Dusting Off... KRS-One's Return of the Boom Bap
What is it?
Released in 1993, Return of the Boom Bap is the first full-length solo LP by American rapper KRS-One. Born Lawrence Krisna Parker in the South Bronx neighbourhood of New York City, KRS-One began his career as one half of legendary hip-hop duo Boogie Down Productions, along with DJ Scott La Rock. Releasing their debut LP Criminal Minded in 1987, BDP's career as a duo was tragically cut short when La Rock was killed during the making of their 1988 sophomore album By All Means Necessary, leaving KRS-One to continue working alone under the BDP name, doing so for a further three albums culminating in 1992's Sex and Violence. Taking the decision to bill himself as a solo performer, KRS-One (Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone) signed to RCA's Jive Record's imprint and released this, his first solo LP.
Still a regular feature on any number of 'Best Hip-Hop Album' lists, Return of the Boom Bap features beats from some of the genre's most highly respected producers, including Gang Starr's DJ Premier - who contributes around half of the album's instrumental backing - and The Bomb Squad's Hank Shocklee. Elsewhere there are production credits for Kid Capri, Norty Cotto and Showbiz, as well as some of KRS-One's self-produced beats.
Lyrically speaking, KRS-One's debut album is full of the themes that the outspoken MC became known for, such as the persecution of black people by the police, peer pressure to join gangs amongst some of New York's poorer neighbourhoods, and the prevalence of a sanitised version of hip-hop culture dominating the airwaves and magazine pages.
The best-known track from Return of the Boom Bap is probably 'Sound of da Police' thanks to its distinctive “whoop whoop” hook and its inclusion on soundtracks to films like 2010's Cop Out, but for any hardcore hip-hop fan this album barely has a weak moment. Some of the real highlights include the rolling bassline and rapid-fire lyrics of 'Mortal Thought', the name-checking roll call that is 'I Can't Wake Up' and the album's closer, the DJ Premier-produced 'Higher Level', which finds KRS-One talking up the subject of organised religion.
Why should I revisit?
It's a depressing thought, but in the wake of what seems like a litany of recent scandals involving police brutality towards black people in the US - from the Ferguson shooting and subsequent riots, through the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's killer George Zimmerman, to the gunning down of Walter Martin in recent weeks over a faulty tail light – it's amazing how vitally relevant KRS-One's lyrics on this album still remain.
KRS-One was one of the first MCs to speak out on such issues and while it may be disheartening to see how little things have changed in the two decades that have passed since this album first hit the shelves, recent events only serve to draw into sharp focus the reasons why albums like Return of the Boom Bap were so important. Even 20 years on, this record is every bit as essential as it was on the day it was released.
Who will enjoy it?
This is definitely one for the hip-hop heads, but DJ Premier's skilful sampling of everything from funk and soul to jazz and reggae ensures this is an album that should appeal to a much wider audience than just the dedicated hip-hop fans.
This week's column is dedicated to the memory of Jennifer Ferguson. R.I.P. Bhavs x