Record Review (Creem, 1991)
Heretofore, hip-hop has avoided the twin curses of becoming an industry: the “greatest hits” package and the live album. Live hip-hop recordings would seem especially pointless, as Bomb-Squad-style production is becoming state of the art, and MCs are reduced in concert to rapping over finished studio tracks. What live albums can do, besides fulfill contracts, is authenticate artists as performers, as more than creations of their producers; though poor substitutes for having been there, they offer the consumer a facsimile of immediacy. But the more rap artists rely on sampling, the less viable the whole idea of immediacy becomes. Hip-hop is art for the age of digital reproduction.
The studio has failed to seduce Kris Parker of Boogie Down Productions, however, who keeps his recordings as live as possible; his brother, DJ Kenny Parker, sets the mood and lays down the groove and otherwise stays out of the way. This relative minimalism reinforces BDP’s message of self-sufficiency: the samples are a backdrop, not a crutch. Kris Parker, a.k.a. KRS-ONE (“Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone”), preaches the power of knowledge and entertains more by “metaphysics” than by acoustics. If anything, his fame has further unshackled him from the studio and pushed him in a more didactic direction, which makes him the perfect candidate to release rap’s first live record and renders such a project superfluous. If you want to be edutained, the original teachings are already on the market.
But Live Hardcore Worldwide is a welcome addition to the catalogue for a couple of reasons. First, from recordings of four 1990 shows in New York, London and Paris, KRS-ONE has culled 18 tracks, a good many of them now hard to find in studio form; the more serious recent albums, Ghetto Music and Edutainment, are slightly represented. Second, KRS-ONE puts his “science” across hard and funky. He proves himself an energetic entertainer who knows what his audience wants—though there’s a little more crowd participation in the mix than we need. Even if he leans on his boastful side to do it, Parker makes his presence felt and makes it persuasive. You can’t ask much more of a live album than that.
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First published in Creem magazine (June, 1991)