KRS-One / Reggae

“The Number One Set and Sound: Exploring Reggae Performative Techniques in the Music of KRS-One and Boogie Down Productions”

(Presented at Oregon State University Hip-Hop Festival and Symposium. October 17, 2014 at Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR.)


1960s Jamaican “sound system” culture featured reggae DJs vocalizing over instrumental sections of records and heavily influenced hip-hop’s first wave of performers in 1970s New York. While this relationship is well documented, the practice of infusing hip-hop records with reggae-styled vocals and rhythms is not. Rapper KRS-One carved out a rap-reggae hybrid style and became recognized as one of the first hip-hop artists to heavily interpolate reggae musical styles into rap recordings. As a member of Boogie Down Productions, KRS-One released a handful of reggae-inspired 12” singles in 1986 followed by a full-length landmark album, Criminal Minded (1987), which featured reggae-styled vocal inflections and reggae samples.

KRS-One’s early work is illustrative of what hip-hop scholar Imani Perry’s suggests are reggae’s three main influences on hip-hop: its DJ techniques and use of recording technology; the heroic black outlaw as an iconographic figure; and reggae samples in hip-hop compositions. Reggae expert Julian Henriques expands on this to show how reggae DJs employed oral techniques in their improvised performances to excite the crowd by “riding the riddim,” commanding, championing, using call and response, freestyling, engaging in vocal battles against rival DJs, and mimicking Jamaican preachers’ style and delivery.

The performance and linguistic practices advanced by KRS-One are an understudied development in hip-hop. Analysis of BDP’s Criminal Minded and the 1991 concert album, Live Hardcore Worldwide, confirms KRS-One as a pioneer of a unique rap/reggae hybrid that influenced a generation of hip-hop artists that followed.