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Hip-hop heads were first introduced to KRS-One (Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone) in 1986 with Boogie Down Productions' national underground hit "South Bronx." Ever since, KRS-One (a.k.a. Kris Parker) has helped transform hip-hop into a culture and advanced its music on such albums as By All Means Necessary, Ghetto Music and Edutainment. More than a decade after "South Bronx," he continues to play a key role in rap, combining street poetry and a hard-core style that eclipse the genre's usual gun-toting gangsta themes. Not for nothing has he been nicknamed "The Teacher."
New Times: What has kept you in the forefront for the past decade?
KRS-One: Wow! Let me start off by saying that everything that has happened in my life happened in two ways. One by skill, and the other by total supernatural means. When I say supernatural means, this means that I rely heavily on a spiritual sense. I recognize the fact that I am a co-creator within the universe. So half of my longevity is due to me knowing that I am co-creating with the universe. It means you always have fresh material and something to say. The other half of it is what I bring to the table, which is the skill. This is what separates a successful person from someone who is still just dreaming. A lot of people dream and are getting ideas from the universe--ideas are in their heads--but they're not working on them. They're talking about them, but they're not really visualizing them and seeing them. So to answer your question, those are the two ways.
NT: What exactly made you leave home at 14?
KRS-One: I had this burning desire to be a rap artist. I mean, to be honest with you, I know it sounds corny. But my mother bought [the Sugar Hill Gang's] "Rapper's Delight" in 1979. Once I listened to it, I really wanted to be a rap artist.
NT: But why did you have to leave home to pursue your goals?
KRS-One: My mother was like every other parent. I said, "I wanna be a rap artist, Mom."
And she said, "Okay, cool, but you need to get an education."
And I was like, nah, this education is not what's gonna make me a rapper. Talking to a woman who has a college degree, had two jobs at the time, and then here I come wanting to be a rapper. She didn't want to hear it. My mom's thinking was: First of all, rap is not gonna last but two more years; what are you talking about? It's only gonna get to '81 and then stop. So it was all of that and, I guess, the friction in the house is what made me decide to leave. My mother was a loving mother, but I had a burning desire to do this.
NT: What does your mom say when she looks at you now?
KRS-One: Oh, she still doesn't really understand what time it is. I'll tell you something real funny. I saw my mother in 1991 after not seeing her for about 10 or 12 years. We went to a restaurant, and I'm sitting and talking and people are coming up to me asking me for my autograph. And she said, "What's wrong with these people? Why do they keep asking you for your autograph?" I told her that these people have bought my records, and there's a certain degree of respect here. I have to sign these papers. They are saying that they like what I do. And my mom says, "Well, what is it that you do, boy?" And I say, "Mom, I'm a rap artist. I've got four gold albums. I'm KRS-One." And she says, "KRS who?"
NT: Some listeners and journalists say you come off as egotistical at times. Would you consider yourself to have a messiah complex?
KRS-One: Ouch! Hmmmm, yes and no. No, KRS-One is probably the most humble artist in this universe. Ego gets in the way of everything. However, people do mistake my confidence for ego. I am very confident about what I do. I know what I'm gonna do. I know when you hear KRS-One is gonna perform live at a concert, you should rest assured that when you get there, you're gonna leave sweaty, going, "Oh my God! He put me through 15 years of my life, and I'm with him!" You're gonna feel good. I know what I can do. People that aren't used to hearing people speak with confidence label it as ego.
But let me say this on the messiah-complex part: I wouldn't call myself a messiah. But I do believe I am one of the people who believes they can save the world. I am one of the people that says, "Yes, I am a role model." I will take the responsibility to educate, or what I call "edutain," the masses of people. Some people might ask, "Well, what is the point, and what do you want?" And the point is the whole reason why I entered into rap altogether. I entered in with my first record, "South Bronx," as the teacher. This is not to be taken lightly. I come from an era in hip-hop culture where if you call yourself something, then you act that out in society. But most people are not looking at hip-hop as a culture. They're looking at rap, which is the expression of the culture. So they take these things very lightly. This is how professors and deans of schools get caught out there. They come to debate me. The host will read my bio and say I lectured at Yale and Columbia. The professors expect a rapper to speak with what they call Ebonics. But I open my mouth and begin to expound on all kinds of theology, mythology and sociology.