No matter the family event, my uncle corners members of the younger generation and lectures them about Puerto Rican culture and family. As a kid you dodged him; as an adult you nodded your head in respect. In retrospect I wonder where my appreciation and awareness for the culture would be if I didn’t have someone drilling that point in my head at every opportunity. KRS-One is hip-hop’s preacher, expounding on its virtues and keeping the sheep herded in line with the teachings. And what better way to teach than to lead by example: KRS and Juice Crew general Marley Marl squashed a twenty-year beef for this project.
On paper Hip-Hop Lives is intriguing: An aging yet still capable emcee collaborates with a legendary producer and architect of one of the biggest movements in hip-hop. As expected, this is hip-hop through the eyes of a living legend in KRS. At times the chemistry works. On the title track, the Teacha rebuts Nas’s notorious proclamation over Marley’s keys and scratches. On “Kill a Rapper,” Marley plays the somber piano-man over KRS’s manifesto that points out the obvious and tragic reality that if you “want to get away with murder kill a rapper.”
But the rest of the album is a heavy-handed lecture from KRS, with no room for questions from the students. On “I Was There,” KRS runs down hip-hop history, and the “back in my day” track is barely listenable — unlike the recent “Nostalgia” from his former Juice Crew nemesis Masta Ace, who cleverly flipped a yesteryear flashback on Marco Polo’s Port Authority. “I Was There” points to the underlying flaw of the album: KRS’s infamous arrogance runs wild and unchecked. Ultimately, the message gets lost in the man.
But, still: Where would we be without KRS-One?