Music note: KRS-One captivates the crowd—but slights local artists


One of the seven questions that were asked of those in the filmic dimension of the break/s was about the importance of hip-hop’s pioneers today. Those who went to the Friday night performance of the break/s could’ve seen one answer vividly on display later that night as KRS-One performed at Trocaderos.

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While the beats seemed twice as loud as any other of the artists onstage, there was absolutely no problem hearing KRS-One. His unmistakable voice and presence immediately captivated the crowd as he began going through his back catalogue: songs like “South Bronx,” “You Must Learn,” “9mm,” “Stop the Violence,” “The Bridge is Over,” and a host of others. He literally killed the mic, needing a replacement before the end of his set. One of the highlights of my night was seeing Big Zach, a.k.a. New MC from Kanser, wildin’ out over the balcony rail.

Such amazing energy and response made what happened next all that more disappointing. KRS-One, as most hip-hop heads know, has a history of preaching that he is hip-hop, that he represents the truest, most authentic form of hip-hop out there. If we want to enter the Temple of Hip-Hop, only KRS-One has the key to the gates. While there was no lack of authenticity-mongering in the first part of his set, it seemed much more communal.

Soon, however, it regressed into KRS-One as the sole purveyor of authentic hip-hop. First there was the long interruption of his set to sign t-shirts and record covers passed to him from the audience as well as the shirts of those b-boys, b-girls, and MCs on-stage with him. The most flagrant moment, though, was when he said that now that he’s been here, “the world knows that hip-hop is in the Twin Cities.” Rhetorical or not, this seems like a pretty incredible statement to make when you’ve had a number of the best artists in the Twin Cities perform before you: Kanser, Indigo, Shock B, General Monk, a collection of the best b-boys and b-girls in the Twin Cities, TruthMaze, Muja Messiah, as well as the First Ladies of the Word—an all-star group of female poets composed of Sha Cage, Indigo, Dessa, and Lorena Duarte of Palabristas.

By the end, KRS-One was talking about how he’s “the illest MC in the world,” while at the same time saying he doesn’t want people to lord over his back catalogue and that he wants to be thought of as the “least” MC in the world. I bounced, wondering if the recent deal with Smirnoff to recreate KRS-One’s classic album Criminal Minded as part of their Signature Mix series is part of real hip-hop.

Justin Schell is a freelance writer and a grad student at the University of Minnesota’s Comparative Studies in Discourse and Society program. He’s working on a dissertation on Twin Cities immigrant and diasporic hip-hop and plays the washboard tie with The Gated Community.