Without history, there is no foundation. What does McGwire mean without Maris and Mantle? Or Einstein without Newton? Bush without Dad? Modest Mouse without the Pixies? As rap struggles with its identity now caught in a schism between underground combatants and commercial clockers, it seems like it's time for more heads to embrace their antecedents. Hip hop feels almost like an island now, what's hot at the moment disconnected largely from its past: How can a very good but not spectacular band such as the Pixies garner such adoring legions but Slick Rick and Big Daddy Kane can't get paid? Where are the guest spots for Rakim and Chuck D? But rap disregards its past at its own peril. Without a past all you are is yesterday's fashion. Is 50 Cent going to be Dr. Dre or MC Eiht?
"You start in immense poverty and grow up. Within 10 years, you become a $3 billion industry—no warning, no planning, no discipline, no principles, no guidelines, no direction," says Kris Parker, aka KRS-One, aka The Teacher. "And what has happened now is that American pop culture has changed. What now makes a person a celebrity is their story, not their credentials or validation."
But stories are as interchangeable as a Pussycat Doll, of course. Hopefully what remains and will one day be properly appreciated are the stones on which the mansion was built. KRS-One is his own cornerstone. With Boogie Down Productions, he cut some of the seminal tracks of hip hop's past—"MCs Act Like They Don't Know," "My Philosophy" and "Sound of Da Police." Out in front of Hip Hop Lives—a new release recorded with Marley Marl, with whom KRS-One had one of hip hop's first big beefs—he sounds and may be more relevant than ever. He's continued to turn out strong albums over the last decade.
"Everyone knows my message, they know what it's about, for years I've been standing out for truth," KRS-One says, subtly indicting mainstream's childish fantasies. "Truth is what it is, and people want it, and they want it now."
KRS-One performs Saturday, May 12, at 9:30 p.m. at Cat's Cradle. Away Team and Dan Johns open. Tickets are $18-$20.