KRS-One

Maximum Strength

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From the opening barks "I know we ain't getting' soft!" over the stripped-down piano and drum production of "Beware," it's evident that KRS-One has been reevaluating his sound, and is responding to criticism with fire. The teacher's back and class is in session. After several lackluster releases, in which Blastmaster Chris obsessed over the state of hip-hop and spent his time pointing fingers at other rappers for not bringing it, Maximum Strength shows him at his maximum strength and doing what he does best: preaching. As the first KRS One album with a real sense of purpose in years, nearly every track focuses on the beefs he has with politics and society. This is the educator at his purest. He pulls no stops as he rifles through his rhyme book, dropping lines like "take a look at the police and how they treat you/ take a look at corporations and how they cheat you/ democrats and republicans are all see through/ now we votin' for the lesser of two evils, man, don't let them deceive you/ this is an autocracy not a democracy/ but to call this a democracy without mock interest in the laws of society, that's called hypocracy." He continues waxing political in "Pick It Up," breaking open the European history textbooks to provide a background on the last time a true democracy was practiced: by Cleisthenese in 508 BC before Athens was conquered by Alexander of Macedon. Thought-provoking raps like these seem like luxuries when compared to the typical flash in the pan party raps that are embraced by radio stations, which encourage listeners to throw their hands in the air rather than pushing core values. Kris preaches unity in the community and loving your sister, but also knows when to lighten up and reminisce about the good times with party raps of his own. "Let Me Know" shows him spitting rhymes with the finesse and lyrical prowess of Busta Rhymes over a dancehall jam, and "Straight Through" shows him furiously speeding through B-boy topics without taking a breath. At the worst moments, "New York" and "Hip Hop" suffer slightly, scarred by scatting female vocals and dated production, but for a middle-aged rapper at this stage in the game, it's surprisingly relevant and not only one of the better hip-hop releases he's dropped in years, but one of the best of his career.

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