Being labeled a “legend” is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it means you’ve achieved historical greatness, but on the other hand, it also means you’re probably past your prime. Legendary athletes fade from the spotlight as their bodies inevitably fail them, but there’s no reason legendary rappers should ever stop rocking mics, as long as they remain culturally relevant (Jay-Z’s writing the blueprint for older rappers as we speak). With that in mind, KRS-One has to be hip-hop’s most durable MC. He may be one of hip-hop’s founding fathers, but there aren’t many young …
DJBooth Album Review
Despite his impeccable resume, a generation of hip-hop fans was sadly growing up without being exposed to the almighty KRS-One. Thankfully that tragedy has been avoided, at least partially, with the release of Survival Skills, an album that should dramatically widen his fan base by pairing him with another underground legend, Buckshot of the infamous Boot Camp Click, a handful of major guest features (Mary J. Blige, Talib Kweli, K’naan) and a slew of young producers (Black Milk, Marco Polo and more). The result is an album that’s accessible without being dumbed down, an old-fashioned hip-hop album that never sounds old-fashioned. What else would you expect from two legends?
Before Jay-Z rang auto-tune’s death knell on D.O.A., KRS and Buckshot were fighting against the vocoded epidemic with Survival Skills’ lead single, Robot. A track that bounces electronically over a darkly ambient background, Robot is most importantly evidence of how well the two rappers’ voices and styles compliment each other; Buck’s raspy and relaxed flow expertly balances KRS’ always muscular delivery. Despite Robot’s obvious aggressiveness the track isn’t designed to kill auto-tuned rappers as much as it’s meant to embarrass them. No, the open warfare is saved for tracks like the pounding Clean Up Crew. Thanks in no small part to a pounding beat courtesy of Illmind, Clean Up Crew is the album’s grimiest track, a militarily paced joint that KRS, Buck and guest Rock of Heltah Skeltah appropriately kill. Actually, the aptly titled Murder might just be Survival Skill’s most violent track. (Even though the violence is metaphorical, it’s strange to hear Stop the Violence advocate KRS on a song with more gunshots than a 50 Cent track.) Regardless, Murder should stop any rapper even dreaming of battling KRS and Buck dead in their tracks, especially considering a hypnotizing hook from dancehall legend Bounty Killa. Crucially, despite their unflinching criticism, KRS and Buckshot never sound bitter, never become the hip-hop equivalent of old men who keep every ball that lands in their yard. They don’t hate the new era of hip-hop, they just think they’re better.
Survival Skills testosterone fueled selections will undoubtedly please hip-hop’s harder heads, but the album’s most important facet may be its ability to reach out beyond those hard-edged boundaries. Just take The Way I Live, a melodically infused track featuring none other than Mary J. Blige. Mary makes everything better and on The Way I Live KRS and Buck give the track room to breathe, allowing for a much needed moment of reflection in the midst of the album’s barrage of high caliber songs. Equally enjoyable is the flawless Past, Present, Future, a track that floats over a typically soulful 9th Wonder beat and vocal contributions from Melanie Fiona and Naledge. It’s the album’s sole track that could conceivably spark a party, and it’s crucial to note that despite the broader appeal, KRS and Buck don’t soften their verses at all. From the revolutionary Runnin Away to the seminally east coast Oh Really, Survival Skills has the versatility to ensure it can survive in the jungle that is hip-hop’s currently killer climate.
At some point in the last decade your status as a rapper became synonymous with the size of your bank account instead of, say, how well you can rap (I know, crazy). In an era of rappers who often offer swagger without substance, it’s important to remember just what mainstream hip-hop is missing. It’s missing the cultural foundation that KRS-One and Buckshot represent. It’s missing music that’s equally dope and uncompromising. It’s missing Survival Skills.
DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins
Written by Nathan S. on 09/16/09
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