If you’re like me, your head spun around when you found out that KRS-One was teaming up wiht Buckshot. The “teacher” from Boogie Down Productions, the man behind the Stop The Violence movement of the 1990s, joining forces with the best part of undergound East-coast collective Boot Kamp Klick, who hail from the Raekwon “storyteller” school of rap? It’s an unlikely pairing, to be sure. KRS is known for a bombastic, clear and forceful delivery, while Buckshot is all about crooked style and substance. Yet, they’re both rap veterans with above-average vocabularies (and intelligence) who have survived over 2 decades in an industry that eats its young. Perhaps it’s time to embrace the forefathers?
When Jay-Z came out “retirement” with Kingdom Come, whatever you thought of the album, he did something new: He rapped about being a wealthy, settled down executive. He told of his duty to the art of Hip Hop without guilt or swagger, looking back matter-of-factly at his vast experience and success. He even temed up with Coldplay. In short, Jay-Z did something no rapper had ever done before him: He acted his age.
On Survival Skills, KRS-One acts his age, too. But he’s not a hustler-turned-millionaire. He’s an idealist-turned-fairly-well-off-idealist. KRS has been an old man since Scott LaRock’s death forced him to grow up quickly. As for Buckshot, he hasn’t changed much, either. He’s still a gutter rhymer with a low-key, menacing delivery. Together, they balance each other out. Too much Buck can get tiring and too much KRS can get preachy. And both artists share mastery of the decidedly 1990s skill of the brag attack. Dis records nowadays are all about violence and profanity and fucking the other guy’s girl. Back in the 1990s, before Tupac crossed the line, we got creative attacks like this one, a KRS verse off the song, “Oh Really”: “All of you others is wack/I’m naturally dope/Like coke before crack/And these jacks are more like seeds in this rap.” Buckshot provides equally witty coverfire: “I don’t write rhymes/I write biographies/And I don’t need no punchlines/Or choreography.”
Throughout the album, the duo pay homage to the folks who brought the genre out of the cornball eighties into its golden age, like Naughty By Nature, Grandmaster Flash, BDP (of course), and dozens of other, mostly NYC rappers. The guest spots are good, virtually without exception, with turns by Mary J Blige, Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch, Slug Of Atmosphere, K’NAAN, Immortal Technique, Rock of Heltah Skeltah (who blows both of his hosts away on “Clean Up Crew”) and most of the Duck Down roster. The beats are A-list, too, with production byHavoc of Mobb Deep, 9th Wonder, Black Milk, Marco Polo, and KHRYSIS, among others.
Buckshot rarely disappoints–he’s been a favorite of mine for years–and KRS-One was probably my favorite rapper back in the early 1990s. Combined, they’ve produced an excellent record.