Happy 25th Anniversary to Boogie Down Productions’ final studio album Sex and Violence, originally released February 25, 1992.
Boogie Down Productions found themselves at the crossroads in early 1992. By then the group was already legendary, having released a string of brilliant albums that started with Criminal Minded in 1987 followed by 1988’s By All Means Necessary, 1989’s Ghetto Music: The Blueprint of Hip Hop, and 1990’s Edutainment. Lawrence “KRS-One” Parker was considered among the top two or three emcees in the game, both for his lyrical ability and his status as “The Teacher” in the realm of hip-hop. The previous year, the group had released one of the first live rap albums, Live Hardcore Worldwide. KRS-One had also created the Human Education Against Lies (H.E.A.L.) organization with the late legendary civil rights activist Kwamé Turé, and released a supporting compilation.
But things fell into a state of flux as 1992 began. For one, BDP was coming apart. KRS divorced the late Ms. Melodie, so she and her sister Harmony, who both appeared on their albums, were obviously on the outs. DJ/producer/rapper D-Nice left the group also due to burnout and possible issues with KRS. Meanwhile, the H.E.A.L. project was a commercial and critical flop. X-Clan, known for their militant afro-centrism, took not-so-subtle shots at BDP’s humanist philosophy, deriding KRS as “Captain Human” on the song “Fire and Ice.” Then, in an issue of Details magazine, KRS caught further shots from the late Prince Be of P.M. Dawn, who reflected in the article, “KRS wants to be a teacher, but a teacher of what?”
The later quote lead to the infamous incident at an MTV-sponsored concert in January 1992, which featured P.M. Dawn as one of the opening acts. As P.M. Dawn began their set, KRS and crew rushed the stage, tossed Prince Be into the crowd, and performed “I’m Still #1” and “The Bridge is Over,” driving the crowd into a frenzy. “I answered his question,” KRS-One later told USA Today. “I'm a teacher of respect.”
KRS and BDP channeled all of the turmoil into the Sex and Violence LP, an extremely ambitious and non-commercial album. The BDP that appeared on Sex and Violence was much leaner and meaner, featuring just KRS-One, DJ Kenny Parker (KRS’s brother, for those who don’t know) and hype-man Willie D. The production is handled by Kenny Parker, KRS himself, Pal Joey, D-Square, and Prince Paul. Lyrically, KRS handles just about all of the rapping duties himself, only getting an assist from Long Island-homie/legendary hip-hop hard rock Freddie Foxxx on a pair of tracks. Regardless, Sex and Violence is very much a KRS-centered affair.
With Sex and Violence, KRS attempted to settle all scores, reaffirm his status as hip-hop’s teacher, expound on his philosophies on sex, violence, and religion, and demonstrate his lyrical superiority on the microphone. It’s often a confrontational album that’s dark and stark in ways that BDP albums hadn’t been since their debut, Criminal Minded. In the album’s liner notes, KRS writes that the aim of the album is to teach rappers the inherent rebelliousness of hip-hop culture and its respect for what came before it, while working to create something new. It’s an album that celebrates the essence of hip-hop music, but also showcases KRS’ thought process and worldview. It’s sprawling in a good way, tackling personal beefs as well as larger societal issues.
It remains probably the most slept-on of the six proper BDP albums, and was essential in laying the groundwork for KRS’ solo career. Not surprisingly, Sex and Violence didn’t achieve serious commercial success, with KRS later stating that it sold around 250,000 units, a little under half of what its precursor studio album Edutainment moved.
The album begins with “The Original Way,” a celebration of hip-hop’s rugged park-jam origins. The song, produced by Kenny Parker and D-Square, was designed to sound like it was recorded live at a Saturday night block party on Sedgewick Avenue in the Bronx, sound system plugged into the street fight, mics buzzing with feedback. KRS launches into the track using Jamaican patois over a sample of Dub Specialist’s “High Fashion Dub.” Then, as the beat switches to a hard-hitting drum break, KRS launches into old school call and response routines, before passing it off to Freddie Foxxx, making the first of his two appearances. The jam successfully captures the essence and energy of performing live on the streets, the pair trading battle rhymes and getting the “crowd” hyped.
A good chunk of Sex and Violence is dedicated towards KRS asserting his lyrical dominance and teaching respect to those who may have crossed him. The album arguably features the best set of straight go-for-the-throat rhymes since Criminal Minded. KRS makes it clear that he’s really not here for games on “Duck Down,” the album’s second track and first single. The Pal Joey-produced tune permeates with aggressive energy, with its expert use of Isaac Hayes’ “A House Full of Girls” from the Truck Turner soundtrack and blistering guitars from Wilson Pickett’s “Get Me Back on Time (Engine No. 9).” Lyrically, KRS hits as hard as a straight-shot to the nose, with rhymes like, “I don't battle to lose or win / I battle to ruin your whole career, yo, watch what you doing / I'm permanent punk, like a metallic marker / KRS-One, but you'll call me Mr. Parker” and “Poetry I speak fluently, I think you a sucker / ’Cause the only word you know is motherfucker / Yo, you don't see a whole race in bondage / No, you grab the microphone and feed ’em garbage.”
KRS continues his lyrical assault on “Like a Throttle,” where he warns, “Don't test me, you ain't a chemist and I sure ain't chemistry / You're not a mathematician and my name ain't geometry / You're no astronomer why see me as astronomy / But I'm a Parker so I'll play you like Monopoly.” KRS even throws a not-so-subtle dis Ice Cube’s way, mocking him for becoming a “Muslim when it’s convenient.” This was in response to what KRS perceived as a veiled dis by Cube on “Rollin’ Wit the Lench Mob” back in 1990.
“Ruff Ruff” features the second pairing with Freddie Foxxx, as both emcees trade marathon verses promising further lyrical destruction over a loop from the Headhunters’ “If You’ve Got It, You’ll Get It.” The track expertly contrasts KRS hyped patois-stylings with Foxxx’s commanding vocal presence.
“Build and Destroy” serves as KRS’s middle-finger to all who accused him of politically selling-out with his embrace of the humanist philosophy. Over the jazzy keyboard groove, built around a loop of Gary Byrd’s “Every Brother Ain’t a Brother,” KRS deals with X-Clan in no uncertain terms, first rapping, “Now what's this all about Kris and humanity? / In my face you're happy, on vinyl you're mad at me / Yo, pro-Blackness is your solution / But I don't really know about that style you using,” then proceeding to label them “blabbering fucking fools.”
He doesn’t let up during the second verse, taking them to task for championing what he saw as a hollow ethos: “I talk on vinyl then I act / What have you done, besides critique KRS-One? / I create organizations / Without organization, there'll be no black nation / What the fuck are you really saying? / You ain’t a human while your music’s booming anti-human / I'm assuming if you ain't human you're a beast / The white man could be the devil all the day, that’s the least / What are you doing for yourself black man? / Trying hard to be the original man – who? / The first man, with the first tan, on the first land / With the first clan, who gives a damn???!”
Years later, DJ Kenny Parker revealed in an interview with Unkut.com that BDP and X-Clan had sat down and squashed their beef prior to the release of Sex and Violence. And KRS himself said in an interview with the website that the beefs with X-Clan (and even Ice Cube) were philosophical, rather than personal. Regardless, the track remains an exploration of KRS’s guiding philosophy at the time and a stark reminder not to underestimate his ferocity.
Sex and Violence isn’t all battle rhymes and settling scores, however, as KRS does adopt his mantle of the teacher and works to educate his listeners. “Poisonous Products” tackles the impact of religion on people’s lives and how it has been often used as a force to divide rather than unite. Over a mellow track by Kenny Parker, mixing the keys and guitar from Isaac Hayes’ “Joy” with the bassline from Joe Thomas’ “Chitlins and Cuchifritos,” the Blast Master decries the continued war in the Middle East and targets institutions that he believes are harming the poor. He identifies television programs such as the “700 Club,” which he believes was using religion to further their cause of making money.
KRS uses the upbeat, Prince Paul- produced “How Not to Get Jerked” to go full-on teacher mode, conducting a course in “Major Label Politics 101” for any and all aspiring rappers. He explains different ways to get your foot in the door, then warns against the common pitfalls that successful rappers often succumb to after they achieve their initial success, and calls on rappers to always write “the jams that the people can relate to / Or else they'll HATE you / The public will mark you down as a fake crew.” With the third verse, KRS makes it clear that “rap is rebellious music / Therefore, only the rebels should use it,” warning against “culture vultures” that are out to use rappers and crews as the means for their own financial success. KRS encourages aspiring emcees to be proactive when it comes to creating their own success: “So don't wait for your company's promotions staff / Promote yourself with your own cash! / But this might mean you can't buy gold / You might have to put that on hold / ’Cause if the artist falls, they dis him! / But if the company falls, the artist falls with them!”
KRS rails against the US government with “Who Are the Pimps?” a Pal Joey-produced track built around the Incredible Bongo Band’s “Apache.” He decries the destructive power of capitalism, for valuing money above all else, and keeping the population in financial slavery. He lambasts the government for dividing the population by encouraging racism, keeping different races fighting each other rather than looking toward the common enemy. The song is punctuated by the quite direct and pretty humorous hook of “PICK UP THAT MONEY, HO!”
Where the album occasionally falters is when the subject matter delves into the “Sex” part of the equation. The Pal Joey-produced “13 and Good” is problematic, with KRS weaving a queasy tale of inadvertently committing statutory rape after sleeping with a 13-year-old (?!?!?!?!?!) girl. To make things worse, KRS makes certain to put the fault of the encounter squarely on the girl’s shoulders, making it clear the she’s the unstable gold-digger in the situation. The track wraps up with a solid dose of homophobia, as the girl’s police-chief father offers to let KRS off the hook if he sleeps with him instead. The beat is the strongest element of the track, as KRS tells his questionable tale over a mellow bassline sampled from Sade’s “Super Bien Total.”
“Say Gal” is another similarly offensive song. Again, musically, it’s solid, with another straight reggae riddim track produced by KRS himself. Lyrically, the content was sketchy back in 1992 and sounds even worse now. Apparently, written in response to Mike Tyson’s infamous rape conviction, KRS uses the track to excoriate women/groupies who come to artists looking for sex but then file sexual assault charges. It walks the line of “Women who dress suggestively are asking for it” and “Why did you come to the hotel if you don’t want to have sex?” far too close for comfort, making the lyrics extremely cringe-inducing. Both tracks are rocky bumps on what’s an otherwise outstanding album.
The album recovers from both missteps. After the low-point of “Say Gal,” the album immediately reaches its peak with “We in There,” one of KRS’ best lyrical performances of his career, in which he decries rappers from playing roles and not taking hip-hop seriously enough. The first verse of the track is one of the best KRS has ever recorded, as he unloads a lyrical barrage with lines like, “Now if I punch you in your face I'd be wrong / Don't even think about battling with a song / You'll be gone, your career ain't strong enough to call my bluff / You ain't rough, you ain't tough, you'll be handcuffed / With your ribcage crushed / Naked in a box, with multicolored tube socks.” He ends the track with the proclamation, that “This ain't no bullshit game and I ain't changed / I'm just thinking LONG range / People died so I can rhyme / You think I’m gonna grab the mic and waste my nation's time? / Step off with that weak shit / You're psychologically, historically, and spiritually sick.”
The album ends with “The Real Holy Place,” KRS’ spoken-word piece that further elucidates his views on organized religion. He expounds on his beliefs that too many people call themselves religious without living the principles that their religion espouses. Some of the lyrics are a bit heavy-handed, but that’s how KRS always got down. And he manages to drop many jewels through the piece, including “The truth can always be questioned.”
Sex and Violence marked the end of the first act of KRS-One’s career. It was the final BDP album, as KRS has recorded mostly as a solo artist in the subsequent 25 years. Not many of his solo albums have tackled both the big picture and the small details as successfully as this one. KRS ended the first phase of his career proud and defiant, happy that he was able to teach and make a positive difference, but not about to allow anyone to believe that he was any sort of punk on the mic.
Much has been made over the years about KRS-One’s “contradictory” actions and words. Why would the hip-hop’s teacher and paragon of positivity dump a hapless new-age rapper off the stage without remorse? How could an emcee record an album that both preaches a humanistic philosophy and excuses away date rape? There’s no easy answer. The KRS that appears on Sex and Violence is an emcee who feels that he has been disrespected for trying to bring people together, so he decided to educate by going on the offensive. A few of the punches don’t connect, but most of them do. Regardless, KRS’ “contradictions” drove him to create some of the most interesting music of his career, and Sex and Violence remains an underappreciated gem.