Filed under: Features,In The Trenches,Interviews,Not Your Average,Steady Bootleggin'
Written by: Robbie Ettelson
Robbie: So did Kris really become a “Born Again” Christian?
Kenny Parker: For lack of a better term, I’m gonna say “Yeah”. But he’s a little more deeper than that. The thing with Kris is he’s forever evolving. He reads a lot and he evolves a lot, and when you catch him at a particular time, where he’s at at that time is what he’s gonna say, and then another year or two from now he might move on to something else. And he might be “Well, this is me now. I’m this”, and then you might say “What happened to that from two years ago? Oh, you’re contradictory. You know what? Get outta here”. From Criminal Minded to By All Means Necessary, to me that was a completely different vibe for him, for the most part.
But it was all hits, so people were just like “It’s all good”. Kris being contradictory – I think some people say that like it’s cool to boot A-Rod, like after a while you just say it and you just do it. But if you really look at it…to me, you know what’s contradictory? When you come out hardcore with a hoody on, and on your next album you have a suit on and you’re smoking a cigar. [laughs] To me, that’s contradictory. I can name a whole bunch of rappers that was crazy hardcore in ’93, ’94, and then by ’96 they was “Dons” and they had jewelry on. But they get a pass for that, ’cause I guess no one looks at it like that. Even Tupac – to me, Tupac is the most contradictory artist of all time, because he was a lot of different things! He really was a revolutionary, a thug, a ladies man – he was all of those things. So he made all of those records. At one moment he’ll say “Keep Your Head Up” and the next moment he’s like “Fuck bitches! Get Money!”. He’s all over the place, but he gets a pass. Most people get a pass but KRS-One – that’s his curse. He is “Stop The Violence” and that’s it.
I was also interested to know what you’ve been up to? Do you still do beats for Kris?
Yeah. Actually, he’s doing an album with Marley Marl…ironically. I never would have thought the day…now that, in all honesty, that might be contradictory. Marley was never really the problem, the problem was Mr. Magic. It end up being with Marley, and he dissed Shante when she had nothing to do with nothing, but he was like “Fuck it!”, and Shan. I find that ironic. Actually, I have a collection of old stuff that Kris did, like practice tapes and like some of the stuff that you have on your site, like unreleased stuff. Kris used to come to my house and we used to have a little $15 microphone and he used to rhyme onto the mixer and we used to record stuff over raw beats, and he would work-out routines or he’ll say some rhymes that end-up being on other stuff, and some rhymes that people never heard before. I was moving and I found all these cassettes that I had, so what I did was I took some of the stuff and I put it on CD, and I’m about to come out with it and put it out as a little album of all kinda practice tapes and unreleased stuff. I dunno if it’s long enough for a whole album, so I was thinking about adding some unreleased instrumentals that never came out, like “Sound of Da Police” and different beats.
I’ve been working on that project for a minute, I just haven’t had a chance to put it out. I’ve been doing a lotta deejaying in different spots, I haven’t had a chance to really sit down and say “Well let me do this”. But that’s the next thing I wanna do. I got rhymes that Kris said that were supposed to be on Return of the Boom Bap that didn’t…I got rhymes that were supposed to be on Criminal Minded! Little practice tapes that he did with Red Alert that no one ever heard. I’m the only one that has these tapes – I used to steal tapes from his house, back when I was younger. When Criminal Minded was out I was still in college, I wasn’t deejaying or anything. I was in school, so I used to come by the house and he’ll have a tape, and I used to be like “Let me hold this tape”, and then that was it! I’d just have it. [I laugh] So now, a lot of the stuff I have – I’m the only one on Earth in possession of it. Some of it doesn’t even have any hooks – it’s just rhyming, and then he’ll go “OK Kenny, cut that off”, or he’ll start talking and go “Nah, I’m gonna change that, and I’m gonna put this instead of that”. It’s real unedited stuff. He’s just rhyming and we’re just havin’ fun.
I’d buy a copy…that album you did with Heather B – the music on that was great. It was so raw, but the drums were crazy.
Thank-you very much, man. That was my little project. I just talked to Heather about a week ago. We were talking about doing some stuff, she had some ideas and I was like “Yo, let’s just put some stuff together and see how it sounds”. I still have a lot of tracks – I’ll still do tracks until the day I die. I’d talked about doing some more stuff with Kris, but then he ventured off and caught-up with Marley Marl. I guess Koch had some money, so he went off in that direction. [chuckles] But me and Kris was ‘sposed to work on some stuff too – maybe afterwards or maybe a remix. I was always the one that got remixes on stuff. I did a couple of songs for Boom Bap that never made it, I did songs for different albums that somehow got cut-off…eventually Kris’ll get around to me.
Did you do Heather’s album on the SP?
The SP-1200, that’s my machine of choice. What happens is that’s the first drum machine I ever learned how to work, so I stuck with it. And I like how the drums sound on there – you get a harder kick and snare sound for some reason – so I still use it. I’m a little old school with that. There used to be a little civil war – the SP-1200 Vs. the MPC. I remember me and Premier were going back and forth about the virtues of both, and he was gonna teach me how to work the MPC one time, back when they was doin’ Boom Bap. I used to laugh about that, it was like a little war. On one side was the MPC guys, on the other side was the SP-1200 guys. But now the MPC is just so popular that I guess the MPC’s won. [laughs]
They stopped making the SP’s so they’re pretty expensive to get second-hand.
Mine is so old. My SP-1200 is from the 80′s! I still have my one from the 80′s, and actually – I jacked Kris for that! [laughing] All of my equipment I jacked! Kris is real impulsive. You could be like “Aww man, look at these turntables. They’re gettin’ kinda old. You should get some new turntables” and he’ll go “Yeah. Damn, I should!” and he’ll go buy some new turntables and you can go steal the old ones that weren’t really that old! Like the SP-1200 – we had been using it on the road, I used to rock beats in the shows, and I remember when we came back off the road and we was like “You know, this SP-1200′s been on the road, it’s been kinda beat-up” – imagine, we had it for like eight months – it was like “Yo, the SP-1200′s been all over the place! You should get another one” and he was like “Yeah, I’mma go get me a couple of ‘em!”. [laughs]
[laughing] So you were like “Kris, let me hold that old one!”
You can’t believe it. I got speakers, turntables – like four of ‘em, mixers – like five of ‘em, SP-1200, a four-track…I got all kind of stuff in that same mode of “Yo, this is garbage! Get a new one”.
Even though the BDP albums said “Produced by KRS-One”, DJ Doc and D-Nice used to help out as well, didn’t they?
Yeah, well it depends. Let me not speak on Doc because I wasn’t there for DJ Doc. I got aboard after Ghetto Music. I got on in ’89, so I was at the studio a lot of times. I used to come from college and have some time off, so I’d go and hang out in the studio. I was in the studio when he did “Still #1″, but I didn’t even know what I was even looking at, so I’m not gonna comment on Doc. I know he was doin’ a lot of drum programming with Kris at that time, kinda the way that Ced Gee did with Scott [La Rock]. Scott had a lot of records and Scott knew the records he wanted, but Ced Gee is the one who hooked them up. Back then, it was the SP-12, Ced Gee was the only one that had one that anybody really knew! Ced Gee and Scott La Rock were real cool so Scott would have records and he’d be like “I wanna do this and this and this”, and Ced Gee would hook ‘em up. That’s how I understand it, but I wasn’t there. I think Doc was kinda the same with Chris in the early days, like “This is what I wanna do” and Doc would hook it up. Supposedly, D-Nice brought Kris the beat for “Still #1″ – the 45 – and Kris took it and slowed it down and they hooked-up the drums and made the record.
I’ve read about three different people who claim they did the beat for Biz’s “Just A Friend”.
[laughing] It’s a fine line on what you did. Were you an engineer? Or did you actually add sounds? If you added sounds that’s different to me then if I say “You’re the one who knows how to work this machine, so can you engineer this for me?” You’re still supposed to get credit, but it’s a little different if you added sounds and you can say “I did it”. For example, I gave Kris the drums to “Ah Yeah”. It was not like a credit thing – Kris came to my house one day and was like “Yo, I need some drums for this song I’m working on”. I was like “Yo, check out these drums right here”. It was like a Sly Stone record or some obscure record at the time, and I gave him the drums and he said “Aight, cool” and left. And next thing I know…”Ah Yeah!”, that song was out. Or like “Black Cop” – I did the drums for “Black Cop”, and then Kris did the reggae part – which at the time, I thought was wack – and we got in a big argument over that song and I stormed out the studio. I was like “Oh, this is so wack!”.
And then he used it for Mad Lion.
Then Mad Lion got on it and used it again! Of course I got no credit and no publishing, but I just did the drums and that was it. The same thing with “The Jam”, that record he did with Shabba [Ranks]. I gave him the drums for that record. That was my thing, drums were like my thing.
But drums are the record a lot of the time…
I don’t wanna say that, but…right. But I learned how to produce from Kris. I’m not gonna say “I changed his career!” or anything, I’m just saying that some things I was down with. “Hip Hop Vs. Rap”…that record was my music but Kris put it together. It’s a funny story with “Hip Hop Vs Rap” – I was working with Heather B on something in D&D, and I left my a bunch of discs in the studio by accident. So Kris was working on something else, and he came there later on and they was like “Your brother left these discs, give it to him”, and Kris was like “I’ll take it and I’ll give it to him when I see him”. Of course he took ‘em and put ‘em in and was like “Well let’s hear what it is”, you know what I mean? So about a week later, Kris comes to me and goes “Yo, you left this music in the studio and they gave it to me to give to you, but I wanna use some of it. I’m gonna pay you some money for it”, and I was like “What? Some money out the blue? Aight, cool! I don’t care – whatever!”. So he was like “Well I already finished the record”. He asked backwards! He put the drums in there, but the music was different loops that I had left in the studio. He put it together and it became “Hip Hop Vs. Rap”.
A lot of times that’s how songs will get done with Kris. He lets people that’s in the studio have input, for the most part, if respects you. Plus people wanted to help Kris make songs – you want Kris to rhyme on your beats! So you’ll come and be like “Listen to this, I just did this. Listen to that”. Kris would be like “Cool – I’ll rock it!” and he’d put it together and that’d be the end of it! And later on, you might say “Damn, I kinda gave him this record”, but that’s neither here nor there. I mean I can’t be mad that I gave Kris some drums when I stole his SP-1200! So we have a different relationship. If I feel like I needed some money for a particular record, I could come to him now and say “Yo Kris, gimme $3000″. I don’t mind if he came to me like “I need drums” or “Let me get this disk right here so I can use it for this thing right here”. I don’t really care, I mean he’s the one who taught me how to produce! And he taught me how to DJ too! So I’m not really sweatin’ that.
So you’ve been deejayin’ the last couple of years?
We still do shows. I do some shows with Kris, not all the shows with Kris. He moved to LA. He took a job with Warner Brothers back in ’99, he was Vice President of Reprise Records or somethin’ for like a year and a half. So when he moved out to LA, then it started not becoming really time or cost efficient for me to fly out there or fly all these places every time we had a show. Then I started deejaying in clubs around New York, and I’m deejaying in spots now. I’ve been doing a lot of club deejaying, mostly.
Do you just play a bit of everything?
It depends on where I’m at. Some spots I’m at, if it’s like a real hip-hop crowd, then I can play all the good hip-hop stuff. I like to play all the classic stuff people know – Gangstarr, Tribe, BDP, Public Enemy – I like playing stuff like that. But sometimes I’ll DJ for young people that like “Laffy Taffy” or whatever – which I think is the worst record ever recorded, by the way. In the history of recorded music, I think that’s the worst song.
[laughing] What about “Chicken Noodle Soup”?
You know what? I’m gonna say “Chicken Noodle Soup” is even better than “Laffy Taffy”. At least it’s a little girl, and it’s a stupid little record – she’s not coming out trying to say she’s the next dope MC, so I’ll give her a pass. “Laffy Taffy” is grown men. But when you’re deejaying for 20 year-olds, you can’t really play “The Bridge Is Over” because they was like two years old when that record came out! They’ll stop and just look at you like you’re stupid, or they’ll come up to you and ask you “Can you play 50 Cent again?”
As far as your production, I remember one of the first records you did was “I Get Wreck” with Heather B. She had a nice style on that record.
I’m gonna pass that little compliment along to her. She’ll be very happy to hear that too. I just put out two sample records with different samples that Kris used over the years. I had a part one and two that just came out last year, called BDP Breaks. I put some obscure stuff that I only I know he used…I don’t know if it’s sold-out now or what – they pressed maybe a thousand each of ‘em. The guy is really stressin’ me like “Come out with more stuff”, That’s why I was gonna put out the unreleased KRS stuff and all the mixtape stuff that we did, because I think that’s stuff that people would really like to hear, like crazy old rhymes from 1992. Some of it is straight from a cassette – it’s that raw. You ever been to a store that sells all kind of different stuff? They’ll have like pants, little t-shirts and all kinds of stupid shit, and they’ll have a microphone. It’s like “Let’s buy that mic so we can take it home and play around”. It’s that raw sounding, but some of the rhymes are crazy. I have him doing a freestyle of “Criminal Minded” over “Funky Drummer”, that Red Alert was cuttin’ up, and some of the rhymes are different. That’s a tape I stole from when I was in school, like twenty years ago!
Have you got any video footage of old shows? I remember he did that Live Hardcore Worldwide.
He’s been meaning to do another one for years, and never did it. He has all this footage…you know, Kris loses stuff a lot. You ever know somebody who you say “Don’t give them that tape ’cause it’s gonna get lost”? Everybody’s got a friend like “Don’t lend them nothin’!” Kris is like that. Like the footage of the thing with PRT, that whole thing at that lecture. Actually, Heather B was filming that lecture, and then Kris took the tape and you never saw the tape ever again! He’s not real reflective like that. Say he got a DAT with some old song that he never did, he wouldn’t be like “Yo, people might want to hear this”. He’ll just be like “Oh that’s trash. I was a whole different person then. I’m on to something new now”. But I’ll be like “Yo, let me get it. I’ll hold it”. A lot of the breaks he’s used over the years on different records, I end up having them in my possession because he’ll just throw the record somewhere, and that’ll be the end of it!
That whole era, especially around the first few albums, that was just a good era in hip-hop, so hearing anything from that time is always good.
Believe me, I know. But it’s a real uphill battle with that dude. Right now, all he’ll talk about is “I got this next, new rhyme, and a new rhyme style. I’m tryin’ to get this new rhyme out, I’m not even trying to think about ’86 or ’89.” Plus I told him I was gonna put out all this old practice tapes stuff that we had, he was like “I don’t care”. Only thing he said to me was “Give me a copy so I can learn the rhymes again, so maybe I can do it in a show”. That’s all he thinks about. If it’s not pertaining to a show, he don’t care.
Did you get many good photos over the years?
You know who has a lot of photos? Willie D. I never really had a camera. You know what my problem was? I was really stealing a lot of the stuff. [I start laughing again] I never created my own. If someone had something, I’ll steal it. Like tapes or vinyls or equipment – I was that guy, as sad as it sounds. Willie D has a good picture of KRS and Rakim, and I’ve never seen a picture of KRS and Rakim ever.
What’s Willie D doing these days?
Actually he has some group he was trying to shop, I was just talking to him about three months ago. He lives in the Bronx and he has an interesting story too. He’s been rolling with Kris since before “South Bronx”, ’cause B-Boy Records was right next to his house. That’s how they met. He’s not really much one for interviews though.
I read somewhere that ICU and Jesse West are the same person?
No, Jesse West and ICU aren’t the same guy. Jesse West is from the Bronx, he used to be down with Puffy. He produced “Step Into A World”. I was in the studio when Jesse West came in, and he put it on and everyone was like “Yo, that’s the beat right there!” and I’m like “That’s ‘Champ’. That’s regular old ‘Champ’”. He chopped it, but I didn’t see the vision. I was like “It’s aight”, but then the next day Kris was like “Yo, listen to this singing part”. When I heard that over the beat, then I was like “Oh, now that’s hot!” That was one of our biggest songs, that was a huge song for us that year. I’m always the one in Kris’ ear going “You know what? This sucks”. You ever known that guy who doesn’t like anything? I’m always that guy. I usually agree with most of the things he says, but every so often he’ll tell me something and I’ll go “Hell no”, and then it will come to pass and it’ll work, and I’ll be like “Oh, shoot”. Like he told me that he can get people to jump in the air, in 1989. This was when “Pump your fist like this!” – everybody was pumping their fist, that was like getting hype. And Kris was like “I think I can get them more hype. I think I can get them to jump.” I was like “Hell no. Americans? They’re not jumping up and down!” Boy was I wrong! [laughs]
I’m the first person that told him he was a corny rapper, actually. This is in ’81, when he first started rhyming. I was like 14, he was like 15, and he used to make tapes and they were horrible. Like “You’re the worst, man”. He used to be like “I’m dope!” – nah he didn’t use “dope”, I dunno, whatever the word was…”I’m the joint”, we used to say that…
“I’m funky fresh”
[laughs] Yeah. When “South Bronx” blew-up, I was the first person that was like “Yo, you did it!” I can’t believe that this guy – my brother, I mean we used to argue over socks – this guy has a hit record. There’s a record called “Crack Attack”, and that was Boogie Down Productions actual first record. It came out a little bit before “South Bronx”. They’re on the same B-Boy Records, and he had to do that record in order to do “South Bronx”. He didn’t even write it, he just did it. It did nothing, it was just terrible. The first time I heard “South Bronx” I was like “Yo, it sounds like you’re dissing Shan?” and he was like “Yeah!”, and I was like “Yo, MC Shan is dope! Do you know what you’re doing?” He was like [unimpressed] “He’s alright”. I thought he was crazy to diss MC Shan! I remember hearing “Kill That Noise” and seeing Kris, and I said “Yo, Shan answered you. You had a good career, man. ‘South Bronx’ was a good song, and I told you not to mess with Shan!”
So you thought Shan shut him down?
Kind of! ‘Cause that’s the only rhyme that I’d heard him do. I didn’t know he had the whole Criminal Minded album already in his head. I was still in school, so I used to see him every so often, like on the weekends or whatever, and “South Bronx” was a big hit, but as it died down “Kill That Noise” came out and I was like “Damn, it’s over for you. At least you were like a one-hit wonder, you did your thing”, and he’s like “I’ve got this record called ‘The Bridge Is Over’, and I’m like [condescendingly] “How does it go?” He’s like [does the piano riff], I’m like “Aww, that’s wack! It’s over!” He was like “I’mma do it tonight at Union Square. Come to Union Square and I’mma do it”.
I went with him and he did his show, and then he did “South Bronx” and people started going “Kill that noise! Kill that noise!”, like that. Shan had people there, and Kris was going “What y’all saying? Kill that noise? Oh yeah?” I was like “Ohh shit!” and he was like “Yo, I got this record called ‘The Bridge Is Over’ – hit it Scott!” And Scott threw on the beat, and everybody’s quiet, and then he goes “The Bridge is over! The Bridge is over! Budda bye-bye!” and the whole place went to the ceiling! He’s saying these rhymes, and no one had never really said people’s names in a record like that: “Magic – sucking! Shante’s good for fucking!” This is the first time people were hearing…people were stunned. They were going bazerk. People was yelling and screaming. That’s still my favorite record he ever made – because how I got it – and I thought his career was over, and I got it live at Union Square in front of a thousand people going crazy! Every time I hear that record, I think of that day. That was an incredible song. I didn’t know he had that in him. I don’t know if you’ve got any brothers or sisters…
I’ve got a younger sister.
Can you imagine your sister coming out with a hit? And then another hit? It’s unbelievable. KRS was a really weird child. He used to talk about poetry and metaphysics at fourteen. I was tryin’ to play basketball and be cool, and he was like on some other…he had no friends, he was just like a real weirdo.
Hanging out at the library and stuff.
Yeah, and he used to run away from home every few weeks, and the police would find him and bring him back…if you look back on it, you can see how he became KRS, because his confidence…he’s always been ultra confident, but he wasn’t dope! It wasn’t like he was a dope MC – not in ’81! He was just a regular dude trying to rhyme. He used to go to my friends house and make tapes. My friend used to have a tape deck, but he had a dog. So every time he used to play the music, the dog used to bark. They’d make tapes, and Kris would be rhyming and there’d be music playing – like whatever the hot record is of the day, “Catch The Beat”. I remember they used to rhyme to “Catch The Beat”, T-Ski Valley, all the time. “Catch The Beat” would come on, he’ll rhyme over the instrumental, but the dog would be barking in the background!
So now he’ll come back home, be like “Listen to this”. And it’s him rhyming, some corny rhyme, with the dog goin’ “Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof! Woof!” on the tape! [We both crack up with laughter] And I’m like “Yo, this shit is horrible! This is the worst shit I’ve ever heard in my life!” and he was like “You’re just jealous! You don’t know!” We’re like typical brothers, we used to argue all the time. So that’s why when “South Bronx” came out, it was like “Wow. You really can rhyme!” And then it was like “The Bridge Is Over” was a completely different style. It was incredible! It’s just amazing to see this guy come from running away from home to this big rap star. I still sometimes can’t believe it.
He changed the way people rhymed even, because everyone was trying to rap like Run-DMC.
Yeah! Imagine his ego and his confidence – he was so confident, that was like “I’m not rhyming like Run. I’m not rhyming like everybody else. I’m coming with this style”. He was almost a fool, you know what I mean? His style was dope, but it was almost like “Who do you think you are to say you’re not rhyming like Run?” But then when you heard the rhymes…see, I didn’t hear the rhymes until “South Bronx”. Then I was determined to steal tapes after that.
Before that, you were throwing the tapes out!
Update! Heather B. - I Get Wreck (twelve inch, Elektra, 1992]
KRS-One - Black Cop [Return of the Boom Bap, Jive, 1993]
Heather B - “All Glocks Down” video:
Heather B - “If Headz Only Knew” video:
If you’re so inclined, you can grab the full Heather B LP over here.
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