Before their first album, Criminal Minded (B-Boy Records, 1987) even saw the light of day, BDP underwent a baptism by fire, involved in one of the first great feuds or “beefs” in hip-hop that demonstrated the highly competitive nature of the art form in its early years. In an unrelated incident, they also lost co-founder La Rock to street violence, galvanizing KRS’s conscious approach to music-making moving forward.
The now-celebrated beef, dubbed “The Bridge Wars,” started while Scott La Rock was shopping the single for “Success is the Word,” and ran into popular radio personality Mr. Magic and his protégé Marley Marl at Powerplay Studios. Helming the first rap show to debut on commercial radio on WBLS, 107.5, Mr. Magic, aka “Sir Juice,’ enjoyed serious clout in New York’s burgeoning rap scene. His deejay, Marley Marl, also worked with several high-profile rappers from the Queensbridge projects, where he lived, known as the Juice Crew--including MC Shan and Roxanne Shante. After hearing BDP’s demo, Magic dissed them to their face and a minor skirmish actually broke out in the studio.
Around the same time, in late ’85, Marley and MC Shan cut a promo called “The Bridge,” which became a certified street hit. In the intro, Shan raps, “You love to hear the story, again and again/Of how it all got started way back when/The monument is right in your face/Sit and listen for a while to the name of the place/The Bridge, Queensbridge.” Though Shan never declared that hip-hop started in Queens, KRS seized upon his lyrics as an opportunity to strike back at Magic and Marley, penning the song, “South Bronx.” “So you think that hip-hop had its start out in Queensbridge?” he asks rhetorically, “If you pop that junk up in the Bronx you may not live,” before going on to individually diss Magic, Marley, Shan, and Shante. He also gives a hip-hop history lesson name-checking Kool Herc, Bambaataa, Flash, and all the Bronx legends who created the artform, while bigging up 98.7 KISS-FM’s DJ Red Alert, Magic and Marley’s on-air competition. Considering “The Bridge” and “South Bronx” were both huge records as well as a source of pride to the inhabitants of these low-budget communities raised the stakes of this rhyme battle.
MC Shan hit back with the lukewarm response record, “Kill That Noise” off his debut LP Down By Law (Cold Chillin’/Warner Bros., 1987). But BDP had the last word when KRS dropped, “The Bridge Is Over,” providing a blueprint for rap/reggae fusion. In it, he raps in faux-Jamaican patois over a simple piano melody jacked from Jamaica’s biggest dancehall hit of the year, “Boops,” by Supercat. According to Ced Gee Miller of Ultramagnetic, who helped produce the track, it was recorded in about 30 minutes, with KRS playing the piano melody live. “The Bridge is Over,” released on ‘87’s Criminal Minded LP, cemented BDP’s reputation as a serious contender in the rap game, while helping diminish the once mighty Juice crew’s thunder.
Unfortunately, just when they thought they had arrived, BDP was dealt a devastating blow in August 1987 when Scott La Rock was shot and killed trying to defuse a street beef involving crew member D-Nice and someone from the Bronx’s Highbridge Garden Homes. La Rock’s death proved to be a total game changer for KRS, who had to forge ahead for self, this time with a cause--to stop the violence in hip-hop. On BDP’s follow-up album, By Any Means Necessary (Jive/RCA, 1988), he featured more rap/reggae fusion with “Stop the Violence,” and he also organized “Self-Destruction,” an all-star rap track featuring the likes of Kool Moe Dee, MC Lyte, Stetsasonic, and more, who speak out about violence in rap. Since that time, KRS-ONE has gone on to become one of the most prolific artists in hip-hop releasing some 20 albums as a solo artist (even one with his old nemesis Marley Marl), and consistently rocking crowds with his live show as he demonstrated recently in his Verzuz battle with Big Daddy Kane.
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