Pimping, shooting and looting are not basic elements of hip-hop. What are? The answer lies on The Sneak Attack, the ninth and latest release from Blastmaster KRS-One (Kris Parker, aka The Teacher). The Sneak Attack has all the political activism, spirituality and blistering social commentary you've come to expect from the former Boogie Down Productions frontman, plus greater maturity and focus. After a four-year rap sabbatical spent raising kids and studying philosophy in Los Angeles, KRS-One returns to the East Coast with a clear mission to reclaim rap music from the corporate drones and misguided thugs. This time his method involves spitting out lessons in hip-hop history over beats that combine the best elements of old-school hardcore and gangsta with surprisingly commercial production.
On The Sneak Attack, KRS-One preaches about the distinction between rap music and the culture it grew out of, chanting: "Rap is something you do/ Hip-hop [culture] is something you live." As with Boogie Down's underrated 1990 classic, Edutainment, some of KRS-One's lessons on The Sneak Attack are redundant, if not downright preachy, but taken in context, his lessons inform. Consider The Sneak Attack a public-service announcement, with KRS-One stepping up as an ambassador from the Temple of Hiphop (an organization dedicated to the spiritual side of hip-hop, founded by KRS-One in 1996). In addition to his brother and longtime collaborator Kenny Parker, KRS-One enlists several producers to create a diverse musical palette. Harsh blasts of gun-patter beats underpin many of the tracks. Not everything on the album hits hard, however, as evidenced by the unusually melodic "Raptism" (produced by Mad Lion), the orchestral harp and familiar chorus on "Shutupayouface" (Fredwreck), and "False Pride," a parable spoken over narrative sound effects.
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The production here always stays subservient to the main ingredient: KRS-One himself. Whether asserting his rank at the top of the MC lineage ("I'm the teacher but you still can't see.../You respected Tupac/Tupac respected me") or blasting the state of commercial rap ("What kinda world are we livin' on/when a song/will not get on/unless it talks about thongs?"), KRS-One's bombastic voice is as real and down and dirty as ever. And, at 35, the elder statesman of hip-hop still reigns with his trademark style of extending phrases across the line, as only a true master of breath control can.