What turns a musician into a legend? Influence, skill, and passion for music to name a few ingredients and to severely simplify the recipe for success. KRS-One is a living legend who possesses these three ingredients, but he’s got another important trick up his pantry. His creative output is frequent for someone who’s been in the game so long, with his latest studio album marking his thirteenth as a solo artist. Every time KRS comes out with a new album there’s a bit of excitement amongst the retro community who admire his wise rhymes and old-school reputation. His lyrics stress spiritual enlightenment and general social and political alertness, as he often considers himself one of the teachers in a world where frauds, crooks, and busters are in control. Not to sound like a broken record, but this feeling is very relevant now if it wasn’t apparent before with everything going on in the USA. I don’t think I need to explain what I’m talking about. It rhymes with “dump.” “The World Is MIND” resumes class, but this time it sounds like the hardest recess in recent memory, like the time when Jim scrapped his knee on the blacktop and we were out of Band-Aids. KRS-One understands that hip-hop audiences aren’t as receptive to lectures in their music as they may have been at one point. Instead of throwing in the towel, KRS pulls from his own experiences and attempts to keep playing the game while many of us have put our goals on the sidelines.
How does one of the most acclaimed emcees start a thirteenth album? With regality. “Show Respect” is exactly what it sounds like, a moment to respect KRS for where’s he’s been, what he’s seen, how he’s impacted hip-hop, and his willingness to continue his teachings. The whole joint sounds like a parade for a returning ruler. Practicing what he preaches, KRS opens by giving a shout-out to his ancestors and past friends before beginning his mission. The first verse reintroduces his purpose in music since the early days. The second verse jumps to the present highlighting how there is still some divide between him and rappers of today, which will surely delight folks who think the only good hip-hop artists had albums out before I was born, which isn’t entirely true but I can see how some might think that. He says, “Let me make this really clear they are not us / All these wack Twitter rappers I do not trust / They will pull out their gat but they will not bust / They will witness injustice but they will not fuss.” For those seeking realness, KRS provides.
If you haven’t heard a KRS-One album before the best word to describe his lyrics is “woke.” As much of a joke that word has become, that’s the easiest description of his music. Starting with what is now one of my favorite samples ever, “Same Shit” draws parallels between things that have different names, but operate very similarly. Some noted comparisons are terrorists and governments, the Klu Klux Klan and the police, and slave quarters and prison cells. KRS can come off as a little extreme in some of his views, and there are even some that verge on conspiracy theories, but there is truth to justify his frustration with the system. It sounds extreme only if you haven’t heard it before. Staying woke is just something KRS-One does and he wants you to consider his words. Immediately.
In “You Ain’t Got Time,” KRS-One reveals his thoughts on politics and events in our society, such as the crisis in Syria and just the volatile social climate we seem to exist in right now. The lesson here is unity, but we need it quickly. Sample quotes from Malcolm X say that there’s no disgrace in being a prisoner, whether physical or mental, but remaining one is disgraceful. You’ve probably heard of mental slavery before. We need to organize as humans before it’s too late, and turning a deaf ear to these messages for so many years could lead to even less freedom and even more corruption, so time is of the essence says KRS. “Keep Flowin’” reinforces the idea of necessary unity, and that it has been an idea talked about for years, but judging by recent events no one listened. “You Like Me” also wields an uncomfortably accurate message. KRS believes that if public figures such as himself don’t bring up economic disparity, politics, racial issues, civil issues, or display any evidence that they have a conscience, he can receive the exposure and endorsement some other artists have.
There’s an introspective element to “The World Is MIND.” KRS revisits “Out For Fame” from his self-titled 1995 album, perhaps to show that the sound of his music can change but he hasn’t forgotten where he came from. More telling is “My Dreams,” reminiscing on the times when just before he thought his dreams of making music were vaporized, KRS regained hope with the assistance of fellow greats Scott La Rock, Teddy Ted, and Special K. It’s a motivational tune coming from a seasoned artist. Imagine being able to remember your birth and thinking, “Damn. I made it. Glad I didn’t doubt my ability to drive a sperm cell.” KRS was once unsure of his dreams, now his past dreams are his reality. If that doesn’t persuade you to continue plugging on your life goals I don’t know what will.
KRS-One reminisces on more than just his life, but on hip-hop in general and how much of today’s hip-hop isn’t real hip-hop. You knew it was coming. How could someone who’s been here for decades not have fonder memories of “the good old days?” Before you groan, realize we all do this. My fellow twenty-somethings all know we’re adamant that cartoons were extremely better when we were kids, not like today’s crap. “Fuck This” and “Raw Beat” allow KRS to just spit his God-given talent. K.O.D on “Fuck This” also struts his stuff and shares KRS-One’s view that they don’t need to be on the radio to be successful. “Hip Hop Speaks From Heaven” is a tribute to the great emcees who are sadly no longer with us, but their contributions to the culture are so massive that they are immortalized through their skills and talents.
The remaining songs are lessons on KRS-One’s syllabus each valuing a different aspect of life. My favorite is “Keep Clicking.” A general takeaway here is KRS-One instructing us to value traditions and features of different heritages to keep it alive. Specifically, KRS and Shai exercise impressive uses of the South African Xhosa language, known for its use of “clicking,” all while explaining that it would be a shame to let this language be lost consumed by the English language. It’s great to embrace your heritage. Unfortunately, I don’t really have anything like this very lively language in my ancestry. The only things I inherited are guilt and a condition doctors call “anti-rhythm.” “Don’t Ever Stop” is advice to continue striving for your goals. We hear this general message all the time, and KRS delivers it well, but the featured artist Janiece steals the show. “No Problems” reminds us to reassess our priorities. Money doesn’t measure your worth and it shouldn’t have to measure your happiness. Consider that life itself is a gift and we can be happy with a modest and humble life full of food and friends. The album finishes with “The World Is MIND,” a tale of two hospital patients, one finding out that our perception of the world can create our reality.
The production on this album is infectiously hard. Rhythms are heavy and aggressive to match the tone of KRS-One’s lyrics. If you aren’t as frustrated as him before listening, you’ll be fed up by the end of it. Production efforts by Mlody, Kofi, Paul Laffree, Steez, DJ Desue, and PredatorPrime all rule. “The World Is MIND” is a grand show of force. KRS-One has been keeping it real for decades, but we’re living in a time where maybe more younger folks will listen with his loyal fanbase. I don’t like to say it’s more relevant than ever, because political corruption, racism, economic inequality, and gaining knowledge have always been relevant, but it seems due to social media we can communicate and think about these ideas every day. The revolutionary mindset of artists like KRS-One combined with the technology of today may be just one recipe for change in this fine mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.
“The World Is MIND” released on May 9, 2017 and can be accessed via KRS-One’s Bandcamp profile.