After squashing the beef and becoming friends over 20 years ago, KRS-One and Marley Marl teamed up to create Hip-Hop Lives. Though not an answer album of any kind, Hip-Hop Lives seems to slightly oppose Nas's Hip-Hop Is Dead. Jay-Z's former nemesis shook the game up quite a bit when he declared that the beloved art form had been murdered by extreme commercialism and a barrage of wack shine-seekers posing as emcees. KRS equally does justice to the threats on hip-hop's life span by delving into his old-school roots on the title track while proclaiming that "hip-hop culture is eternal."
Beats, Rhymes and Relevance
For hip-hop heads over thirty, Hip-Hop Lives is a rapper's delight and a much-needed respite from present-day commercial mediocrity. KRS and Marley Marl made an original album that pays homage to a golden era when talented rappers were expected to kick knowledge, and an authentic rivalry could spawn classics instead of bloodshed in major American cities. That being said, perhaps the most poignant cut on this album is "Kill A Rapper," which addresses the alarming number of unsolved murders in hip-hop dating back to Scott La Rock up to Notorious B.I.G., Tupac, Jam Master Jay and others. He brings it from beginning to end with, "You want to get away with murder, kill a rapper," and "Tupac is an open case/even though he was killed in an open place/ there's no haste." KRS delivers a painful reminder that violence is really hip-hop's greatest enemy and the even the lives of the culture's biggest stars cease to be valuable when the music stops. (The impact of the anti-snitch code of the streets is not fully explored here.)
Substance Over Style
Lyrically, KRS is as solid as he's ever been and his demands for recognition as the greatest based on skills not sales, sound practically humble next to the average rapper's empty braggadocio. For those old enough to remember rap's glory days, he's preaching to the choir. For those born in the 80's and 90's the question is: will they listen now? It's hard to imagine a listener of any age who can't appreciate a track like "U Thug" where he spits, "hand over fist I been there/none of my videos got swimwear/from Criminal Minded my style begins there/I take it back to Jimmy Carter and big hair." Oh my God, that's dope! Marley Marl also succeeds on this project by accenting KRS's rhymes with minimalist production: simple beats hard enough to bump, but subdued enough not to overpower the lyrics.
The Bottom Line on Hip Hop Lives
Buy this album. In an ideal world it would top the charts. Youths and aspiring rappers would take note and acknowledge how KRS paved the way and seek his mentorship. In reality, mainstream hip-hop is only ideal for two groups: partiers and profiteers.Top Tracks on Hip Hop Lives:
- "Kill A Rapper"
- "U Thug"
- "I Am Hip-Hop"