Boogie Down Productions
"By All Means Necessary"
1000 Recordings To Hear Before You Die
There are a lot of people out there who will tell you that peace is important. That you should drive hybrid cars. That you should adopt a cat, not buy it. Whatever. These people are right of course, but if you're a cynic like I am, you get tired of such preaching because the same girl protesting unfair labor practices is wearing Nikes. This is the same reason why protest music can get old real quick. At least when you listen to the conscious raps of Boogie Down Productions on "By All Means Necessary," you know this group has the pedigree to talk about life on the streets.
BDP's first album was what you might expect from other New York rappers during the "Golden Age of Hip-Hop." Titled "Criminal Minded," it's full of confrontation and behaviors implied by the title. BDP lived in the South Bronx, where one can certainly find confrontation and bad behavior if they want to. DJ Scott La Rock found trouble, intended or not. He was killed while attending a party in 1987 and it brought about a profound change in attitude for Kris "KRS-One" Parker, the wordsmith of the group. There are still segments of smack-talking on "By All Means Necessary," but the album remains relevant for its more important messages.
The obvious starting place is "Stop The Violence." KRS-One is a born conspiracy theorist, but you can hear him peeling layers off the issue as the song progresses, versus telling you the obvious. It starts simple: drugs and such inspire gang activity and that leads to violence. Maybe it wasn't old news in 1988, but the glamor of gang culture isn't helping the non-violence movement nowadays. So KRS gets smart about it: He argues that violence within the hip-hop culture is exactly what white people want, a device for keeping blacks down. I don't want to comment on this, as a cracker myself, but I've got to give KRS points for understanding how to sway his audience.
My favorite track here is "Illegal Business," where Boogie Down tackles the drug trade and don't give anyone a break. Dealers, cops that let the dealers exist (and cops that just can't stop the dealers); all feel the wrath of KRS. You can hear his Jamaican roots coming out when he declares "cocaine and ganja business control America."
Boogie Down has a different approach to making beats than what Afrika Bambaataa was doing up the road at the same time. Simple drum beats and simple samples is the name of the game throughout. "Illegal Business" features some class Golden Age scratching, a thumping bass drum, and an audio sample from "Fat Albert," undeniably comical but on point. "Ya Slippin'" revolves around a sample of the famous riff from "Smoke on The Water," and it's arranged as simply as the original riff. Just the guitar and KRS.
"By All Means Necessary" has gotten some talk as possibly the original "conscious rap" effort. Don't believe that hype; Public Enemy made a move first, and Grandmaster Flash inspired many followers with his hit "The Message." Boogie Down Productions showed that the same message was even more relevant when it hit close to home.
INTERESTING FACT: KRS-One, like many great musicians, is a little batty. In 2009 he wrote a 600-page book titled "The Bible of Hip-Hop." The emcee proclaimed in earnest that he believed hip-hop will have placed most major religions 100 years in the future, and he aimed for the book to be a sacred text for its followers.