On this day, May 31, in hip-hop history…
1988: “In about four seconds, a teacher will begin to speak,” starts the seminal album By All Means Necessary. KRS-One made good on that.
Boogie Down Productions rose to fame through an aggressive aesthetic; KRS was initially popular for stoking “The Bridge Wars” and expanding gangsta rap through 1987’s Criminal Minded. But when DJ Scott La Rock was killed later that year, BDP switched up its style, and its frontman took on a new moniker. As “The Teacher,” KRS-One ditched the violent lyrics for songs about institutionalized racism, police brutality and the government’s role in the drug trade. On “Jimmy,” he became one of the first emcees to speak on the AIDS epidemic.
Perhaps the most influential song was “Stop The Violence,” which saw KRS delivering a simple but effective mantra over hard-hitting breakbeat drums. “I look, but it doesn’t coincide with my books/Social studies will not speak upon political crooks/It’s just the Presidents, and all the money they spent/All the things they invent, and how their house is so immaculate/They create missiles, my family’s eating gristle/Then they get upset when the press blows the whistle!,” he spits in the first verse. One year later, KRS-One would head hip-hop’s “Stop The Violence Movement” and curate the promotional single “Self-Destruction.”
Almost every track on By All Means Necessary had a distinct narrative, and samples ranged from Smokey Robinson to Deep Purple. The LP’s title, cover art and overarching theme were inspired by Malcolm X. By All Means Necessary reached No. 75 on the Billboard 200, and is still considered one of KRS-One’s most accomplished albums.
The legacy of By All Means Necessary continues; Black Star interpolated the hook of “Stop The Violence” for their single “Definition” in 1998, while the “Rap is like a set up” line from “My Philosophy” has been borrowed by everyone from Rhymefest to Slaughterhouse.—Steven Goldstein