KRS-ONE explains how God kept him in VA for a week, and talks about his time being homeless and much more.
HHF: I want to talk now about this track ‘Yez Lawd’ it’s got soul elements in it, but it’s more deconstructed, it’s lighter in a way. The lyrics are kind of funny.
M: That’s one of favorite songs too and it’s funny you included that song because that’s pretty much about, just saying when you’re Black in America, you’ve got enough religion as it is without people trying to convert you to something. I was speaking about r&b singers, working a job, being poor, I was talking about all this stuff that plague the Black community. Sometimes the last thing I want is for somebody to come up to me and say, hey do you know the Lord Savior, Jesus Christ.
But I took the humorous route because the content is so heavyweight, it would lose the average listener if it were too heavy, they’d say this shit is gonna make me cry. I don’t want to make people feel depressed. I like to be a little humorous and show people that we’re not sitting in a melancholic state all the time. We are just coping, it’s a coping mechanism. We’ve found a way to laugh at our problems. (…)
HHF: It’s a survival thing, isn’t it?
M: Right, right.
HHF: And I thought what was interesting about that track is the use of contrast; I mean the sample at the beginning sounds like a Spiritual ….
M: Mike McGraw made that beat, aka Krooked Smilez, he’s from Chester, Virginia. He made that and when I heard it I thought spirituality and religion and then it made me try and channel everything I understand about being Black. I said a line, this is the line that makes people go crazy at shows, when I say: Seems all we do is fantasize about the pretty singers / got black people hollering how we miss Aaliyah / got Spanish people hollering how they miss Selena / TLC is only TC, they’re missing Lisa /
When you’re Black and you’re in the neighborhoods, your concerns are on these things, while the whole world is designed to keep you down, you’re thinking, Damn Aaliyah has just died. And that sums up being Black in America. There’s another line where I say, celebrating Independence Day, who’s independence? / I swear that of this was the 1800s / and white boys saw them white girls with us they would’ve hung us /
HHF: I don’t want to sound too abstract, but it’s all about contrast. You’re doing this rap about acting like a tough guy and all this bravado and then you’ve got the other elements, the soul element which is quite mournful and then you’ve got the spiritual and then every now and then these barbed comments. It’s very layered. As a listener, you’re not laughing from beginning to end if you know what I mean.
M: Yeah, that makes sense. It’s funny you bring up the bravado because the bravado is a defence mechanism. If someone challenges your manhood, or getting approached or being approached and they’re trying to see where you at as a man, or whatever. You are going to respond with nothing but, I’m going to break you up proper. Then in these environments you are forced into these situations – this is how they get their point across. (…)
HHF: It’s a constant thing in hip-hop, this is a bit simplistic so forgive me for this as well, but you know hip-hop is a way out of that as well, it’s also a way of avoiding physical violence you know. It’s something you hear all the time, these guys doing the tough guy thing, but they’re just talking.
M: Right, cause nobody wants confrontation … I’m not a tough guy. I’m not a gangster or anything like that. The funny thing about it is that this is normal. This is typical. You don’t have to be a gangster to get shot. Where I’m from, you could have stayed away from gangs, drugs, stealing cars and still get killed for no reason.
HHF: Isn’t that in ‘Bad Hair Day’ you talk about this?
M: Right. ‘Bad Hair Day’ is pretty much this is a normal day. This is normal.
HHF: In ‘Bad Hair Day’ there are these lines ‘Richmond is a battlefield’ and then you’ve got something about ‘daffodils’ and a ‘Happy Meal’. I like the way you’ve contrasted ‘daffodils’ which are something sweet and a ‘Happy Meal’ which is something disposable, is this something you’re trying to do with your lyrics to offer these contrasts, to keep it fresh?
M: If you look at ‘Bad Hair Day’ that symbolizes Richmond in a nutshell. The first verse I’m talking about being a predator, I’m with the people preying on ‘the weak’… I’m with them, so I’m not going to say, ‘Let’s not prey on the weak, let’s not do that’ because they’re going to be like, ‘Mistuh, you acting like a pussy, and you can get fucked up too.’
You can’t deflect it when you live in it. If you don’t live in it, it’s easy to avoid. If somebody is trying to run down on you in your neighborhood where your mama live, and you live there, what are you going to do?
They are going to be like, ‘Hey cuz, where you from?’
‘Shit.’ The first thing you say to yourself is like, ‘Man, I’m just trying to go to the store, man.’
They like, ‘Fuck all that. You ain’t from round here, bruh.’ That’s the norm… That’s what’s happening right now, this is what’s been happening since I’ve been alive… That’s Richmond.
A lot of people compare this to Kendrick’s, MAAD city and you know what’s funny… what Kendrick showed me on MAAD city was that every neighborhood is the same, cause I was like, we’re going through that, minus the gangbanging. People gangbang in Richmond, but they migrate from other places.
In ‘Bad Hair Day’ I’m speaking mostly in the past tense of things that I’ve endured and narrate it in a way that people can relate, so I say things like I’m running cause I got jumped in the projects. And I’m running cause they’re chasing me home and I’m like jumping fences and heart racing and I’m just saying that’s how it is here, that’s how normal it is. I can speak about it and make sense to someone who never went through it. They’re like, that’s understandable if the whole projects were chasing me, I’d run too.
HHF: (laughs) Of course. In another context you talked about things that people are ‘subjected to’. I thought that was an interesting turn of phrase, I mean I haven’t lived it so don’t want to say anything patronising here, but it’s not about choices, it’s about being conditioned by the environment, would you say? You’re being shaped by the world you’re living in, is that correct?
M: Right. I mean I was. But as an adult it is your choice. When you’re a kid you have no choice in the matter. When you’re a child you can’t help where you born at, you can’t help who your family is, you can’t help that stuff. That ain’t under your control, you’re just here. You’re six years old and you in the neighborhood where people are getting shot every day. You can’t do nothing about it. You can’t get a job and move out.
But when you’re an adult, you have the choice and as an adult, I had the choice and I said, look, I ain’t with this no more. I’m going to make my move. So that’s where my new project that I’m working on now is like. It’s more about how I feel today.
When I made all that I was trying to show the youth, the generation after me that you can come from this and still do something. I come from the shit, all that Chief Keef stuff… that was like the after school special for me. He is not scary at all to me. I can’t wait to meet him (laughs). Because I get it, I get why he’s doing that.
What I’m saying is, look here young’n, you can come from this. I come from this, but you can do something productive in society. I’m doing it now… I’m making music, I’m making people want to interview me. I’m a regular person trying not to die (laughs). That’s all. I’m just going to keep making music and try not to get shot at; that’s all I’m going to do.
Written by- D-Boogie – Hip Hop Forum
After waiting over a week due to the snowstorm of the century, the people of Virginia; artist and fans alike, got exactly what they had been waiting for. On Thursday, January 28 2016, local Virginians witnessed what real hip hop is all about. With Mad Skillz, a hometown hero and worldwide superstar on the wheels of steel, and a few great opening acts, including 14 year-old phenom Young Prince Charles, who went bar for bar with KRS on stage, the show was hip hop from the start and would have been great, even if the headliner of the show would not have been there. Having him there was even more of a blessing.
Yes, I am talking about KRS-ONE. Due to the snow, KRS was stuck in Virginia for a whole week, and the central Virginia area, and KRS, took advantage of it. In KRS’s own words, “When nature moves, God is moving. So I asked, why does God have me here?” Answering his own question, he proceeded to tell the audience about the lectures he gave at 3 major universities, local churches and more. VCU had only 72 hours to make it happen, and they did. It was an absolutely beautiful week for central VA
Aside from preforming all his classic songs, he lectured the crowd about life and told them about the time he was homeless. “In ’83, I was homeless. Instead of thinking about where I was, I thought about where I was going. What you see now is not a rapper, it is the manifestation of my 1983 mind.” Pretty deep thinking is it not? He went on to talk about his time in VA and said “I can’t wait to tell the whole world about the REAL Virginia. Y’all don’t represent that mainstream bull, VA represents real hip hop. I got to see the REAL VA, and I am thoroughly proud of that sh**.
Not only did all this take place, he received a painting of himself from local painter Sista Beanz. The look on his face was of complete awe. KRS proceeded to say, “You made me look cute, you painted my soul.” He then held it up high and proudly, showing the entire crowd and saying, “This is better than any Grammy award or anything, f*** all that s*** the people have spoken and this is my award right here.”
The best of the show was still to come though. It was the end of the show. The lights had been switched off, and you hear KRS say “Shine that light on me, turn the lights on.” When they did, he was in the center of the crowd, with a mic, opening up a cypher with members of the audience!
Wow. What an absolutely incredible week for not only Virginia, but the VA hip hop scene. Whenever a legend in the game comes to town, and makes everything he did happen, and say what he had to say, it means so much to this state, that does not get proper recognition, that it really is very, very inspiring to have witnessed. We must thank all who made everything possible. This is the type of positive vibe Virginia needs to continue having in order to make it the place we want it to be.
HHF: Let’s talk about the track ‘Set’ because that’s completely different, right?
M: Right, a whole new other feel. It’s a little newer, a little more up-tempo if you will, but it slows down, more on a southern way of doing things, cause Virginia is a southern state and where we from, we like things slow. We like things that knock out of cars, stuff like that and again, the things I’m speaking about in ‘Are World’ actually translate to ‘Set’ because the same place I was talking about on this (laughs).
I was from 610 Ratcliffe Avenue. I could dive into the whole where it is and all that but it won’t really equate to the value of the song itself. It’s all about (pause) what I’m embodying, setting the scene. Cause now I’m saying I’m over that part of it: the melancholy of being from this place, now I’m accepting it and embracing it. So with ‘Set’ it’s like I’m trying to come up, so I’m talking about working a job and saying I did that (in the past), but I’m like I got to come up and get to a place where I can put people on to where I’m from.
The production is by Manu Mainetti – he’s from the UK from Huddersfield. When I heard the beat, I was like he’s embodying where I’m from cause that’s the sort of sound you’re going to hear if ever you come to Richmond. I’m talking about songs of that calibre, that heavy bass-driven stuff, banging out of cars: with the rims rattling. That’s what you’re going hear, you’re going to see old school cars, like Lincoln Continentals, Cadillacs and they’re going to be sitting on 20s and they’re going be playing shit like that (laughs).
HHF: What kind of hip-hop artists have this sound, though? Cause ‘Set’ sounds different to me.
M: That track is different, cause the sound is different because I’m different. I like the drums that come from quote/unquote ‘trap’ music, I like the drums and I like the cadences. I don’t necessarily like the melodies or the things they’ve used, but (if combine my sound) with trap music element, it actually makes a beautiful struggle.
HHF: What jumped out at me when I heard ‘Set’ is that I thought it had psychedelic sound, the kind of psychedelic hip-hop I associate with Cypress Hill. I don’t know if there’s any connection for you, but my interpretation of the song is that it’s about smoking dope and getting high.
M: Yeah, I love psychedelic music for real, you know stuff like I’m a huge fan of Jim Morrison and the Doors and Jefferson Airplane.
HHF: So Cypress Hill, is there any link there with ‘Set’?
M: Cypress Hill, right. I’m a huge fan of ‘How I can just kill a man’ and I like ‘I’m going to get hiiiigh’ (sings)’ boom boom. It’s like ‘Black Sunday’ it’s like the sound. But it’s more so of just embodying the theme of my music and what comes with it, cause psychedelia is like, sometimes we really are just trying not to die.
And it’s the stress from working hard to be broke. You work all day to be broke. And then you’re trying to dodge a bullet and you’re trying to dodge people selling crack and all that stuff, so sometimes you smoke a little weed; it makes you forget about it for an hour or two. It takes the edge off sometimes because you’re constantly fighting to stay alive.
(When we were younger) we used to smoke weed to escape this, really trying to calm down all these riots in our minds and in our hearts.
HHF: Living with a constant fear of violence, it would make you kind of nuts and this comes through in your music is, at 1’21 there is this amazing sample of this noise, you know. It just kind of like erupts in the song.
HHF: And it’s very, very strange, but interesting. I think that the whole psychedelia thing, sure it’s about drugs, but it’s also about music that doesn’t have limits, does that make sense?
M: Right, cause it’s actually like a lyrical perspective on trap music. This is what trap would sound like if trap could articulate it like this.
HHF: When you say trap music, what kind of artists are you talking about?
M: Trap music, I’m talking about artists that are mainly about their struggles of being a dope dealer.
HHF: What you’re thinking about here then is the modern-version of West Coast gangster rap?
M: Yeah, right. What they call trap music is really gangster rap and gangster rap is really reality rap. You remember MC Breathe? And Scarface, Geto Boys it’s the same thing, it’s just a different sound, it’s the same thing. That’s why I don’t look down upon on it. We from the same place they from (…)
If you look at songs like ‘Set’ it’s all about pride, the pride of coming up and feeling like, ‘I’m set now. I’m set’ which is like ‘I’m conscious’.
HHF: I was wondering about that title, cause I was thinking it could be ‘Set’ in as I’m ready … or is it as you say, ‘I’m conscious’?
M: Right. It’s a title that’s so subjective, it can mean whatever you want it to mean, like if you work in a job, if you work at McDonalds and you get paid on Friday, you’re going to be like, ‘I’m set’ or if you sell drugs, ‘I’m set. I’m on the set.’ It can be perceived the way the listener wants to perceive it.
HHF: Maybe we can now focus more on Richmond, there’s a quote from your website which reads:
‘To a kid Richmond could be as vast as the entire universe at the same time as minuscule as ants on the ground’
How would you describe your relationship with your city?
M: My relationship with my city is a love-hate, but not really hate cause I don’t hate. Imagine you in a relationship with the best person you could be in a relationship with, but they’re addicted to drugs. It’s like the best you can be and the worst you can be.
That’s my relationship with my city, I love where I’m from because it made me the man I am, but it’s more so about the people who are there. I love the people. I make music to represent these people, more than myself. I was born and raised in Richmond, I’ve never lived anywhere else. I’m still here.
And it’s at some point we were proud of Richmond and other times we weren’t so proud: the murder rate was number one like in the 2000s, in the mid-2000s. Nobody talked about it. (…) Somebody like myself, well, I’ve been here the whole time, watching everything and absorbing everything, so I think a win for me, will be a win for the city – because I am of the city.
Richmond is such a beautiful place and so historical, if you look at the revolutionary war: everything that shaped the nation, everything you learn in your history class about war and slavery; all that it started in Richmond.
You can come here and see historical sites from wars that happened and shaped this nation. Richmond is a great place, a beautiful place: I love it, everybody loves it, but the crime could be less. That’s anywhere though. If you look at how Kendrick talk about Compton, or how J. Cole talk about Fayetteville, you know what I’m saying.
There’s a lot of work that need to be done in Richmond to make sure that the generation after us don’t go through the same thing we had to go through.
HHF: Is it like Detroit a city that became poor after industry moved out, are there reasons why it became such a high-crime city, is it about poverty?
M: Yeah, poverty-stricken. Most people live below the poverty-line, even those people with jobs. You can have a job and still be poor. In Richmond, my mama worked her whole life. We was poor for the first 17 years of my life. She worked ever since I was born. My mama got three jobs just so we could have hot water, food, you know what I’m saying. You look at your mama every day going out to work with a uniform on and you go like, man, all day. She ain’t got no time. I didn’t grow up in a home, where you’re like, ‘I love you mom, give her a hug and a kiss’ and I didn’t grow up like that. My mama had to go to work all the time.
She was like, ‘Did you do your chores, did you do your homework? I’m going to work.’ Come back, ‘you did this, did you clean the house? Ok, I’m going to work.’
HHF: This leads to the next thing I wanted to ask you about, which is how your mom’s musical taste influenced you. You say one of her favorite singers is also one of your favorites, is it Milira Jones?
M: Milira Jones was a jazz singer she was signed to the Apollo label; Apollo in Harlem and she was signed to it, she was a jazz singer and her music is what neo-soul is now… She had a very soulful sound, it shaped my ear for the sound. If you do the research on her, she’s got this song, go outside in the rain, and the ecology which is a rendition of a Marvin Gaye song. You will kind of understand me a little bit if you listen to this music.
My mom wanted to keep me pure and uncorrupted. The difference was my dad, for the most part listened to rap and everybody getting shot in it. So I’m a good balance, I like to think a balance between a beautiful sound and you know… rough stuff.
HHF: You have said my music is ‘where soul r&b and hardcore hip-hop collides …’ That’s a great quote, is this something you still think is true?
M: Right, right, exactly. I don’t want to limit myself to being a rapper, because I understand musicality; I understand tones and harmonies, that is the reason why I like musicians like Prince. Nobody would think I love Prince’s music; nobody would think I listen to Smashing Pumpkins (laughs).
Interviewed by Madeleine Byrne
In the first of a three-part interview, talented Virginia MC Misterelle looks back on tracks in his catalogue. First up, ‘Are World’ (produced by Antagonist Dragonspit, and released back in 2013 on Misterelle’s Friday FUNclub mixtape).
‘Are World’ boosted Misterelle’s profile, while also garnering support from major industry players, such as All Def Digital (Russell Simmons’s multimedia company) and was included in Snoop Dogg’s Underground Heat, ultimately reaching the top ten.
Misterelle starts out by talking about the song’s unusual title ….
HHF: Let’s begin with the track name, ‘Are World’ it comes from your niece, right ..
M: Yeah, Jaqayla
HHF: What’s the significance of that title for you?
M: My niece, Jaqayla, she makes me a lot of artwork and stuff like this, when she was living with me. She is very smart and at that time she was like in third grade or something like that. She made me a poem called ‘Are World’ – spelled ‘A- R- E’ and in this poem she spoke about different animals in the world and plant life, she summed it up pretty nice. I thought it was very intricate. I was like, why are you spelling it like that and she was like I did it like that cause it looks pretty on paper, I guess. I was like, it does look better than ‘our world’. And then I was like, I’m going to make a song and I did the same thing she did in the poem, but I talked about my life and my world.
HHF: What you could say about the title is like, ‘Our world’ it belongs to us, we possess or own this world, but with ‘Are world’ it’s like the world is us. Does that make sense?
HHF: Can you talk me through the lyrics, especially the second verse where it gets all broken up. That part of the track, the second verse, really impressed me when I heard it.
M: The first verse is how I was taught to believe the world is, by the OGs who brought me up. The first verse is me trying to project this way of living and then the second verse was more how I feel about those same things now. The first verse is how I was raised, and its 100 % factual. People don’t understand that in Richmond, my life was average… considering where I’m from – I’m from the North side of Richmond, Virginia. It was typical to grow up and be raised by people who have been in prison for ten years and then got out, and they raising you and we didn’t think it was anything different.
HHF: Is it kind of strange they’re people you respect and have relationships with, but also you know there’s this other world that they’re part of? Growing up in that environment do you have this kind of split going on all the time?
M: (pauses) It’s weird, like even now as an adult, you still can’t escape it really. You can kind of lay low and then hope that it don’t find you, but it never goes away. With the verses, it’s both sides of the coin: the first side is I’m with it, I don’t care what happen; police catch me, fuck it. The second verse is like, no… I don’t want to do that, it’s those contradictory things we all go through.
Television was the closest I got to the other side of the tracks, so the second verse I integrated a lot of things, like video games, M. Bison from Streetfighter and a lot of stuff everything we can relate to. In the first verse, not everybody can relate to this brute way of living; but the second verse I’m saying I was exposed to the same forms of entertainment on television and in fashion (as everybody else)like everybody wore Air force Ones and Jordans. But at the same time we were wearing Air force Ones and running from the police.
That’s the difference, we share the same things, but not the same experiences. It was like in the second verse I wanted to go more introspective. The first verse is exterior, this is what it looks like when you’re looking at it, like I’m not going anywhere near that but when you meet the person, which is me, you’re like, he’s not a rowdy person, he’s actually kind of together.
HHF: What I like about it is the way you’ve done it: the first verse is very factual – you’ve got ages, statements, it’s very straight and then in the second verse is much more psychological and complex. Also the sound of the sound of the production in the second verse is quite amazing It’s got this whole series of samples that come in, so what you’ve got there is an increased complexity, which is quite beautiful.
HHF: What were you trying to achieve in terms of the sound?
M: I wanted it to sound very theatrical.
M: Cause Antagonist (producer Antagonist Dragonspit) and I never actually met in person, but we talked on the phone and talked about the state of hip-hop. He practically gave me the beat in good faith, like I can’t wait to hear what you do and when I sent it to him he was like, yeah pretty much what I thought you’d do …
People were really competing for the beat and I was like, no, you need to hand that over to me because I’m going to embody something with that. I’m not going just freestyle and all that I’m going to try and do something real with it, you know what I’m saying. He was like, you got it.
The sound quality, when you put the music to the lyrics and everything coincides, it’s basically like I just wanted to tell the narrative based on how the music sounds. The transition makes it heighten and then it comes down and then it climaxes again, it’s just like writing a musical score.
HHF: Totally. And there’s an amazing bass-line, I’m not sure if it’s a pure bass-line sample, or if he’s modified or changed the sound of it but it’s just extraordinary.
M: It is.
HHF: When you used that word theatrical, would it be appropriate then to think about it as if it were scenes in a play or something like this?
M: Like I can do it on Broadway or something and it’d make sense; cause the way I like to write I like to write from the memories burned in the back of my mind, the things that I remember most vividly. Most people like to write from a place that’s like, I’m going to get the ‘oohs and the ahhs’ and people are like, oh wow. I used to do that, that’s where I come from, you can hear traces of my ‘cleverness’ but at times I got to tell a narrative.
I didn’t want to do nothing fabricated. I wanted to make sure that people understood that this is my world, this is the world as I know it, the Richmond; for people from Richmond, Virginia this is what we are used to. Another person would look at it and go, ‘that’s horrific; that you were around machine-guns and all that stuff and we’re like, no it ain’t … That’s life.
It’s always kind of weird when cultures come together and we see you how other people live. They’re like I can’t imagine growing up like that, and we look at other people and we’re like I can’t imagine growing up like that (laughs).
What brings us together is the music and that’s why the music is important because when you tell that narrative and you do it from a true place, then somebody that has no way of knowing how this is like, they’re going to get walk-through that life as well and they’re like, okay if I was him, I probably would have felt the same.