Keep Right is KRS-One's 2004 album, released on the Grit Records label. Those familiar with KRS-One will probably understand this album fairly quickly, since it covers some of the major themes in KRS-One's work. For those not familiar with KRS-One, this is a sample quote from the introductory song:
I don't know much about selling women like retail
Or turning cocaine into crack for resale
But I do know that if we fail
In 2020, our children by the million are going to be jailed
After a dozen or so albums, it may be quite a claim, but this may be the most solid KRS-One album ever. Which doesn't mean it is the best, but the entire album is a steady platter of beats, rhymes, and short, well written songs, with good hook
s. There are very few of the interlude
s and other miscellaneous filler that seem to fill up so many hip-hop album
s these days. Also, besides a few spoken word
pieces by the likes of Afrika Bambaataa
, there is no guest appearence
s on this album, once again going against what has become a hip-hop standard. Instead, the album gives us about an hour of KRS-One speaking what is on his mind. Most of the substance
that KRS-One covers on this album should be familiar to past listeners of KRS-One. Most of his rhymes are against the materialism
and general spiritual weakness of most rappers, as well as against the record industry
that supports them. He also makes some commentary on politics and spirituality in general, and of course, talks about his own skill level
. And, of course, the skill level is what it comes down to, because there is very little going on here that we haven't heard before. However, KRS-One is lyrically and spiritually so strong in what he is saying, that even the most obvious assertions come alive when he speaks them.
If the album has any weaknesses, it is that KRS-One doesn't play around too much, either with our ears or our minds. On 1995's eponymous album, for example, KRS-One performed a song where each line ended with "hole" or a close homophone. Here, although his rhymes are intricate, they don't go into any such experimental terrain. Mentally, although KRS-One shows respects for his listener's intelligence, and uses his vocabulary when neccesary, he doesn't do what he did on 1992's Sex and Violence, where he says the opposite of what he means, and leaves it to the listener to figure out. The only song where he tries to be conceptual is "Stop Skeemin'", a parody of a soul song where KRS-One plays the part of a man visiting his friend in jail, with KRS-One conversing with his friend, telling him how foolish he was to have lost his temper and killed his girlfriend. (It comes across as much funnier, and much more serious, in the song than in the explanation.)
Another problem with the album is that it may represent the jazzification of hip-hop. While KRS-One's steady insistence that the club circuit, not radio play, is the best way for himself and other purist hip-hop groups to gain exposure certainly has a lot of truth to it, without the radio, hip-hop will not be able to reach an audience that it needs to reach. Of course, with KRS-One's history, his next album may move in a different direction entirely.
Even after thirty years of hip-hop, and twenty years of serious hip-hop, there are still many critics of hip-hop who wish to hold up the rapper of the moment, and use it as a blanket criticism of the genre. If anyone wants to learn about hip-hop, albums like this one from masters like KRS-One are one of the best places to start.