Material Love is a song by KRS-One off of his 1990 album Edutainment. The song is a long story told in a straightforward manner about how a young man is corrupted and enters the drug trade, leading to his downfall. The song's name comes from KRS-One's treatment of materialism as a form of misplaced love. It is subtitled as "Love's Gonna Get You", and uses a sample from a soul song with that line on the chorus, a technique later used much more prominently by the Wu-Tang Clan.
Kool Moe Dee wrote in There's a God on the Mic that lyrical rap and storytelling rap are not often done by the same people at the same high level. This is true, and KRS-One doesn't usually tell extended linear stories, but this song is proof that he can. The song starts simply enough, with KRS-One putting himself in the narrators shoes as
"In junior high, with a B+ Grade", but coming from a struggling family. When he is offered "200 dollars for a quick delivery", he takes it up and finds himself being drawn deeper into the drug trade. As each verse ends, with his involvement presenting him with a new dilemma, he asks the same rhetorical question: "Now tell me what the fuck am I supposed to do". The song ends with the narrator in a three way gun battle between his crew, the man who introduced him to the drug business, and the police, and ends with the same question, and the implication that he is killed.
The rap is done in a very even voice, with a less musical delivery. This was one of the criticisms against KRS-One at the time, that his desire to get his message across made his songs less like music and more like lectures. The role of music versus message being a debate that is probably unsolved, I will say that the song is not propaganda, and that KRS-One mixes layers into the story. He uses a type of multivalent sarcasm. As the narrator, he sneers at anti-drug commercials:
"I've got a 55 inch television you know,
And every once in awhile I hear just say no,
Oh, the other commercial I love,
Is when they say, this is your brain on drugs,
I pick up my remote control and just turn,
because with that bullshit I'm not concerned
and while the narrator is sneering at the simplicity of the propaganda, KRS-One is also sneering at the narrator for refusing to listen to it.
The real strength of the song comes from its connection to KRS-One's tradition. KRS-One's name comes from Krishna, and he imbibed the stories surrounding Krishna as a teenager. In a way, this is KRS-One applying the tales of the Mahabharata to a modern setting. The flow of karma starting with material attachment leads to greed and anger, and eventually fratricidal war and betrayal. The lesson is simple, but KRS-One's six minute song is a succinct, memorable way to phrase it, while at the same time including social criticism in his world view. As a teenager, this song was a touchstone for me, when I made the connection between it and Hindu teachings, it got me interested in the Mahabharata, and also started me looking at people's interactions around me as a result of their material attachments overcoming their spiritual selves, as well as their lack of applying socially critical attitudes to their lives. Yes, I did get all of that from this song (and the rest of the album).
KRS-One has many detractors, but his fans such as myself honor him because he could encapsulate so much thought provoking ideas into a single song.