KRS-One on Hip Hop, Quebec and other Nations
At some point in the mid-eighties something odd happened. Half the kids around the world suddenly decided they wanted to be black. For some still mysterious reason, young people of every ethnic origin and language recognized themselves in the sounds and colors that were at that very specific time coming out of New York City. The Bronx, to be more specific. The South Bronx to be exact.
Somehow out of the concrete, poverty and crack violence that plagued that place and time an uncontrollable epidemic of art and sound sprang out. At twice the speed of Rock and Roll, massive murals of graffiti covered the walls of cities worldwide and the sounds of a culture called Hip Hop infiltrated every record collection.
Hip Hop became a worldwide culture, but a culture that could only express itself in the reality of one’s environment and personal struggle. To be Hip Hop was to be Real and to Represent.
Hip Hop legend KRS-One is now in his third decade of representing the South Bronx around the world. The one who calls himself the Teacha was in Montreal on March 9th and spoke to the AngryFrenchGuy from a hotel room in New Jersey a couple of days later.
I’m thinking of when you said « I manifest as a black man, but I’m universal. » When I was young that made a lot of sense to me. Today, how do you balance being an African American and just a human?
To tell you the truth I’m more Hip Hop than African American. I think that’s where the balance comes from, that there really is no balance.
African American, I don’t know what that is, really. I can’t put my hand on that. I know what it is politically, I know what it is spiritually, but I don’t know what it is in reality. How does it affect my life? Where’s the African American constitution? What is the collective African American goal? What is our set of ethics? Who are our heroes? I don’t see that in the African American community. I don’t even know if you can call it a community for that matter. What is our collective interest as African Americans? What do we all want? I don’t see any of that jumpin’ off. But I can answer thee questions when it comes to Hip Hop.
I find the way you define Nation interesting. Where I come from, Nation is a very charged word. Is Québec a Nation? How do you define the Hip Hop Nation?
A nation is a glorified community. A nation is any group of people who say they are a nation and can sustain their nationality.
When you speak of the Hip Hop group in world History… project your mind to 2200. We’re all gone. 2200 is looking back on a specific period of time when this movement was created and flourished. Now Hip Hop may not exist in 2200, but everything we’re doing today will. Hip Hop may not be practiced anymore, but everything we’re doing right now: the rhymes, the DVDs, Cds, the live performances, the scandals, the newsworthy stuff… All of that will be in existence in 2200.
Our offspring is gonna be looking back on our activity today for their heritage. This begins the mechanics of our civilization.
If you’re a Philosopher, this is the greatest time in human history. This is the age where new cultures are born. New civilizations come into play. This is nothing to do with nationalistic thought, or militarism leading to some sort of terrorism, far from that. This has to do with the need of the people. Worldwide people are crying out to be relieved from having to communicate through race, through ethnicity, through class, through gender, through their job, through their degree… I respect these things no doubt! But those who have this blood or this awareness of Hip Hop they can transcend their race or their class and achieve great things in this other community.
Is that how you explain the international appeal of Hip Hop? That it travels all over the world because people recognize something central in it?
The only thing I would say for the sake of scholarship is that Hip Hop met in America. Met in the Bronx. Hip Hop didn’t really start in the Bronx. Hip Hop has always been in the world at different times. It just becomes more concentrated at certain places.
Hip Hop met in the Bronx in tough time for the black community in the end of the 70’s and 80’s. How do you feel minorities are doing right now, either blacks, Latinos, Asians or new minorities?
We didn’t know that we were living badly ’till we got money. To say that was a low period in African American life, to answer your question I would say no! I don’t think the African American experience has changed from slavery to now. And I don’t mean to say that slavery is the backdrop of all African American History.
As a matter of fact, before the Louisiana purchase the Seminole tribe ruled Florida. The Seminole tribe was made up of runaway American slaves and Native Americans. Napoleon had French-African soldiers and government. Florida, Mississippi, what is now New-Orleans and Louisiana, that whole region was ruled by French blacks. African blacks. There was a lot of black government in the early days. The idea of blacks being slaves like the idea of Roots is a conspiracy to make all black people think that a small population of them represents the whole of them.
And it’s even happening today, it’s the way they do Hip Hop. You look on TV and you see a small population of us representing the whole of us. So you would think that all Hip Hop is what you see on TV, but only those who truly study know that there was a KRS, a Public Enemy, there was a RUN-DMC.
I see the same thing when I look at French History in North America. The story is so much more diverse than the one we are told which gets simplified terribly to: Europeans came, killed Indians, fought against each other and the English won…
That’s crazy. Imagine, that never happened. Not that it’s inaccurate. It never happened! Imagine a story being told to you!
Who does it benefit?
It benefits the order. It benefits social order. Here’s where I contradict myself, because when you’re building society, you kind of need these stories. You know: cowboys killed Indians. You don’t teach that native Indians and many cowboys even became family together and intermarried. There was more of that going on than the shooting and the murder.
No History is the truth. None. We are creating History. History is art. We have some bad artists, and we have some very good artists. And then we have the people and they have their own agenda. And some people take art as truth, and pattern their whole lives by it. It might work for some, but it defines the lives of so many more.
African Americans are all over the United States. If there was a concentration like there is for French-speakers in Canada. If there was a region, or a State, where 80-90% of the population was African American. Would you be in favor, for the sake of true political power, of an independent African American state in North America?
Because we could use the term African American more clearly. To suggest that I am African American yet I do not own Africa or America. If we had a black nation within North America that would be dope. I think that would be great! But we would still have to act humanely. We would still have to trade with whites and Hispanics and Asians and Africans. We still have to get in the world and act accordingly. And I could run America. I could run a White Nation too!
We, as French-Canadians, don’t necessarily have a color, we have a language. Is there a way for French-Canadian artists who produce in French to find their way to listeners in the US? Not necessarily in the mainstream, but somewhere.
Start loving your own artists. That’s what started Hip Hop in the beginning. We respected each other we held up each other. Look at my record South Bronx, that was a regional record. Why does the world sign that record? It’s a regional song! I did it for one little block! I was in a scrawny little battle and now that became what it was. Why? Because it was true to it’s time. It was true to it’s neighborhood. It was true to it’s people. What we need is a song, a Quebec! South Quebec! South! South Quebec! Or something!