KRS-One Discusses The State Of Hip-Hop

Excerpted from the magazine for

The sixth annual Hiphop Appreciation Week is scheduled for May 18-25 in New York. The event is sponsored by the nonprofit Temple of Hiphop, whose manifesto states its purpose is to "continue decriminalizing Hiphop's public image and promote the unity of the Hiphop Kulture."

The organization's founder is a pioneer of both hardcore and socially conscious rap, KRS-One. His latest album, "Kris Styles," is due June 24 via Koch Entertainment. The former Reprise/Warner Bros. VP of A&R also has a new book, "Ruminations." It is due in July from Welcome Rain Publishers.

What is the current state of hip-hop?

I presented the idea of hip-hop being a culture 10 years ago in pieces for Fresh, Source, XXL ... even when I was ethics editor at Blaze. Now the mainstream has accepted hip-hop as a culture. Harvard University is now doing a hip-hop archive. For the next five years, it will collect all of the hip-hop artifacts and knowledge it can to begin teaching a legitimate cultural studies course.

What we're moving toward is self-government. That's very scary to the entertainment industry, which just wants to use us as slaves: "Give me your talent, and I can fling you whatever bone I think you're worth."

So this is the struggle. Are we product to be bought and sold? Or are we a free self-governing people who happen to have this resource that includes breakin', MCing, graffiti art, DJing, beatboxing, fashion, and language as our intellectual property?

What is your take on Eminem?

I praise Eminem's efforts, actually. I'm quite sure he gets a lot of criticism being white -- "the new Elvis," as he's called. But he is the sum of the hip-hop equation: Hip plus hop equals Eminem.

Today, white youth feel they have not struggled enough to get what they got. White kids who come from what we perceive as a good home -- balanced family, wealth, influence -- would rather hang out in the projects to get that sense of struggle. Eminem points this out in "8 Mile" as he's getting his ass kicked by blacks. It signifies that "I earned what I got. I'm not just here because I'm white."

This is going to do wonders for white youths' self-esteem and blacks' understanding of the white struggle. More hip-hop movies have to come out now that Hollywood sees it can make money on hip-hop without people getting shot in theaters.

Why is a rapper's career only three to five years long?

Between chart visibility, record-company support, and radio and video exposure, three to five years is a successful career. After that, the ones who aren't killed or incarcerated are thrown away. The rapper is different from the MC or DJ. The rapper is a creation of corporate interests, [and his] career usually ends in scandal like R. Kelly or death like Jam Master Jay.

The general relationship between the recording industry and the artist keeps the rapper in debt and poverty -- the average rap royalty is 50 cents per album. The rapper eventually has to resort to illegal, unhealthy lifestyles.

The minimum royalty should be $2, with 50 cents going to a hip-hop guild for health insurance, legal aid, psychological [counseling], family planning. The other $1.50 would be yours.

What is ahead for hip-hop?

Our day is coming. It's inevitable that the president in another five years will be a hip-hopper. The mayor of Chicago will be somebody who has grown up on N.W.A., Chuck D, even Lil' Kim and Foxy Brown. All of it will make sense then.

Excerpted from the May 10, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Premium Services section.

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