KRS-ONE & DJ Scott La Rock of Boogie Down Productions
Have you heard? November is officially hip-hop history month, so let's jump right in!
Since the Bronx created hip-hop, it’s only right that the artform’s first decade was dominated by artists from that borough. Following in the footsteps of “Old School” originators like Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa and the Cold Crush Brothers, a group calling themselves Boogie Down Productions (after their borough’s nick name) emerged in the mid-80s to carry the torch for real hip-hop into the 90s and beyond. An iconic outfit featuring the late DJ Scott La Rock, D-Nice, and the incomparable KRS-ONE, BDP broke new lyrical ground for rappers to speak about real issues affecting their community while kicking off new trends like rap/reggae fusion. At the same time, they were involved in one of hip-hop’s first highly publicized beefs with rivals from Queens, the legendary Juice Crew. However, Scott La Rock’s 1987 murder precipitated a total change in direction for KRS, who was able to salvage a successful solo career, lobbying for an end black-on-black crime with the Stop the Violence movement, and creating a new lane for consciousness in rap.
This Bronx tale begins with Scott “La Rock” Sterling, a Queens native raised in the Boogie Down by a single mother. After graduating from Our Savior Lutheran High in 1980, he went on to play basketball at Castleton State College in Vermont, where he also earned a business degree. Returning to New York after graduating in ’84, he got a job as a social worker at the Franklin Armory Men’s Shelter at 166th St and Third Ave in the Bronx. Nights he often deejayed at the popular uptown hip-hop spot, Broadway Repertory Theater on 145th St. While working at the shelter, Scott met the young Lawrence Krisna Parker, 19, who wrote graffiti as KRS-ONE (an acronym for Knowledge Rules Supreme Over Nearly Everything).
Barely surviving on the streets since the age of 14, Kris decided to check into the shelter as a respite from eating out of garbage cans and sleeping on the trains. During those challenging times, he sustained himself by spirituality in the form of metaphysics. “It’s a philosophy that says that nothing you see is real,” he told me, “It’s here only because you create it. You bring the bad into your life, you bring the good into your life, you create your environment by the way you think.”These were heady thoughts from a young mind, but while many homeless retreated to the public library to escape the streets, Kris spent his time wisely, poring over books. “Every day I’d wake up,” he continues, “and I wouldn’t say I’m the greatest rap artist in the world, I would say that I am rap music period. I am rap. I’m not a rap artist, I am rap. Everybody’s trying to do what I am.”
After initially butting heads, Kris and Scott soon became best friends as the deejay introduced the budding lyricist to the wild scene at Broadway RT, where hip-hop stars like Doug E. Fresh and Kurtis Mantronik were regulars. Derek “D-Nice” Jones, 15, a beatboxer, became the third member of the crew when his cousin, who also worked at the shelter, introduced him to Scott. Through a combination of Kris’s hubris and Scott’s connections and hustle, they started making music and moves in ‘85. Scott put up his own money for time at Powerplay Studios in Long Island City, Queens where they recorded their first single, “Advance” (Zakia, 1985) credited to Scott La Rock and The Celebrity Three. Another single, “Success is the Word,” soon followed, but they couldn’t find a label to release it. Finally, they received a break when Scott responded to an ad in the paper by Rock Candy Records & Filmworks, putting out a call for talent. According to Kris, the company was a front for a pornography ring, but Scott convinced the owners to start a subsidiary imprint called B-Boy Records, which he and Kris would run. With a label to release their music, they were finally poised to turn their dreams into reality…. (to be continued)