KRS-ONE makes miracles happen: Jordan Selbo reviews

Categories: Concert Review

April 11, 2008
Trocaderos Nightclub
Review by Jordan Selbo
Photos in this post by Jeff Shaw
Photo slideshow by B FRESH Photography

Better Than: The T-wolves squeaker win or the Miss USA pageant on mute, both great viewing experiences seen before the concert

The legendary KRS-ONE sought to navigate and transcend a rough upbringing by developing a unique pedagogy of self-education and -awareness early in life. Like a particularly caring but no less lethal Midwest tornado, his drive for constant learning and refining manifests in his powerful presence as he sweeps across the scenery, sucking up loads of knowledge, wisdom and understanding while simultaneously spewing those re-combobulated formulations of reality and metaphysics back onto the unsuspecting public, in some cases hundreds of miles away. Like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed or Jesuit missionary, he came spreading the seed of self-construction and the gospel of hip-hop to our humble little Midwest outpost. For an artist that was last in the Minneapple more than a few years ago, it must've been a pleasant surprise indeed to find that the seeds had already been planted and the gospel preached and memorized; what could have easily turned into an extended lecture and sermon, then, became instead a community revival and forum, with BDP's crew head less a teacher (despite his best efforts) than a fellow participant in the night's creation.

More, better photos in the slideshow.

A slew of opening acts performed their warm-up duties, well, dutifully. The crowd stayed nicely packed but fairly low key through the first and second block, then began to simmer as Kanser put it down with typical good vibrations and superior song craft. With the night's host O.S.P. popping up to drop a verse and local MC supreme Prof bouncing joyfully left of the DJ, they gave off a family feel that would extend throughout the evening. Other notable T.C. rap staples like M.anifest and Brandon Allday from Big Quarters also came to Troc's to pay their respects to the creator of "South Bronx" and "You Must Learn." Truthmaze, a fellow Hip Hop elder statesman, then showcased his typical effortless versatility with staccato machine gun flows and booming reggaeton over skeletal and catchy breakbeats. Muja Messiah murdered Minneapolis last weekend, but apparently you missed it, so he just gave us a taste of his venom but still almost ran away with the show (or at least attempted to). Seemingly without prompt, KRS then made his strangely underwhelming entrance, striding to front stage with an authoritative aura and a broken mic.

More, better photos in the slideshow.

Despite that early miscue, the Blastmaster began with a bang, running through a who's who of early staples, practically wasting the Preemo banger "MCs Act Like They Don't Know" (my personal favorite) in the set's first five minutes. Master mic control was in effect from the start, as the imposing but gentle giant swung his dexterous voice in and out of the beat, letting the die hards finish memorable lines while never losing the track or the room. After the traditional performance of hits and a few newer jams, the boxy but enveloping Trocadero venue quickly dissolved into a loosey-goosey jam session/party/celebration of hip-hop, where extended freestyle riffs melded seamlessly with impromptu b-boy/-girl showcases, giving way to meandering lessons on "the ancient ways" (i.e. be your own best friend) and flipping his more well-known verses over classical strings. Also, there was a rapid autograph sign-off with Kris the only contestant (but everyone wins!).

For a good part of his set, a throng of dancers, hangers-on, extra DJs and hypemen and even a few curious bystanders and fame seekers haloed KRS on stage, like a choir moaning and confirming the lesson being imparted (even if that lesson was frequently unpalatable and downright nonsensical). In the end, the hits were welcome to see live, the freestyle workouts were fun but unimpressive, and the lectures (especially the last block right before the night's closing numbers, a tangential but nonetheless interesting meditation on time and space), were, if nothing else, novel and thought-provoking. By the night's end, it became clear what he mentioned earlier about Troc's being "the Ark" and us being the chosen few called for salvation before the storm. Hip-hop is so much more than making money off reciting twenty-year-old hits endlessly on tour. His visit was less an event in itself than a reminder and a prompt to further the art. Because even if the Teacha is right and time and place don't much matter, hip-hop is now, and it's over HERE.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
Though KRS gets the utmost respect in my book, when put head-to-head in any relevant historical comparison, he would always barely lose out if it was up to me. In the title of greatest to touch the mic, he'd nip Chuck D but fall short to Rakim; in perhaps the most classic crew battle ever involving MC Shan and his Juice Crew against KRS and the BDP posse, I'd have to pick the J.C., even though Blastmaster got the better end lyrically, because I find Marley Marl's layered James Brown breaks superior to BDP's early minimalist productions. And in the race for most lovable hip-hop crazy, I'd have to go with Kool Keith, because although they are both legitimately off-the-wall, Black Elvis sometimes wears a wig, which trumps everything. In the end, comparisons are unfair and inaccurate; KRS is such an oddity as an MC that he's in his own category altogether ("I'm not number one/ oh, I'm sorry I lied/ I'm number one, two, three, four and five!")

Random Detail: Was KRS' use of the instrumental to Puffy's uber anti-edutainment manifesto "It's All About the Benjamins" to get the crowd hype with the chant of, "The real hip-hop/ is over here!" meant to be: a.) an ironic commentary on ass-shaking versus thought-sparking, b.) a sincere homage to a fellow artist, or c.) just completely absurd? Can it be all three at once?

By the way: The Tru Roots crew continues to make moves as it continues its partnership with Trocaderos to sponsor two more shows in the next two weeks. If PM Dawn's early-90s spiritual optimism is your thing, head down next weekend. But I would advise everyone, regardless of age, sex or creed, to make the trek downtown when the Alkaholiks bring their funky act out of recent retirement to show us how the West throws down. -- Jordan Selbo

More, better photos in the slideshow.

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