By All Means Necessary

Boogie Down Productions

album cover

Murder Triggers a Hip-Hop Transformation

Until his longtime collaborator and DJ, Scott La Rock (real name Scott Sterling), was murdered in 1987, the MC known as KRS-One (Kris Parker) specialized in terse confrontational rap. The tunes on the duo's then-current release Criminal Minded are blow-by-blow descriptions of drug deals gone sour, humorous taunts, and mercilessly clever, if often foulmouthed, wordplay. Parker might have followed that direction for years, but when Sterling was shot trying to break up an argument at a Bronx party, Parker's outlook changed.

He began calling himself "the Teacher," and as he explains on this album's opening track "My Philosophy," became interested in raising consciousness about drugs and violence, advocating education as a way out of poverty for young African Americans. This album, the first Parker released after the murder, contains tracks developed by Sterling. It's among the most galvanizing calls to responsibility in hip-hop history.

A high school dropout who lived in homeless shelters as a teenager and schooled himself, on his own, in public libraries, Parker might not have found his way to hip-hop were it not for Sterling, a social worker by day and DJ by night. The two met at a Bronx shelter when Parker, then nineteen, arrived after a short stint in jail (for selling marijuana). They formed a group, Boogie Down Productions, and within months were being scouted by labels looking for the next great hip-hop sound.

Where he'd previously glorified thug life, Parker argues, sometimes stridently, for hip-hop as an agent of social change on By All Means Necessary (which adapts a phrase commonly used by Nation of Islam activist Malcolm X). The most overt statement along those lines comes on the chanted "Stop the Violence," but throughout, Parker the street intellectual uses his commanding voice to rattle listeners awake and his castigating rhyme style to galvanize them to create change. The proof of his persuasive abilities can be heard throughout much of the hip-hop made subsequently: Just about every rapper intent on sending positive messages has borrowed something from KRS-One, whose name is an acronym for "Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone."

Genre: Hip-Hop
Released: 1988, Jive/RCA
Key Tracks: "Stop the Violence," "Illegal Business," "Jimmy"
Catalog Choice: Criminal Minded. KRS-One: The Return of the Boom Bap
Next Stop: Public Enemy: It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
After That: Eric B. and Rakim: Paid in Full
Book Pages: 103–104

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