The music industry is in a state of emergency, no matter how good your music is if you don't fit in to a limited marketable stereotype you can forget any commercial success. As a result there is less and less material being released that will satisfy older Hip Hop fans. Nas brought this to the front claiming Hip Hop was dead, but those of us with our hearts in the music refused to let go of our baby, refused to accept that our baby had grown up and left the house that Marley built. Come back albums from our favorite artists kept falling short of bringing us the sound we want as they seem to buckle under the pressure of the new commercial industry. The stage was set for someone to bring Hip Hop back, but who was going to do it? The rumor mill was set into motion with talk of comeback albums from almost everyone you could imagine, it wasn't until the mention of KRS and Marley Marl that the retired hip hop heads started to get excited. Can this be true? The two adversaries that brought us so many hits are joining forces 20 years after they went head to head? Fingers and toes were crossed for this not to fall short and give hope to everyone who thought boom bap was dead.
The rumor mill was correct and KRS One and Marley Marl were in the studio recording and today was the day the promo copy landed itself in my postbox. My expectations were high after hearing some promising joints on the internet and with the excitement of a kid unwrapping Christmas presents I opened the box and put the CD in the booming system.
The CD starts off with a short skit at a memorial service for Hip Hop with someone interrupting proceedings screaming "IT'S ALIVE, IT'S ALIVE" making for a fitting intro. The intro leads in to the first single 'Hip Hop Lives' a piano a drum lead instrumental with KRS going over what Hip Hop is, it's not new ground for the Blastmaster to be going over but for this project it's very apt. It's almost a perfect start for the album a real headnodder and KRS still seems sharp.
The third track comes in with KRS doing a rasta chorus on 'Nothing New'. The beat again is lead by some heavy boom bap drums and a single piano note, sounding very reminicent of 'The Bridge Is Over'.
'Where Were You' addresses the rap historians that Kris must have an issue with asking them where they were and making it clear that he was present at these events. KRS comes off preachy on this track, while it's dope to hear the history making events mentioned in this track KRS shouldn't think only he has the right to talk on them. Hip Hop history is one of the only things holding this culture together there are plenty of younger cats thirsty for knowledge. I don't think KRS should take issue with anyone that wants to satisfy that need.
A signature Marley sound comes through as the next track starts. 'Musica' kicks off with some screeching horns that sound similar to the work he did on the Lords Of The Underground album. The first feature MC comes through 'Magic Juan', I have to admit I'm not familiar with him but he is a fresh MC and sounds very similar to Jadakiss. The lyrics once again go over the state of Hip Hop, but that's what this album is about, right?
'Rising To The Top' drops and it is my least favorite beat so far, the sample has been used quite a few times and I was never a fan of it in any of it's forms. The track is saved by Kris who keeps me listening with his story covering the early Juice Crew story and diss records. The hook is catchy with a female vocalist and KRS going over the top of each other. Even with my objection to the main sample I can't help but feel it by the end, this is something that will really work on radio and in the club.
Seeing my 30th birthday just past the title of the next track was interesting to me 'Over 30'. I thought this was just going to be another run down of KRS being old school, but to my surprise it's more of a shout to the older heads. KRS addresses the fact that he isn't too old to rock it and will continue to do so well into the future.
Another track that has been getting some shine on the internet is up now. 'Kill A Rapper' is back to some of KRS' best material finally he has stopped rapping about rap and concentrates on some topical lyrics. I am surprised that no other MC I know of has touched on the subject of unsolved murders in Hip Hop. The beat is suitably atmospheric for the subject matter and is the first real change of pace so far. This is classic Kris right here.
The pace picks right back up with 'The Teachers Back' another boom back track to make necks crack. I wasn't sure if the lyrics were going to kick in with the intro going for a minute and a half, KRS address it when he comes in with "The teachers back the heaters back/ had to chill for a minute so you could see what's wack". Lyrically KRS rips through the commercial MC's and those who have changed up styles through their career. KRS comes off hungry on this, he shows he is an MC you wouldn't want to cross. I think KRS still has what it takes for another classic battle.
Before the next beat drops KRS comes in saying "Look who just walked in it's DJ Premier", I'm amped right now here is the reunion we have all been waiting for. The album these two made together was a classic and I consider it the highlight of both of their careers. The surprise doesn't stop there with Blaq Poet sharing the mic with KRS. For those who don't know KRS and Poet went head to head during the Queensbridge battles, it played second fiddle to the battle with Juice crew but Poet approached the battle with the aggression the Shan lacked. It's exciting to hear these two greats going back to back. It could be argued that these two MC's have had the most consistent releases in their long careers.
Once again a beat comes in that lifts the vibe with powerful drums and chops. KRS complements this beat perfectly while once again coming off slightly preachy. So far this is my main gripe with the album, but after taking a little time to reminisce over the Blastmaster's back catalog I come to the realisation that this is what KRS is. Just this time he is doing it about hip hop rather than social issues.
It's now time for the last track 'House Of Hits' featuring Chief Rocker Busy Bee. It's a fitting end to the album and it's great to hear Busy Bee back on record.
We got Hip Hop hijacked by force, it wasn't the choice of the fans, it was a choice by industry led by the media on a search for pretty boy teen idols rather than quality music. It's time to be taken back and those that have been making quality comebacks like X Clan and Black Sheep struggle to get any recognition. I can only hope that this monumental joining of forces has made enough noise to generate the recognition the others have failed to. Because when all is said and done and whether you love or hate this album it can't be denied this is real Hip Hop.
So whats the overall verdict? Well I think this is the album KRS needed to make, to get the old school memories out of his system. To some that may be the downfall of the album, KRS is the teacher but unless you want to be taught about hip hop your not going to learn much on this one. What else could of been expected though? This was never going to be 'Edutainment' in the new music landscape. Hip Hop Lives is what it needed to be a celebration of Hip Hop, a celebration of two great careers that needed a revival. Overall this is a great album bringing back the kind of hip hop we have all been asking to hear and hopefully gets the support it needs to help rebuild the culture and inspire a new generation of Hip Hop Heads. Is it a classic? Well time will tell, I will say this is the best thing in both Marleys and KRS' career in over 10 years so read in to that what you will.