“Me and Scott La Rock (DJ and co-founder of Boogie Down Productions) started B Boy Records, which was a small little record company, with some other guys—Ray Wilson, Jack Allen and Bill Kamarra. That’s where we put out ‘South Bronx.’ Before all this, Scott Sterling (Scott La Rock) was my social worker and I was a homeless dude in the shelter. Me, Just-Ice, and ICU…we were all homeless b-boys who rapped and did graffiti. We were living in the streets day-to-day…all we had was hip-hop. We’d hang out at hip-hop spots, go to the train yards and tag, go to the park jams, battle each other…we were living it out completely. This was about 1985, and somehow, by the order of the universe, Scott becomes my social worker. He would ask me, ‘What is it that you want to do with your life?’ I would tell him I’m a MC and a philosopher [laughs]. But Scott really took that seriously and stayed on me. I did some rhymes for him about nuclear war and the world coming to an end and he loved it. But we didn’t always see eye-to-eye. We got into a lot of arguments.
But what’s crazy is Scott would invite me to a place called Broadway RT where he DJ’d every Friday and Saturday. That’s where my eyes opened up. I was on the guest list, had a drink ticket, walked in and the place was jammed. People were dancing and it was hip-hop to the maximum degree with the Adidas, bubble goose jackets, bamboo earrings, Cazal glasses and Kangols. And my corny, nerd social worker was the absolute coolest dude on Friday and Saturday nights! That blew my mind. Me and Scott formed the group Boogie Down Productions because with the way I rhymed we knew that nobody was going to sign us. We went around to everybody…RCA, Sony, Columbia…no one wanted to hear our records. So we became our own producers because we didn’t think we wasn’t going to make it as MC and DJ’s. That’s where the name Boogie Down Productions came from.
Flash forward. Boogie Down Productions’ career starts with a battle. A lot of people were saying we were going after Run-DMC. But let’s get this out of the way: Run-DMC was king during the time we were about to drop Criminal Minded! That needs to be said at the top of this interview. At that time Run and them weren’t king just because they were selling platinum records. They were king because of the way they presented hip-hop to hip-hop fans. It was the way that they dressed from the Adidas to the Godfather hats. It was the way that they rhymed. Everyone knew that Run-DMC with the great DJ Jam Master Jay were the ultimate hip-hop group from 1983 to 1987. In hip-hop you had to beat the guy on top. If you claimed you were the king, you had to be stomping crews out every week. And Run-DMC was killing them! Every week something was coming off those Run-DMC albums. And that’s when I came around in 1985. BDP wanted to prove we could be on top.
Now right around 1985 the crack cocaine scene was coming in. The West Coast had already had their share of it since ’82-’83, but it started getting into the East Coast on the street level. There was a group of people that felt like something should be said about the escalating violence; about how crack dealers were killing the weed dealers in the neighborhood. They were getting killed so that the crack dealers could move in. In a lot of cases, it was actually the cops that were working with the crack cocaine dealers killing off the Rastafarian dreads who would sell the herb in the ‘hood. Crack started destroying everything. At this time the MC was the person who spoke on behalf of our community. That was your job as a rapper. You didn’t think about making records. There were whole MC crews that never made records that influenced hip-hop greatly. Ask DMC who will tell you stories about sitting at the foot of Grandmaster Caz learning every cadence and move he made. This was a crazy time. You had Run-DMC, you had LL Cool J and Def Jam; and then you had another powerful clique on the rise—the Juice Crew. This was all happening as Boogie Down Productions was about to release Criminal Minded.
BDP wasn’t trying to be hard in a street sense. We were just taking our cue from the Black Panthers. Remember, they used to walk around with their guns out because it was legal before the Patriot Act. So on the cover of Criminal Minded you see me and Scott posing on the cover with guns. I even put the shotgun belt over my shoulder, which was a longtime symbol of revolution for the Mexicans, Native Americans, and for the Africans. The streets were bubbling. MC Shan from the Juice Crew disses LL and tells him that he bit his style and challenges him to a battle. This was huge! The Juice Crew was doing it big. Roxanne Shante just came off of battling UTFO. I finally had my demo of ‘Criminal Minded’ with Scott cutting up Trouble Funk. We also had ‘Elementary’ on there. Somehow we heard Mr. Magic (influential host of the legendary New York hip-hop radio show Rap Attack)—who was down with Marley and the Juice Crew—said we were wack. And we were like, ‘Wack???!!! Mr. Magic is wack! Shan is wack. Marley is wack!’ That’s when I picked a battle with Shan on ‘South Bronx.’ I mimicked his song the same way Roxanne did on ‘Roxanne, Roxanne.’ He answers me with ‘(South Bronx) Kill That Noise,’ which was a huge regional record as well. I then answered with ‘The Bridge Is Over.’ And I shut it down [laughs].
I was so happy to be making records. I’m still appreciative to MC Shan to this day. If it wasn’t for Shan there would be no KRS-One. BDP came out victorious, but we didn’t come out all the way victorious because the critics kept saying, ‘Well, all you guys are is a battle group…you’re not a real group like Run-DMC, the Fat Boys or like Whodini.’ And they were right. So I ran back and wrote songs that showed that we were here to stay…that we were capable of making an entire album. We did the [rock sound] like Run and them on ‘Dope Beat.’ We started making songs like ‘The P Is Free’ and ‘9mm Goes Bang,’ which talked about how the crack dealers were moving out the herb dealer. And we were breaking new ground by using dancehall reggae. Hip-hop had never heard anything like that before. Even Schoolly D was like, ‘Yo, that shit was cold.’ Even though he rhymed about street life, he was still a conscious street rapper like how NWA did it with ‘Express Yourself.’ Basically, BDP was all about realism. But on a conscious level.”