It wasn't yet night when bullets ripped through the car. Scott Sterling was the only casualty. He wasn't even involved in the altercation - he'd tagged along at the behest of a friend, working as a mediator. His work as Scott La Rock, the DJ and producer for South Bronx rap outfit Boogie Down Productions, was indispensable in crafting the group's debut, Criminal Minded, a true classic of the then-young genre. His death would irreversibly change both the direction of the group and the work of its emcee, KRS-One.
By All Means Necessary, the group's sophomore LP, was released nine months after Sterling's death. Entirely written, performed and produced by KRS-One, it exists in the shadow of the murder. KRS had already founded the Stop the Violence Movement after the death of a fan at a joint show with Public Enemy, and his resolve was only strengthened by Sterling's untimely passing. He used this trauma to turn out an uncommonly dense and serious record, seen by many as a "landmark of political rap."
Confronting issues such as rampant gun violence, needless gangsta posturing, the impending AIDs crisis and the ethical failures of the United States Government, By All Means Necessary was a strong refutation of the gangsta themes that underpinned Criminal Minded. The album art suggests as much: whilst their debut featured menacing gun-wielding, the sophomore album makes clear reference to Malcom X's famous 1964 Ebony photoshoot, which shows the civil rights leader holding a carbine whilst defending his property. KRS-One's shift from attacker to defender was a watershed moment - adopting the alias of 'The Teacher,' his political activism would come to define him.
Now, three decades later, we look back at the samples that underpinned KRS-One's political reeducation. With all aspects handled by the sole emcee, By All Means Necessary is a testament to the leaps and bounds made by hip hop during the late eighties.
The album opens with a sequel to Criminal Minded cut "Poetry." This entry finds KRS-One occupying the role of "the Teacher," espousing on the state of the rap game, the violence of the culture and the continued evolution of BDP. "My Philosophy" has been heavily sampled, appearing in tracks by artists such as N.W.A., Ice Cube, Beastie Boys, Viktor Vaughn and Lootpack.
"My Philosophy" samples multiple elements from Stanley Turrentine's "Sister Sanctified." The keys that start BDP's album are lifted from the opening of the track, as is the saxophone that underpins KRS-One's verses.
The opening dialogue - "so, you're a philosopher?" - is taken from "The Philosopher," a release by the Lutheran Layman's League. A Christian outreach missionary, the group recorded and released some of the 20th centuries most popular sermons. "The Philosopher" was released in 1987, and can't be found on any streaming services. An older but thematically similar LLL video is linked to the left.
One of the more obvious samples on the record, the instrumental from "Ya Slippin'" samples Deep Purple's 1972 hit, "Smoke On The Water." The track contains one of the most recognisable guitar riffs of all time, and has become a rock n' roll standard in the 46 years since its release.
The track tells the story of how Montreux Casino burnt down during a Frank Zappa gig, destroying much of Deep Purple's expensive equipment.
"Stop The Violence"
"Stop The Violence" is KRS-One's catchy plea to cleanse hip hop of violence. Even as early as 1988, violence was a problem in the ever-growing subculture. The song was specifically motivated by the death of Scott La Rock, a founding member of BDP who was killed whilst trying to mediate a conflict in late 1987. Whilst KRS-One could identify the spectre of violence in hip hop, his message did little to assuage the killing: by the turn of the century, famed emcees Tupac, Notorious B.I.G. and Big L would be killed. NYC duo Black Star interpolated the track’s titular refrain on their 1998 single, “Definition.”
The jarring, orchestral sound effect that punctuates KRS-One's bars is courtesy of the Fairlight CMI, an early digital audio workstation. The device became ubiquitous upon introduction in 1979, as did the popular orchestral hits it proliferated. The sound effect has since been compared to the Wilhelm Scream. The specific stock sound on "Stop The Violence" was known as ORCH5.
As the name suggests, "Illegal Business" is a track that explores the America's relationship with drug dealing. KRS believes that the police act as de-facto 'crews,' operating beyond the law by taking cuts of drug dealer's profits in exchange for turning a blind eye. In the late '90s, a widespread corruption scandal in the LAPD's anti-gang unit substantiated some of KRS-One's claims.
The drums that underpin "Illegal Business" are taken from Jefferson Starship's 1979 track, "Rock Music." The original track was included on the group's fifth studio album, Freedom At Point Zero.
Jefferson Starship was formed in 1974 as a successor to legendary psychedelic outfit Jefferson Airplane. The group would go on to cycle through a dizzying 27 band members, shifting genres as the lineups changed.
The distinctive progression that opens the track is lifted from an episode of Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids. Season Four, Episode One, titled "Creativity," finds the titular gang of friends struggling to form a band. The show was created, hosted and largely voiced by disgraced comic Bill Cosby, who was found guilty of sexual assault in April.
The foremost hype track on By All Means Necessary, "Nervous" is peppered with shoutouts, self-affirmations and an enthusiastic titular refrain.
The intense staccato strings that loop from 0:12 until 0:29 are lifted from Dominic Frontiere's Rat Patrol theme. The Rat Patrol was a 1966 American TV program. Set in North Africa during World War Two, it followed the exploits of a four-man patrol unit fighting Rommel's Afrika Korps. It was cancelled after two seasons.
The groove-heavy bassline that begins at 0:54 is courtesy of funk veterans War. The sample is taken from "Galaxy," the title track from the group's tenth studio album, which peaked at #39 on the Billboard 100.
BPD sample a tight drum kit and playful key riff from Rhythm Heritage's 1978 track "Sky's The Limit." It first appears at 1:34.
Rhythm Heritage were a short-lived L.A. disco outfit who released four albums between 1976 and 1979. "Sky's The Limit" was the title track from their third album. Their most famous hit was 1975's "Theme From S.W.A.T.," which, as the title suggests, scored a two-season ABC police procedural.
"I'm Still #1"
As the title suggests, this track finds KRS-One mulling over his newfound place in the yet-young genre of hip hop. He argues that hip hop isn't a fad, briefly mentions his vision of a true rap democracy, takes shots at artists such as RUN-DMC and offers a prescient look at a future where BDP will be considered "old school." Whether or not he was ever number one, KRS-One has some mean foresight.
The instrumental underpinning KRS-One's braggadocios bars is a modified sample of All The People's 1972 track, "Cramp Your Style."
Whilst little is known of the group itself, this particular record has become a staple in hip hop. First sampled by BDP, it's gone on to appear in tracks by LL Cool J, Redman, Cypress Hill, DJ Shadow and even fictional hip hop trailblazers The Get Down Brothers.
"Part Time Suckers"
KRS-One has already told us that he's a teacher, and on "Part Time Suckers," he elaborates on what that means. It's a designation that elevates him above the self-professed "MCs," and in order to prove his dominance, KRS launches into one of the records best displays of his lyrical dexterity.
The high-pitched voice that yells "alright now, here we go!" belongs to none other than legendary soul singer Smokey Robinson. It's lifted from the opening of "Mickey Monkey," one of The Miracles' most successful singles. Released in 1063, the track was written by acclaimed songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland and featured noted soul groups The Temptations and The Marvelettes on backing vocals.
Wonder's track - which made history by charting at #1 on four different Billboard charts - featured R&B star Luther Vandross on ad-libs, as well as Wonder's ex-wife Syreeta Wright and Earth, Wind and Fire vocalist Phil Bailey on backing vocals.
Whilst it could be argued that "Jimmy" hasn't aged particularly well, it's worth noting the environment in which it was penned. AIDs was first clinically observed in the United States in 1981, and in the decades that followed, the disease would come to carry many social stigmas. It makes sense that KRS-One would address the virtues of safe sex in the midst of the AIDs epidemic: African-Americans have suffered disproportionately at the hands of HIV/AIDs.
The subdued instrumentation that enters at the chorus - 0:24 - is taken from the opening to Jimmy Castor Bunch's "I Promise to Remember."
Jimmy Castor was a NYC-born soul artist. His band, Jimmy Castor Bunch, experienced chart success throughout the early '70s, and they've since become a much-sampled outfit in hip hop. Their most enduring hit is "Troglodyte (Cave Man)."
The glitchy trill that fades in at the opening is taken from Timmie Rogers' "The Black Astronaut."
The track was included on his 1973 album Timmie Rogers As Super Soul Brother Alias "Clark Dark," a part-stand up, part-musical release. Rogers was a hugely influential black comic, one of the first to present a solo, blackface-free performance.
KRS-One's chorus takes a melody from an unlikely source: Wings' 1976 single "Let 'Em In." An international hit, the Wings at The Speed Of Sound cut followed one of the group's most enduring hit singles, "Silly Loves Songs."
As the second single, "Let 'Em In" was a hit, peaking at #3 on the Billboard 100. Despite this, the track has little legacy, perhaps seeing as it followed one of Wings' most memorable tracks.
The quiet vocal sample at 0:19 - "ding, ding, dong..." - is taken from The Sequence's "Funk You Up." The group, one of the first female rap outfits, were noticed after bum rushing a Sugarhill Gang performance. The group recently opted to sue Mark Ronson for plagiarism, citing similarities between "Funk You Up" and "Uptown Funk."
"T'cha - T'cha"
Putting his own spin on a dancehall classic, KRS-One toys with thoughts of hip hop supremacy, feminism, and most of all, 'keeping it real.'
KRS-One interpolates the melody from Yellowman's "Zungguzungguguzungguzeng." BDP had previously sampled from the same song on "Remix for P is Free," a track off their 1987 debut.
"Zungguzungguguzungguzeng," the title track from Yellowman's 1983 LP, has since become a classic dancehall standard. It's been sampled by artists such as Junior M.A.F.I.A., 2Pac, Nice & Smooth and Heavy D & the Boyz.
The final track, a spoken word poem performed by KRS-One, is without samples. The poem acts as a contention of sorts, with KRS-One arguing for two seemingly contradictory points: the mainstream reevaluation of hip hop as a 'violent' artform and the removal of wanton gang violence from the greater hip hop culture. He opens with a hard-hitting question: why is hip hop specifically derided for violent content?
This issue would come to a head in the years following. N.W.A.'s Straight Outta Compton, released later the same year, would become gangsta rap's definitive record, simultaneously famous for its hard-hitting depictions of life in Compton and infamous for the violence such depictions entailed. Similarly, Ice T's 1993 track "Cop Killer" invoked outrage nation-wide, prompting comments from President Clinton, Vice President Dan Quayle and a swathe of disgruntled police officers.
These incidents show just how prescient KRS-One was. Not only did hip hop suffer at the hands of a public willing to entertain only traditional forms of artistic violence - think "I Shot The Sheriff" and Die Hard - but the culture also continued to foster violent feuds and deadly confrontations. By the time the millennium rolled around, artists such as Tupac, Notorious B.I.G, Big L and Stretch had been murdered.
The Crew Is Called BDP
By All Means Necessary was released to critical acclaim. In a 2002 retrospective, The Source gave the previously-unrated album a coveted five-mic rating. It remains one of just 45 hip hop albums to receive the accolade. It propelled the group to the forefront of hip hop, with the themes and ideas explored leaving an indelible mark on the yet-young culture. Though Criminal Minded remains a seminal debut, By All Means Necessary is the very model of an exceptional sophomore effort. Whilst the former exists as a frank depiction of life in the South Bronx, the latter is a exploration of the ills that plague that life - ills such as violence, drug use and the AIDs epidemic.
By All Means Necessary is far more than just a tribute to Scott La Rock: the DJ himself is an integral part of the album, his spirit standing shoulder-to-shoulder with KRS-One as he becomes an unlikely activist. In many ways, La Rock's untimely death is best memorialised in BDP's sophomore album. It motivated KRS to abandon his gangsta-centric image in the pursuit of spreading truth and teaching through rhymes. In fusing politics and rap, KRS-One and the BDP crew helped establish the model for the politically-charged hip hop that would both dominate the '90s and become an indispensable part of the genre.