For more than a decade, KRS-One has been a culturally and politically visionary voice in hip-hop. On critically acclaimed albums like "Return of the Boom Bap," "I Got Next," and "KRS-One," he became an important voice for a philosophically and even religiously "humanist" perspective in hip-hop, even as most rappers were veering from pure commercialism to separatist politics. He talked to Mark LeVine last month in Los Angeles.

In a Recent
Hip-Hop.com Poll:
  • 18 percent felt hip-hop should be a new religion.
  • When asked "Do you believe in hip-hop or God," 43 said "hip-hop."
  • 78 percent thought there should be a hip-hop revolution.
  • Why do you call your show The Divine Performance?
    We look at the spiritual life as a performance before God. God is the headliner, and the stage is the world, and so you're always an opening act, no matter how popular and successful you become. So you never really perform in a complete sense, like I did and ended my performance. What you're doing is opening for God.


    So in a sense this is a mystical experience.
    Yes, we call it "The Great Event."

    Is all music, all performance sacred?
    Yes, all is sacred--every act is sacred.

    How do your less spiritually attuned comrades and your fans react when you talk about this to them?
    We tune into spirituality once in a while and wonder, "How is this whole thing working?" I think the kids today do this naturally. It's a bittersweet process, because it means all the systems have failed in the society. The only way you can feel spirituality naturally is when all the institutions have failed. When the institutions fail like they have in this country, you have an upsurge of youth going, "I feel something." It allows these feelings to come up.

    I haven't felt any resistance to any of the spiritual concepts that I've espoused. I'm an inner-city philosopher, apart from those trying to stay in line with Plato, Aristotle, Descartes. For me, philosophy is about challenging, about thinking the different thought. Does it have to be like this? What else can it be? Today's philosophers aren't thinking like that enough, otherwise they'd embrace hip-hop.

    Tell me something about the Temple of Hiphop.
    The Temple of Hiphop is a hip-hop preservation society. A society of responsible hip-hoppers, a group of people who believe that hip-hop is of divine origin. It's not something that just happened to a few black kids in the Bronx and then spread. No. It's an awareness. I saw hip-hop in Brooklyn, out here on the West Coast, in England, in France. The governments suppressed it.

    But in the Bronx in 1972 there was a hole in the system, and we stretched it out. ... It was an attack--well, not even an attack--but a shield against the Reagan-Bush era. We were screaming about cops selling cocaine, police brutality. All the early hip-hop albums had a song about the police, but it was only when Rodney King happened that most people in America began to understand that we were speaking the truth--like any religion.

    Now to return to the Temple of Hiphop, it is hip-hop's preservation. We believe that not only is hip-hop divine, but the temple is divinely ordained, because we accept it as that. And in accepting that hip-hop is of divine origin, our temple becomes sanctioned by our God.


    Who else is in this society?
    Fat Joe, Kid Capri, Busta Rhymes, Redman, Lauryn Hill. When I say members, that means that they've literally filled out a form and registered. And our motto is "I am hip-hop."

    Is it still just African-American artists?
    It's not black, white, any color. It's a feeling of being oppressed, of being stifled, limited, not being understood, being ignored, having no voice. It's not a black issue, but an issue.

    Is hip-hop still about being prophets of rage, as Public Enemy used to call themselves? I mean can hip-hop succeed in liberating people through rage?
    You have to be prophets of a divine spirit. Whenever a movement is based on desperation, on desperate people who have trouble feeding and clothing themselves, or shelter themselves, in the beginning it's going to be big. Because people relate to that. "I have five children and we're all living on just mayonnaise out of a jar." When you have people like that, and someone comes and says "Isn't this wrong!" They'll go "Yeah!!" And with that emotion you get a big following. People will take their last dime and spend it on your record in hopes that something's going to happen.

    What happened with my generation in hip-hop is, we got jobs, we got paid. The first generation of hip-hoppers felt that, even as they got paid by the corporations, they still had a beef with them. They were still angry at the world. No one understood their power, because no one understood black youth sitting with white and Latino youth. That's how hip-hop started--black and white and Latino youth together from day one.

    No one, outside of the few people who were there, even knows that it was like this, multiracial. ... It was white kids who first ruled graffiti art. Then the Latino kids took over, because most of the white kids were from well-off families, and when they got arrested or thrown in jail their parents pulled them out of the hip-hop community. People think the first graffiti artist was a black guy named Phase Two, but a white guy named Turk 183 was out way before him, in the 1960s. There were white gangs that were tagging all over the place; women too.

    What do you think performers and artists can do now to bring about a re-politicization of our culture, to take back culture from the corporations
    There are several things. First, let me talk about my own campaign and then branch out. My campaign is to establish hip-hop as a culture and separate it from rap. Rap is what we do; hip-hop is what we live. That's what I can do as a United States citizen to politicize the people that I speak to, to get them to believe that they are in a culture.

    Once they believe that they're a unified body then we will somehow "elect" our own representatives and leaders who will go forth and speak for hip-hop culture in the world discussion.

    The best thing we can do is reestablish the public education system, to take the "surplus" and put it back into education. All other arguments--campaign finance reform and the like--they're all valid. But if you can produce smart, educated, spiritual, philosophically driven people...that would be the revolution! Let's give them our theories, our best ideas, so that when they get older they can act them out and create the society we've failed to do. To me, that's the plan.

    We need to create another language, and that's what hip-hop is, and that's what all new religions are.

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