CD Review of Maximum Strength 2008 by KRS-One
Recommended if you like
Public Enemy, Ice Cube,
Grandmaster Flash
Label
Koch Records
KRS-One:
Maximum Strength 2008

Reviewed by Jim Washington

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T
he concepts of “old school” and “keeping it real” are beyond cliché by now, but how else do you describe KRS-One? Chris Parker, aka the Teacher, former leader of Boogie Down Productions, essentially created conscious rap. His catchphrases became part of the hip-hop canon – “boom bap - original rap,” “stop the violence,” “fresh…you suckas.” Not to mention he was one of the first to incorporate dancehall reggae elements into the genre, and he may well have introduced the “shout-out.” 

Of course, that was more than 20 years ago. After a string of classic BDP releases (and a couple of clunkers) KRS-One launched an up-and-down solo career. With Maximum Strength, he’s back on the ups. It’s tough for the angry young man to grow up, but KRS has always delivered his lectures from a higher place, seeming too wise for his age right from the beginnings of BDP. On his 15th solo album, he takes it right back to the basics, laying out his philosophy over starkly-produced beats. He’s happiest afflicting the comfortable, and he gets right to it on the opening tracks.

“I know we ain’t getting soft,” he says over sampled police sirens to kick off “Beware,” a pummeling but somewhat generic plea for peace and understanding. Things really get into gear on “Pick It Up,” which ranks right up there with the best of his ideological tracks such as “Beef” and “My Philosophy.”

Not many rappers can get you nodding your head while explaining the origins of democracy (“It was practiced in Athens overseas / In 508 B.C. by Cleisthenes”) and comparing it to what’s practiced today (“Democrats and Republicans are all see-through / Now we votin’ for the lesser of two evils / Man, don't let 'em deceive you / This is an autocracy, not a democracy.”)

“All My Men” is a Million Man March-style appeal for black male responsibility, while “Straight Through” shows KRS can still spit the lyrics (quick-like, Busta Rhymes style no less) and bring the beats while calling on hip-hoppers to save the game. But he does it in such as way that he’s not calling out young rappers, as he has done in the past, but holding out a hand like a wise uncle.

There are some rather weak and out-of-date tracks here, however, including “New York” and “Hip Hop.” Still, it’s good to see the Teacher come back with some of the old fire.

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