When Kris Kross first blew up, it wasn’t hard to see why, they had all the cuteness required of adolescent rappers, and that backwards-clothing business was a clever marketing touch. But where other juvenile rapper like Another Bad Creation subsisted on minimal mike skills, familiar samples, and the novelty value of little kids acting like hardcore roughnecks, Kris Kross could flow.
On their breakthrough single “Jump,” Mack Daddy and Daddy Mack displayed the predictable squeaky vocals and mini-macho posturing yet rhymed with authority. The follow-up single “Warm It Up” displayed another talent: taking a hardcore song or style created by one of their elders — in this case “Warm It Up, Kane” by Big Daddy Kane — and making it digestible for the 4 million-plus youngstas who snapped up “Totally Krossed Out.”
The teen duo’s sophomore effort “Da Bomb,” builds on the successful “Krossed Out” formula, updating it for the current hip hop climate. Kris Kross and whiz-kid producer Jermaine Dupri continue to incorporate other rappers’ material into their grooves. They bite Brand Nubian’s “Drop the Bomb” and Run-D.M.C.’s “Here We Go” in “And Ya’ Don’t Stop–Props to the Ol’ School”; on “Take Um Out” they blended Public Enemy’s “Shut Em Down” with a Naughty by Nature flavor. Attempting to come correct for ‘93, Kris Kross add a heavy dancehall influence to their sound and throw off an old-school vibe as trendy as a pair of Puma Clydes.
Since “Totally Krossed Out” exploded two years ago, gangsta rap has taken over the charts, forcing even LL Cool J to shout unconvincingly about Tec 9s on his most recent release. And on the underage tip, groups like Da Youngsta’s and Mobb Deep have upped the ante for street credibility, closely mimicking the lean of gangsta originators. No surprise, Da Bomb offers state-of-the-art hardness, opening with an Ice Cube sample and pulsing with a hardcore stance and sound. On the title track, Daddy Mack confesses he “just loves taking out punks, homes” over a loping, Too Short-style beat built on pumping bass drums, handclaps and synthesizer loops.
Kriss Kross also nastily revive their feud with Another Bad Creation in an effort to distance themselves from other impish hip hop posses. On “Freak the Funk,” Mack Daddy challenges “that alphabet crew to make my day/so I can drop and chop and drop them little punks quick/and teach ‘em how to never mess with this Krossed-out kid.” Still despite the omnipresent “nigga this, nigga that,” the criminal-minded macking doesn’t dominate to the point of absurdity; Da Bomb doesn’t get a “G” rating, but it’s more a “PG-13” than an “R” thang, offering up juvenile braggadocio instead of Geto Boys-style carnage.
Where “Da Bomb” improves greatly on the inconsistent “Totally Krossed Out” is in Kris Kross’ ever-growing microphone techniques–check out Mack Daddy rat-a-tat delivery on the title track. Still “Da Bomb” won’t radically alter your worldview–Fear of a Black Planet it ain’t. And true to their bubblegum roots, this just wouldn’t be a Kris Kross album without filter, though that only makes the peaks seem that much higher.
Kris Kross is ultimately more effective on a cassingle than over the course of a whole CD. The definitive summer slammer here is “Alright,” a mid-tempo reminiscent of D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime.” Over a jazzy ‘70s funk-style groove, Mack and Mack leave the Gats behind and revisit adolescent territory. They approximate Ice Cube’s easy drawl for an innocent tale where they’re “feelin’ good ‘cause it was the last day of school,” and it’s “alright when I’m rolling through my ‘hood/and I see the one that used to do the dirt/that’s turned good.” Dancehall don Super Cat (who first guested with Kris Kross on a street-cred remix of “Jump”) adds a wildly infectious chorus that energizes the song, his stuttering patois providing a percussive counterpoint to the rhythm track. Kris Kross more than hold their own against Super Cat’s raw vigorous rapping, even when Daddy Mack’s voice cracks on a couple of occasions.
This youthful lapse betrays a startling vulnerability underneath the gangsta pose; more significantly, it raises questions of what will happen when Kris Kross are no longer cute kids with a gimmick. Thankfully the strength of “Da Bomb” gives hope that, after their voices break for real, Kris Kross will be able to stand tall next to the hip hop innovators they mimic so deftly. –Matt Diehl