I may as well make one thing abundantly clear: in my mind – all things considered – KRS-One is the single greatest MC. You know, ever. He hasn’t exactly remained prominent in the public spotlight (he was a little too interested in intellect to hold on regardless) but how many MCs can you name still spitting it correctly near the Blastmaster’s age and/or length of presence? Rappers such as Snoop Dogg have become largely empty caricatures of themselves, and yet there’s still the stubborn ‘Teacher’, still managing to overstuff his music with viewpoints after all these years.
KRS has been busy with the collaboration albums of late: Meta-Historical follows last year’s Survival Skills, and word is that the MC plans to drop two more DJ collabs this year – one of them with DJ Premier. With how damn exciting the prospect of – in essence – BDP and Premo getting together for a record, an album with the lesser-known (but long operating) True Master seems like a bit of a teaser. Frankly, that’s just what this album more or less turns out to be.
The album is 20 tracks long, but if you were to slice off the skits, you’d be down to 11. Of course, rap albums were typically on the short end when KRS began his reign (Criminal Minded was essentially ten tracks, and so on), and while Kris began to release longer albums, those same efforts were often plagued by fat, so going short may well have been the best plan. After a predictably lecture-like intro, KRS hits the ground running with “Murder Ya,” reminding anyone in shouting distance that at 45 he’s still, well, better than you. The production – along with more or less all True Master’s work here – is passable, but simplistic and endlessly repetitive. This serves as a double-edged sword: this older style fits KRS, but isn’t exactly inspiring to listen to in 2010. When the music sounded like that, it was great, it’s harder to do today – you’re not making such beats naturally, you’re trying to sound like something (“One of Them Days” from this disc being an example of an exception). Nonetheless, it’s great to hear the Philosopher still at it, and amusing to hear him drop Yu-Gi-Oh references. “Today’s hip hop production don’t even sound right,” Kris laments, jabbing, “I’m not the clown type, I’m the Boogie Down type.” I’ll always get a kick out of KRS, to those paying attention, he’s ever-present, going around popping MCs balloons. He’s not short on fire this time out, take this bit from “Unified Field”: “I’m spittin the truth to you, but you reject it cuz you don’t really know what to do, so you frontin in your own ignorance, in your own belligerence, real gangastas man are militants, you’re just ho’s with a million woes.”
“Ya see, I’m an MC with a conscious mouth/ but people think that’s all I can talk about,” Kris also spits on the aforementioned cut. These are quite the words coming from an MC whose biggest strength and weakness has long been his desire to “teach.” It made By All Means Necessary and Blueprint as incredibly good as they are, but has since dragged his efforts more often than not. I’m a serial apologist for this – I personally think his “lessons” make for a (mostly) great album with Edutainment, and so on. Yet, sometimes KRS simply places the Education far too highly above the Entertainment. As much as I often appreciate KRS’ musings, I buy his albums to listen to music, not go to church.
So, at least in regards to this record, if people think all Kris can talk about are supposedly “deeper” things, it’s his own fault. When all is said and done, Meta-Historical feels like more of a lecture than a listen, and the even blunter truth is, KRS thinks he’s being more interesting than he is. I love the guy, but KRS fancies his mind a little too much, and should consider that seeing as he’s seeking out intelligent listeners, they may have thought of a few things for themselves before. Instead, we get a plodding skit stuck in between near every song, throwing off the pace of the whole affair. None of them, aside from KRS playing with the “N word,” are particularly interesting.
The tracks themselves are a bit of a grab bag, KRS is lyrically strong throughout, but nostalgia cuts don’t work as well as you’d think, as a hip hop head who mutters the same sentiment to himself daily, you’d think I’d be instantly in love with “Gimmie da 90’s,” but the song comes off as more whiny than indignant. Other tracks, such as “Street Rhymer,” “Palm & Fist,” and the title track step it up considerably. No song is what I would call “bad” and True Master calls in his Wu connections, with RZA and Cappadonna both appearing on the record. They provide two of only a few guest appearances – whereas Survival Skills was a hodgepodge of guest spots, this is the KRS show, through and through. So, for anyone who remembers when BDP was the be all end all, or just loves KRS, this may be just the album you were hoping for you. Nonetheless, it would’ve benefited from a little less talk, a little more rap, and a little more (sorry, purists) adventurous production. Me, I’m holding out for the Premo disc. It better happen.