No question, this guy still exists
Rap beef is never going to go away, especially since 50 Cent showed everyone that a correctly managed and sensationalized insta-feud can push first-week sales into stratospheric numbers. It gets fans interested, it gets media attention, and it adds to the weird constant soap-opera flux that keeps rap’s extra-musical stuff interesting in a pro-wrestling/Marvel Universe kind of way. It’s also produced plenty of great music. But these days, it’s omnipresent to the point where you can’t hold a massively ridiculous all-star video shoot without someone getting killed, and that’s disgusting. Maybe that’s why beef-deading has become cool in rap lately: Jay-Z inviting Nas onstage and then signing him, Chamillionaire and Mike Jones and Lil Flip and Slim Thug all appearing together on the same Source cover in what I’m told was an actual photo shoot and not a Photoshop collage. This new trend toward calm, peaceful resolution can only be considered a great thing for rap in general; besides the inevitable violence that comes along with everyone hating everyone, the constant animosity can get exhausting, stressful and boring and predictable, just another excuse for deluded grandstanding. But the beef-killing trend also makes for a pretty easy way for irrelevant rappers to make desperate publicity-grabs, and I sincerely hope that’s not what’s going on in the case of KRS-One and Marley Marl.
Back when KRS and Marley got all tangled up in what plenty of people still insist is the greatest rap battle of all time, there wasn’t enough money in rap for beef to be a money-driven fakeout pose. Even though the feud helped build both of their names, it really seemed to be about righteous anger and wounded pride and, um, historical accuracy rather than sales. When “The Bridge” and “South Bronx” and “Kill That Noise” and “The Bridge is Over” came out, I was more concerned with collecting all five Dinobots than anything else, but from what I understand, the feud seemed to capture the imagination of New York City at a time when rap was still pretty much a New York City thing. It certainly provided one of the defining moments in both of these guys’ careers. With all that said, it’s not like their beef means a single thing to rap in 2006. When Jay and Nas stood onstage together, neither had made a record about the other one in nearly four years, they’d been hinting at a reconciliation for months, and even then it felt a bit like less of a story than it would’ve been if Jay had dissed 50 Cent or Cam’ron. With KRS and Marley, these guys haven’t made records about each other in about twenty years, and neither one has been relevant in ten (and that’s being nice). Even if they’ve been harboring lost-standing simmering hatred against each other since then, the rest of the world moved on long ago. Marley has been basically inactive since releasing one of those BBE albums in 2001, virtually a recluse from what I understand. I haven’t heard KRS’s recent albums, but he’s pretty much a joke these days, doing gospel-rap and beefing with Nelly and telling Nas to talk to NASA about hip-hop on Mars or whatever and generally going batshit-ass crazy. Yesterday, the two announced that they’d be making an album together for Koch, and it’s not entirely certain whether anyone should care.
I’m skeptical, but this story warrants attention because these two could still manage to put out a great album together. I don’t have the book in front of me right now, but I’m pretty sure the ego trip people ranked Marley the #1 producer of all time and KRS either the #1 or #2 rapper in their Book of Rap Lists. (From where I’m sitting, Dre and Biggie would be the no-brainer choices, but those guys know a lot more about rap than I do.) Marley’s old Juice Crew productions have more warmth and fluidity than virtually anything coming out these days, which is remarkable when you consider the advances in technology and budget that the genre has seen since then. It’s tough to say whether he’s capable of doing anything great in 2006, unless he’s been doing freelance work that I didn’t know about for Fat Beats backpackers or something for the past few years, but the tracklisting on this 2005 mix CD looks promising. KRS’s recent material could be absolute garbage (or it could be great for all I know; John Darnielle seems to like it, for whatever that’s worth). But at his peak he had more force and passion and eloquence than anyone else working. If a project like this manages to help him regain some focus, he might still have some fire in him. This is rap, so there’s no guarantee that the collaborative album will even ever come out, but this story is worth following.
Voice review: Joseph Patel on KRS-One’s The Sneak Attack