He's had beef with Warner Records, MC Marley Marl, Nelly and Eminem to name a few. He's also managed to upset BBC Radio 1, Tim Westwood, YouTube, US neo-Conservatives, Christians and the families of 9/11 along the way, and thrown PM Dawn off a stage for disrespecting his teachings. On the plus side, Nas described him as "the greatest emcee of all time", Sublime dedicated a track to him on their debut album and Fatboy Slim, MF Doom, Jennifer Lopez, Rihanna, Kanye West and Pretty Lights have all sampled his work in their music. Hell, even Quantic gave one of his songs a shuffling cumbia makeover.

The artist in question is KRS-One - one of the most cited and celebrated voices in hip-hop that you may never have heard of.

From tough beginnings growing up as a homeless teenager in New York's South Bronx in the 1970s, Lawrence Krisna Parker aka KRS-One (an acronym for Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone) went on to become a member of the 1980s NYC crew Boogie Down Productions (BDP), alongside sometime vocalists Mad Lion, Channel Live, Ms. Melodie and D-Nice, and DJs Premier, younger brother Kenny Parker and Scott La Rock.

Ultimately it was the young KRS-One and La Rock who took BDP's name forward and laid it down on record, resulting in debut album Criminal Minded (1987). Full of gritty lyrical depictions of street life in NYC, the release broke new ground with the emcee's use of Jamaican dancehall rhythms and melodies over the DJ's 808 drum machine beats and James Brown, AC/DC and Yellowman samples.

As an early document of hip-hop history, there are fewer albums as authentic and influential on the future of East Coast rap. The cover art featuring the duo posing with an array of weapons was at the time a bold statement in itself, and the lyrics on songs like '9mm Goes Bang', 'The Bridge Is Over' and 'Super-Hoe' were hard-hitting, speaking of widespread drug abuse, guns, violence and prostitution in the South Bronx.

BDP's second record By All Means Necessary (1988), which dropped a year later, took a markedly different lyrical direction following the fatal shooting of La Rock months earlier. Whilst the minimal early hip-hop sound remained, KRS-One established a new role for himself - one of a politically and socially conscious spokesman tackling hard issues like crime, government corruption and safe sex on tracks such as 'Stop The Violence' and 'Jimmy'.

"In the late '80s he handled conscious hip-hop in a way others couldn't," says South London producer and DJ Wrongtom. "BDP brought a rawness into the mix, informed by their background I guess, living rough, hustling etc. They sat somewhere in between gangster rap and the conscious crews like one of those kids doing their own thing."

KRS-One went on to release a further three acclaimed studio albums under the BDP name - Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop (1989), Edutainment (1990) and Sex and Violence (1992) - before striking out solo in 1993 with Return Of The Boom Bap. The popular move from simple synth percussion patterns to exaggerated bass kick drum and sharp snares, also employed by DJ Premier, Pete Rock, J Dilla and Wu Tang Clan, proved a perfect foil for the rappers fierce and uncompromising delivery on crushing tracks like 'Black Cop', 'Sound Of Da Police' and 'Brown Skin Woman'.

"He's worked with a lot of the scene's most respected producers, Premier specifically for some of his best solo material," BBE producer, remixer and DJ Chris Read explains. "He was among the first to incorporate a reggae influenced style of delivery to his lyrics which at the time was unique. It's hard to really express as I'd like to but I guess you could say he speaks with and commands a certain authority in terms of his delivery, both in terms of what he says and the way he says it."

Between 1995 and 2012, the emcee produced a dozen full-length albums and six collaborative releases - notably KRS-One (1995), I Got Next (1997) and The Sneak Attack (2001) - but his influence began to wane as hip-hop exploded on a global scale and countless sub-genres like G-funk, crunk, grime, trap and trip-hop moved the artistic form away from its original roots and culture, and into the mainstream.

Along the way, the emcee - styling himself as The Teacha - took up activism on behalf of a number of causes, including founding the Stop The Violence Movement in 1989 and The Temple Of Hip Hop in 1996 as means of connecting, preserving and developing the skills and knowledge of rapping, DJing, breakdancing, graffiti and beatboxing, including writing a 600 page 'bible' documenting 'rap religion'.

For UK beatmaker Percy Filth, the emcee's contribution to hip-hop culture is now as fresh and fitting as it ever was. "I remember seeing him live and really feeling like I'd got my money's worth. KRS' live shows are very personal; he gets down into the crowd, gives people fist bumps, poses for photos etc. KRS really is the teacher - he's been there since the early days and is still relevant, still putting music out after 30 years. His dedication to the art, the culture as a whole - he's not just about the music, he's about everything that's involved in hip-hop."

In recent years, The Blastmaster has faced accusations of preaching rather than teaching, courted national controversy in the US following an alleged misreported statement on terrorism and corporate greed, and struggled to break the saturated hip-hop market with newer releases. But KRS-One, close to turning 50, is still making good music, still very much a force to be reckoned with and an absolute live representation of hip-hop's original spirit and message. Just ask Nas.


Tracklisting

  • 1987 - 'South Bronx' (Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded)
  • 1987 - '9mm Goes Bang' (Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded)
  • 1988 - 'Stop The Violence' (Boogie Down Productions - By All Means Necessary)
  • 1988 - 'Jimmy' (Boogie Down Productions - By All Means Necessary)
  • 1989 - 'Jack Of Spades' (Boogie Down Productions - Ghetto Music)
  • 1990 - 'Love's Gonna Getcha' (Boogie Down Productions - Edutainment)
  • 1992 - 'KRS-One' (Sublime - 40oz To Freedom)
  • 1993 - 'I Can't Wake Up' (KRS-One - Return Of The Boom Bap)
  • 1993 - 'Sound Of Da Police' (KRS-One - Return Of The Boom Bap)
  • 1995 - 'MC's Act Like They Don't Know' (KRS-One - KRS-One)
  • 1995 - 'Free Mumia' (KRS-One - KRS-One)
  • 1997 - 'Step Into A World' (KRS-One - I Got Next)
  • 1998 - 'Digital' (Goldie - Saturnz Return)
  • 2001 - 'Hush' (KRS-One - Sneak Attack)
  • 2001 - 'Jenny From The Block' (Jennifer Lopez - This Is Me...Then)
  • 2002 - 'The Message 2002' (KRS-One - The Mix Tape)
  • 2003 - 'Survivin'' (KRS-One - Kristyles)
  • 2003 - 'Tell The Devil Ha!' (KRS-One - D.I.G.I.T.A.L.)
  • 2005 - 'If It's Lovin' That You Want' (Rihanna - Music Of The Sun)
  • 2007 - 'I Was There' (KRS-One & Marley Marl - Hip Hop Lives)
  • 2008 - 'The Real Hip Hop' (KRS-One & Nas - Adventures in Emceein)
  • 2011 - 'Step Into A World' - Raptures Delight (Quantic - The Best Of Quantic)
  • 2012 - 'All Day' (KRS-One - The BDP Album)
  • 2014 - 'Big Up New York' [Jaguar Skills Remix] (KRS-One - Big Up New York)