September 20, 2009

Boogie Down Productions - Criminal Minded (March 3, 1987)

For all of you two who were wondering where the KRS-One reviews were, I appreciate your patience. This is an album that I've been meaning to get to for a long while now, so I'm going to try to keep this intro short.

Boogie Down Productions (BDP) is a highly influential crew straight out of The Bronx. Upon its original incarnation, it was made up of KRS-One, DJ Scott LaRock, and D-Nice. They were among the first group to popularize what would later be known as gangsta rap, but they were also responsible for furthering the craft, weaving narratives into their rhymes, pointing a critical eye at society's ills, freely utilizing KRS-One's Jamaican heritage in the songs themselves (prior to BDP, a lot of rappers hid their pasts in an attempt to assimilate into American culture), and also starting up one of the first hip hop feuds, against the Juice Crew: KRS and company interpreted some of their comments as saying that Queensbridge was the birthplace of hip hop, and took offense. (While their beef may have started off legitimate, MC Shan and KRS-One soon quietly settled their arguments in an effort to make money off of said feud, and even toured together.)

Criminal Minded, BDP's debut album, was their only release for B-Boy Records. Its production was originally credited to KRS and DJ Scott LaRock (D-Nice only really sort-of appears on one track), but it was more recently revealed that Ced Gee, from the Ultramagnetic MC's, actually produced a lot more of the album than either crew member, even though he doesn't receive any such credit. (So, in that respect, BDP was also responsible for Ced Gee, as the Ultra's Critical Beatdown didn't see its release until a year after Criminal Minded.) However, that new revelation doesn't detract from the listening experience: samples are woven in and out of each carefully composed track, and KRS-One's rhymes remain as potent as they did twenty-two years ago.

Shortly after Criminal Minded was released, DJ Scott LaRock was killed in an act of senseless violence, and KRS elected to take the group name to another label, surrounding himself with new faces to advance his own career while keeping Scott's legacy alive.

Criminal Minded is still considered to be one of the best rap albums ever made, and KRS-One's vocals helped set him up to be in the running for Best Rapper Alive.

I realize that was a severe oversimplicifation of the Boogie Down Productions backstory, but I really just wanted to get to the music this time.

The scratching gives KRS-One's poetry a heightened sense of reality, as if the song is on the verge of falling apart and the only thing that will save it is shifting its very essence around on a turntable. Also, there isn't really a hook, which is so a plus.

This is the only song which D-Nice really makes any sort of appearance on. I love the beat, which continues to influence music today, but the lyrics are incredibly simple, which isn't what newer listeners (those who are driven to pick up Criminal Minded because other bloggers list this as one of the greatest diss songs ever made) will be expecting. I recommend this song anyway, but even I admit that this shit is kind of lacking. And yes, I know I just committed hip hop seppuku by writing that last sentence.

I enjoyed the blatant 1980's-type instrumental, and the storytelling on here is pretty vivid for what it is: violent acts of gangsta rap. The hook is a bit annoying, but I'm nitpicking too much.

On any other rap album, a track with that title would indicate an interlude that could easily be skipped. For Boogie Down Productions, “Word From Our Sponsor” means that KRS spits with the fire that explains why some (not me, though) rank him higher than Rakim on the list of Greatest Emcees Ever. There isn't much to the beat, but I still liked this one.

KRS doesn't battle with rhymes (he battles with guns), but he immediately claims that his “Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone”? Contradictory much? Other than that bizarre line (which helps explain the man's rap name, for those of you who didn't catch that), this was pretty good, albeit in a truly old-school and dated kind of way.

Scott LaRock swipes AC/DC's “Back In Black”, a feat that the Beastie Boys and Eminem, among others, couldn't swing because the band doesn't allow others to sample their songs. So, yeah, I won't speculate on how this song came to exist. Scott does manage to make a “Dope Beat” out of this, though.

Mos Def and Talib Kweli jacked this beat for their “Definition”, and the next song in the tracklisting also served as inspiration for their follow-up, “Re:Definition” (oddly enough), and I'd be willing to bet that a lot of you two would find Mos and Kweli's version much more accessible. This is still a good song with an excellent instrumental, but it is a bit difficult to wrap your head around at first.

Another diss record aimed at MC Shan and Marley Marl (along with Roxanne Shante and, fuck it, the rest of the Juice Crew, while we're talking semantics). I'm going to catch a lot of shit for my next statement, but so be it: I never liked this song. It sounds unfinished (it is possible for a beat to be too simple, folks), and I can't stand KRS-One's rhyming style on here. I acknowledge the song's importance to our chosen genre, but that's where it stops.

KRS-One basically used up an entire song to call his deejay a slut. Had his deejay been a female, she would have been chastised left and right, but since Scott is a dude, this track is the audio equivalent of a high five between frat guys at a kegger with Asher Roth. Listeners looking to BDP for conscious lyrics will be immediately turned off by this song. But let me get off of my soapbox: the beat itself is simple and catchy, but the lyrics, while technically proficient, are not what you want to hear KRS-One say, especially when he uses the phrase “do not keep in mind that [Scott] is a rapist”, when a “keep in mind that he isn't a rapist” is both more sufficient and grammatically correct.

If you've somehow become a fan of KRS-One without knowing about his earlier efforts, this will be the first song that you will gravitate to, as it is the most like his Teacher persona today. The beat is both good and frustrating (I was left hoping that he would do more with it), but KRS rips shit up, which, to some of you, is all that will matter.
My version of Criminal Minded came with an extra song that, to my knowledge, wasn't included on the original 1987 release.

I like it when one can take a song's title literally.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Criminal Minded is most certainly a product of its time: if Boogie Down Productions were to release it today, critics would blast the dated musical sound and the sometimes simple lyrics from KRS-One, and labels would be reluctant to market it unless KRS was willing to collaborate with Lil' Wayne for a remix. (Can you imagine? I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.) Luckily, Criminal Minded was released in 1987, so instead, hip hop heads from yesterday, today, and tomorrow can appreciate why it is considered a true classic of the genre. Some of this is more violent and sexist than I remembered, but then again, so is hip hop in general. Scott LaRock's beats may not appeal to the new artists today, but they complement the mindstate of KRS-One beautifully. Some of this doesn't hold up as well today, but the package as a whole is deserving of its praise.

BUY OR BURN? Yeah, um, you'll need to buy this one. It's the law or something. KRS-One has kind of muddied things a bit by also releasing Best of B-Boy Records, which was a re-release of Criminal Minded's tracks, most of which are longer than the album versions, paired up with b-sides, but that should be seen as for collectors only. Everybody else should be satisfied with the original album, which, once again, you have to buy.

BEST TRACKS: “Criminal Minded”; “South Bronx”; “Poetry”; “Word From Our Sponsor”; “Remix For P Is Free”; “9MM Goes Bang”



  1. Your blog needs more Kool G Rap.

  2. CLASSIC! love this album great review

  3. This is a fairly retarded review, even by your standards.

    "...if Boogie Down Productions were to release it today, critics would blast the dated musical sound and the sometimes simple lyrics from KRS-One"

    What a redundant observation. I suppose your review of Hamlet would be "decent play but if this had been written in 2009 critics would question the antiquated language."

    The lyrics on South Bronx are lacking are they?

    "Remember Bronx River, rolling thick with Kool DJ Red Alert and Chuck Chillout on the mix, when Afrika isam was rocking the jams and on the other side of town was a kid named Bam, b-boys ran to the latest jams and when they got shot up they went home and said damn, there's got to be a better way to hear our music everyday, people getting blown away but coming outside anyway..."

    The lyrics might sound simple, that was sort of the point. This was hip hop in its most elemental, tribal form - simple but effective lyrics about the origins of hip hop married to similarly sparse beats. If a rap had a bible, those lyrics would be Genesis. And if you don't get that, you don't really get hip hop.

  4. Good to see KRS-One on this site! :-)

  5. This is required reading/listening for any hip hop fan in my opinion. This is not BDP's best album, but Max's recommendation was on point. This album is a very big deal. Go get it.

  6. I got to agree with the person above. Bridge is over "unfinished"???? Max I'm disappointed.
    His lyrics made LL and Kool Moe Dee sound like children..

  7. haha i was waiting for this one.. but now don't spend time with the all BDP albums (you must review the two first krs-one solo albums wich are very interesting)

  8. The Fragile NinjaSeptember 21, 2009

    Finally a BDP review! Thank you Max, this was a great read.

  9. the Blastmaster was and still is the teacher... one of my top 5 picks for g.o.a.t. but "this is not the best of KRS, it's judst a section"...i rinse 5 of these joints (you know which 5) continuously and the rest can sit...question: loved "essays on bdpism" that was on an "east coast versus west coast" compilation tape back in the day.Which album was that joint from or was it only released as a single?
    p.s. tell anonymous byotches not to fuck with Moe Dee

  10. Actually, given the preceeding line, 'Do not keep in mind that he is a rapist' makes perfect sense, gramatically aswell.

    It's a continuation, explanation.

    And South Bronx -was- recorded before the rest of the album, so it can be forgiven for sounding simpler than the rest; KRS clearly upped his game for The Bridge is Over afterwards.