Hip Hop was more than just hip-hop music. It seemed that the music was a way to express ideas in the mainstream, that it had usually never considered coming from urban youth. As it turns out, KRSONE’s song, My Philosophy was both a typical rap song and a pioneering moment in the conscious rap music movement of the early 1990’s. In a biography of KRSONE on Answers.com, you can find the following quote: “While many of his contemporaries have confined their raps to boasting and glorifying gunplay, KRS-One, Boogie Down Productions’ MC, has always considered his time on the mike as an opportunity to enlighten his listeners both politically and socially.”2
In My Philosophy, KRS goes in on an egotistical rant like many great rap songs, but doesn’t just stop there. For many years, rappers and emcees have utilized the microphone, to reinforce their own pride. The main difference is on where, they place their source of pride. In earlier years, because materially, Hip Hop had less capital, it valued things like skills on the mic, or ability to; rhyme, b-boy, do graffiti, deejay etc. These are all actually internal qualities. These are abilities one is able to excel at, which require minimal material investment, like purchasing turntables, spray paint, records or studio time. Though many people have a soft spot in their memory for the BDP song, as one which epitomizes knowledge, it’s actually a much more typical rap song, with a few gems of wisdom thrown in the mix.
“Pick the punk, and I’ll jump up to attack one. KRSONE is just the guy to lead a crew, right up to your face and diss you. Everyone saw me on the last album cover, holding a pistol something far from a lover, beside my brother, S-C-O-T-T. I just laughed, cause no one can defeat me.”1 – KRS ONE, My Philosophy
With lines such as this, one can see the standard level rap egotism. All emcees and rappers alike agree on the need for confidence when reciting a rhyme. In the KRS track, he sends random threats of violence through the lyrics even while brandishing a few gun metaphors as well.
“And we’re real live, we walk correctly. A lot of suckas would like to forget me. But they can’t, cause like a champ, I have got a record of knocking out the frauds in a second.”1
“I’ll play the nine and you play the target. You all know my name so I guess I’ll just start it.”1
“Or rather mention us, me or Scott La Rock. But they can get bust, get robbed, get dropped. I don’t play around, nor do I F’ around. And you can tell by the bodies that are left around… when some clown jumps up to get beat down, broken down to his very last compound. See how it sounds? … a little unrational…”1
The wisdom, conscious Hiphoppas relate to, are a few particular gems near the end of the song. Beyond that, the beauty in the song is actually because it is about Hip Hop and the art of Emceein. All the boasting and posturing is really about rhyme skill. For hip-hop connoisseurs, the beginning alone sets the mood for the rest of the song. A very mainstream, milk-toast sounding -voice comes on and says. “So, you’re a philosopher?” To which another voice replies confidently, “Yes, I think very deeply.” And the record is scratched for effect on that line a few times before the song opens with the set-up lines…
“Let’s begin, what, where, why, or when, will all be explained like instructions to a game. See I’m not insane, in fact, I’m kind of rational, when I be asking you, ‘who is more dramatical?’ this one or that one, the white one or the black one.”1 The rhetorical violence he spews in the beginning is just an attention-grabbing device used by many more after him. His real purpose seems to be to include a few particular lines.
Until this day, KRSONE is also known as the Teacha, which in part begins in this rhyme. Until then rappers, would mostly make claims to the so-called throne or to be “best rapper alive”, yet KRS began speaking about being the best teacher. He says, “Boogie-Down Productions is made up of teachers. The lecture is conducted from the mic into the speaker. Who gets weaker, the king or the teacher? It’s not about a salary it’s all about reality. Teachers teach and do the world good. Kings just rule and most are never understood. If you were to rule or govern a certain industry, all inside this room right now would be in misery. No one would get along nor sing a song, ’cause everyone’d be singing for the king. Am I wrong?”1
This was a pioneering idea, to be known as a teacher. But KRS didn’t stop there. Well before it became trendy, KRS went on to promote vegetarianism as a way of thinking. “And hear it first-hand from the intelligent brown man; a vegetarian, no goat or ham or chicken or Turkey or hamburger, ’cause to me that’s suicide self-murder.”1 The philosophy KRSONE introduces on the record also includes a popular stance among activists throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, which has sadly been lost in today’s music. KRS says, “Some emcees be talkin’ and talkin’, tryin’ to show how Black people are walkin’. But I don’t walk this way to portray or reinforce stereotypes of today; like all my brothas eat chicken and watermelon; talk broken English and drug sellin’. See I’m tellin’, and teaching real facts. The way some act in rap is kind of whack. And it lacks creativity and intelligence but they don’t care, ’cause the company is sellin’ it. It’s my philosophy, on the industry…”1 Here, he decries the stereotypical “Black” behaviors demonized in traditional media. His stance against stereotypical portrayals, led him to dub himself KRSONE, which is an acronym for, Knowledge Reigns Supreme, Over Nearly Everyone, and call himself ‘the Teacha.’ The small gems of wisdom he’s able to sprinkle in an otherwise typical rap song boasting about rhyme skills, marks the song My Philosophy, as one that epitomized an era of conscious Hip Hop music in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. In a 1991 Rolling Stone Magazine article by Alan Light, he says, “KRS-One is an inspiring example of the role pop music can play in social discourse.”3
Hip Hop is spelled in three alternate ways. Hip Hop, refers to the culture, which includes rap music, the skills of deejayin’, beatboxin’, breakin, and graffiti art, as well as the Hip Hop styles of fashion and language. Hiphop refers to the conscious motivation or frame of mind, as in a ‘Hiphop frame of mind.’ This is the genesis of the word Hiphoppa; one who has a Hiphop mindset or Hip Hop cultural reference. When hip-hop is spelled like this, it refers to entertainment product like music, CDs, DVDs, or other products like gold teeth known as ‘grills’ or spinning car rims etc..4
- KRSONE, My Philosophy, Jive/MCA Records 1988, New York City, NY
- “While many of his contemporaries have confined their raps to boasting and glorifying gunplay, KRS-One, Boogie Down Productions’ MC, has always considered his time on the mike as an opportunity to enlighten his listeners both politically and socially. His booming voice and skillful rhyming have helped him achieve huge sales, and he has used his earnings to influence and finance projects that stress dignity, self-worth, the acquisition of knowledge, and otherwise advance his humanistic views.”
Answers.com, date visited 04/25/13
- “KRS-One is an inspiring example of the role pop music can play in social discourse.”
Alan Light, Rolling Stone Magazine, Wisdom from the Street, May 1991
Answers.com, date visited 04/25/13
- The Gospel of Hip Hop, KRSONE, Powerhouse Books/IAMHIPHOP, 2009, NY, NY