He’s not rapping about bitches that he’s screwed. He’s not overly concerned with the fast life of money, night clubs and flashy jewelry. He wants nothing to do with violence. How astonishing then, during a time when rap has lost its political edge, that the hip-hop visionary, KRS One, has managed the release of his 10th album, Spiritual Minded.
Unfortunately, this album ends up taking itself too seriously. This is not hip-hop in the old school tradition of Chuck D and Public Enemy. With this 20 track waste of $16.98, KRS has relinquished his rights to the title “Teacher of Hip-Hop,” one that was bestowed upon the South Bronx native after he gave lectures at Harvard and Yale in the early 1990s. Instead, he’s chosen the title “Conscious Rapper,” or as I like to think of it, “Conceited Preacher.”
This is an album about the convergence of the Word and the rhyme. It is an awkward juxtaposition of hip-hop and Christianity, a confusing mixture of the Gospel and rap. While rap and the Gospel may be inextricably linked to an oral tradition historically ingrained in the black community, this endeavor fails to do little else than amplify KRS-One’s lack of ingenuity.
Defenders of this sort of gospel rap may claim that KRS is simply trying to come to grips with a world that was shaken on Sept. 11. In fact, “Tears” is humbly dedicated to the lives lost in the World Trade Center. Soft gospel hymns play over news reports of the tragedy in this, one of the few songs of the album where KRS seems grounded in something other than thinking about himself.
And the truth is that this album is not all that terrible. In “The Struggle Continues,” deep hip-hop base fuses brilliantly with rapper T-Bone’s Spanish rhymes. Clear references to a continued struggle in urban black America are solidified by allusions to the race riots of the ’70s and the brutal ghetto poverty fomented and intensified by the Reagan era of the ’80s. This is the KRS-One of old, the one who makes rap a real sounding board for political expression.
Nevertheless, the political and innovative drive of Spiritual Minded is cut short by its cheesy and synthetic beats, lyrical exhaustion, and lack of a single catchy rhyme. I found myself laughing during the first track, where a presumed omnipresent narrator (i.e., God) tells of man’s fall from Eden. In the background of this first song, there is an organ playing out a mysterious melodic spiritual. This medieval Christian music seems like it belongs either in some cosmic planetarium show or in the cliffs of insanity scene of “The Princess Bride” –certainly not in an album dedicated to contemporary urban inspiration.
And with the fourth song on the album, “Take it to God,” your guess is good as mine as to what the hell he’s talking about. KRS even finds time to ask “where Chandra Levy at?” in a song that makes God sound like a baller, wearing Reebok Pumps, a headband and a jumpsuit. Say what?
No, don’t buy this album. Definitely do not buy this album. Who knows? Maybe you’ll wake up one day and need that $16.98 for something really important.