Let's just go ahead and get it out of the way up front. Based on a sampling of comments on this site, a majority of you think KRS-One is crazy. He calls himself the walking manifestation of Hip Hop. He wants to start some batshit crazy rap religion and have us worshipping Xenu like Tom Cruise and the rest of his Scientology buddies. And whether a majority of the HipHopDX readers openly admit it or not, there are a significant amount of people who would prefer to remember Buckshot from his 1993 Enta Da Stage days.
But here's the thing, KRS and Buckshot were getting checks from Nike, Timberland and their respective labels 10 years ago. Just for kicks, take a break from this article and do a Google search on KRS-One or Duck Down and Koch. Make sure you take a look at which year is referenced.
Since 2008 reinforced the fact that America's real criminals reside closer to Wall St. than Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (pick one, it really doesn't matter) we asked KRS-One and Buckshot to explain how they survived two recessions in a corporate environment that eats up rappers as an appetizer before lunch hour. Criminal Minded indeed.
HipHopDX: Having good business acumen seems to be one of the most important “Survival Skills” for an emcee these days. Can you guys talk about how that aspect of the game has kept you relevant for so long?
Buckshot: We were just speaking on the Temple of Hip Hop. I definitely would like people to know about that. He’s speaking on how we both have a mind for business—how I did the deal with Duck Down and how you set up this movement with the Temple of Hip Hop that’s way bigger than the music itself.
KRS-One: That’s a really broad question, because the whole business has changed. Going back to my first album, Criminal Minded on B-Boy Records, we used to think it was such an unusual thing in ’86 to say, “This music is coming out on my own label. I own my masters.” Even coming from that, we forget that throughout Hip Hop’s history this was thought of as the way to go. That was the business model.
In the ‘90s, we all got imprints from these labels, and we realized we wasn’t getting any money there either. I could go on and on, since it seems like every five years Hip Hop gets a new business model dictated by what the music industry is capable of selling. The music industry has collapsed, and we are back to the original way Hip Hop was sold. The original way has always been that Hip Hop was sold by the artist to the public. The artist had to have a business sense—anything else was unheard of.
DX: So you see this as more of a positive thing that’s part of a larger cycle?
KRS-One: I’m taking it back to Zulu Nation when Afrika Bambaataa used to throw jams in Bronx River Houses. It was understood that Jazzy Jay would make the cassette and dub the tape for this person or that person for $5 or $10. Everybody knew that if you got the tape, you would then be able to sell the tape yourself. I’m raising this up because, when you talk about a business model, we’re actually going back to that. We might be right around the Def Jam days in 1983, where a Russell Simmons or a couple of college buddies can get together, build a company and put out the music they like. They don’t have to listen to anybody. We’re back there now, and if we continue we’ll get to a point where we put out an album and it’s understood that who ever puts out the album has the right to then sell it again themselves.
This is going to open up an new market and an entirely new way to sell music. When we started out like that, the whole community was eating. The record companies intercepted that, and that’s how things ended up where they’re at. Now that the industry has collapsed, we’re going to get back to the original way the music was sold. So I commend Duck Down for being the Def Jam of the new millennium, for lack of a better term…
Buckshot: And I respect that.
DX: That actually leads to the next question. You hear a lot of artists complaining about the recession, but this isn’t anything you guys haven’t seen before. How have you been able to hold these executive positions and cut all these lucrative deals throughout at least two other official recessions?
Buckshot: In a nutshell, Dru [Ha], myself and probably “The Teacha” also, will be taking our stuff to a consulting situation. Everybody asks the same questions and wants to know how to do this. Me, Dru, Noah and our whole cipher, has learned and understood the Duck Down way. We’re very realistic. We don’t automatically conform to the way people think things should go, because we know how they are. When we deal with a business, we go in with that mind frame that lets clients know we understand.
We’re not coming in saying, “We want stickers, flyers and top-shelf placement.” We’re not using language and other things that we call red flags. One conversation will let you know what someone knows about the music industry and business in general. All these things run through our heads in a matter of seconds.
Because of that you get the deals with K-Tel, Marc Ecko, LRG, Timberland—all of these are people we do business with to this very day. That’s collaboration on both our parts. Dru used to emcee and deejay, and he’s very into the creative side. That’s not to say that you have to be a rapper or a deejay, but Dru is a very creative person. It’s just a revolving door with us between creative and business going back and forth. When you add in the respect and love for each other that we have, then you create a monster.
So to get back to your original question, we’re going to be looking to hire out our services more as Vision Creative Marketing. It’s hard to teach people through interviews, because you only get a set amount of time for the information. We will have a place where kids, new artists and all these up and coming people can come and sit with us to be consulted on what they could or should do based on their situation.
DX: It’s funny you mention that, because there was a time when an emcee who did a business deal was frowned upon. Kris, you caught hell in some circles for that first Nike campaign, but got rave reviews for the more recent one. What changed?
Buckshot: Yeah, I remember that…
KRS-One: [Laughs] Basketball is the revolution! Today we can laugh at it, and I actually laughed about it then. I wrote a scathing reply to Sheena Lester at XXL; she tried to diss me for doing that Nike commercial and the Sprite commercial as well. There’s a saying that goes, “If it was funny now, it was funny then.” So you’ve got to take these things with a grain of salt, as they say. But I am “The Teacha!” What else do I expect? I am a self-proclaimed educator of the Hip Hop arts and sciences. If you’re really a philosopher seeking truth—you’ve got some theories and you’re doing your thing—your own community is gonna be the first to diss you. You should want that shit! This is what builds the love at the same time.
DX: That also happened with you saying, “I am Hip Hop.”
KRS-One: Everyone said, “What the fuck is Kris doing? He’s bugging. He’s trying to own Hip Hop.” Now, BET has an award show with an I Am Hip Hop Lifetime Achievement Award—which I won in 2007. So you have to be able to endure the criticisms of your own people in order to teach them.
For me this is a constant thing. When you mention the Nike commercial, I didn’t really take any heat. I was building my character. It gave me an opportunity to argue my point of view, write articles and actually be a teacher. Believe it or not, this is what I warned other people about. If you don’t have a thick skin for this…You can go online right now and probably find a million people who will say, “Fuck KRS-One! He’s a goddamned idiot.” You’ll probably find 2 million more who say, “I love KRS, and I want to have his baby,” and those are dudes talking.
So to be on this path as a philosopher that I’ve chosen, you can’t get caught up in the criticism or the praise. You’ve got to be certain about what the truth is and just lead your people. Run your theories through, take them to your community, and then your community beats the shit out of you. When they realize they cannot defeat you, then they join you…
Buckshot: Nobody else is in that position. It’s just Kris. No disrespect to any of the names that I’m about to call out, but they’re not that. [Big Daddy] Kane [click to read], Nas, Rakim [click to read], Jay-Z [click to read], Nelly [click to read]—who is the person that is saying, “I’m the teacher. I’m the ambassador. I’m the voice of this culture and community that we call Hip Hop?”
I say that because the Hip Hop community played a very large role in Barack Obama winning the Presidential election [click to read]. Black people made it to the White House. That used to be thought of as impossible. The next step is Hip Hop making it to the White House. And if Hip Hop makes it to the White House, which it will, it’s not going to come in the form of “My dick, my ass, my bitches, I got money from hustling on the corner.” But it will make it to the White House through somebody like Kris.
It takes somebody like Kris, who was already dealing with Sean Hannity, to be in the White House representing Hip Hop for the world. The only person you can think about is KRS-One! Who else is doing the Temple and these other things for Hip Hop. Everybody else is talking about it, but son is the only one actually doing it. We need someone who can represent that voice. He’s the only one who can represent that voice of creativity, politics, metaphysical and quantum physics. You all have no idea.
DX: I believe it because I’m looking at an example now. It’s a 10-year-old Blaze magazine featuring a debate between Kris and Michael Eric Dyson about if a person can legitimately be a walking manifestation of Hip Hop.
KRS-One: [Laughs] Michael Eric Dyson is Hip Hop…imagine that shit. I told him, “You are Hip Hop,” and he responded, “No I’m not. I can’t be. It is impossible. Hip Hop is a product, and you don’t ever want to become a product.” But he had to open his eyes to realize that Hip Hop is a culture. It’s a civilization. And this is what he couldn’t see even with a PhD. Later on, he did his research on Tupac and the deeper meanings of his lyrics. He discovered the culture, and he also discovered that he was Hip Hop. He wasn’t just a professor aligned with the culture. Every word that comes out of his mouth and every book he writes adds to this movement.
This is what being a teacher of a culture is all about. Sometimes you even have to teach teachers. Buck is right, you’ve got to be humble about it. But sometimes humility doesn’t work. Sometimes you gotta be like, “No muthafucka! This is how it go.” So the movement continues.
DX: So fast forwarding to the present, how does that impact what you guys are doing with Survival Skills?
KRS-One: That’s the latest activity in the movement. We are sick and tired of commercially-driven, contrived music. The other interviews we’ve been having allude to the fact that with Survival Skills [click to read] and Jay-Z’s Blueprint 3 [click to read], we finally can declare unity in Hip Hop.
The movement starts with Afrika Bambaataa—peace, love, unity and safely having fun. That’s Zulu Nation, and the movement begins right there. Now the Stop The Violence movement begins with peace. The love part is the culture itself. The unity comes in, because in 2009 Hip Hop can say to itself, “This is the first time dudes like KRS, who are supposed to represent the culture, and dudes like Jay-Z, who are supposed to represent the corporate, united for a statement for the culture. That statement is, ‘Fuck Auto-Tune!’”
There’s some dope shit out there. Redman and Method Man got a nice album [Blackout 2] [click to read] out. Slaughterhouse [click to read], Raekwon [click to read] and, even though it’s not new, Scarface’s [click to read] Emeritus [click to read] album is dope. And we’re all part of the same statement. Our album represents the cornerstone of all that type of stuff.
Today it’s, “Fuck Auto-Tune.” Tomorrow it’s “More healthcare, free Mumia Abu Jamal.” Tomorrow it’s, “I need direct flights to Cuba. Fuck this dumb shit.” Hip Hop the movement is still moving and vibrant. Rap music as an industry is at the end of its days. Survival Skills speaks to Hip Hop culture. This is not a radio album. We cussin’ all over this one. There’s all types of “nigga, bitches and muthafucka” all on this album. We did not do this album for your little kids...Although, my kids already have copies to keep it real with you. We did the complete opposite of what’s hot and people responded.
Buckshot: And you can have all that on the same album talking about parenting and society’s issues because we encompass the Yin and the Yang. We are a part of the all, and within the all you have part of the devil. You might have “bitch nigga” now and “peace, sister” or “peace, brother” later. The hard part is not for me to put it out. The hard part is you accepting that it exists and figuring out which side you want to play. Or do you want to play no side like me? That decision is based on how you see life, your character and what you’re out for.
DX: There’s a huge amount of accountability representing Hip Hop culture. How much does that accountability factor into your longevity both as an artist and a businessman?
Buckshot: I can recognize myself as a general. Kris says that he is the teacher, but he also overstands what it means to wear the stripe and the flag of a teacher. That means you’re gonna have students running up to you whether you know them or not. By me being a general, I understand everything that comes along with that. Once you get those lessons you can use them in a wise way to realistically get what you want.
DX: And there’s no distinction between using those lessons in the booth or the boardroom?
Buckshot: Duck Down is a business that has grown. It hasn’t deflated or anything. This will be an example for people that think, “I keep seeing this over and over again. You’re only like that because you ain’t got no bread. You ain’t poppin’.” But Duck Down is more than 10 artists strong right now, and we’re getting even stronger. I am proof that money never has to be an object in what you do creative-wise. Like Kris said earlier, Jay is also proof of that right now. So all those people who think, “I’m gonna rap to get rich,” need to think about that. All those who tried to rap only to get rich failed.
Let me tell you something about these labels. The '90s was the era of the Jews. Hardbody Jews, and just mean…and I don’t mean to disrespect any Jewish people out there. Some of my best friends are Jews. It was the era of Michael White, Adam Levy and the list goes on. In the 80’s, they clinched on to the business and absolutely raped every artist. It wound up coming back on them during a 10-year span.
Later, when we came out, I came out during the era that helped destroy the image that you had to be signed to some big label to put music out. We paid a lot. I paid physical, emotional and financial prices. But the bottom line is, I played my position as a general to get these things done.
That’s why I always tell people, “What you have is only a product of what you are and what your two hands have created.” It’s not meant to be philosophical or go over your head. So if you don’t like what you have, then you need to take a look at who you are. Because I don’t have to have anything according to the world, and I love everything I have.