PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


KRS-One: Maximum Strength 2008

Maybe surprises are overrated. You can probably guess KRS-One's subject matter before he delivers it, but his overall consistency is enviable.


Maximum Strength 2008

Label: Koch
US Release Date: 2008-06-10
UK Release Date: Available as import

If you don't know KRS-One by now, you will never, ever, ever know him. The hip-hop veteran has been kicking style after style for years and he's still here rocking over bombastic beats. His form of education-meets-entertainment, or edutainment, is his trademark, and like any reliable brand name, KRS-One gives his audience what they've come to expect from "The Teacha". You almost know what a KRS-One album will sound like before he even begins his first verse.

Earlier this year, KRS-One dropped Adventures in Emceeing, a mixtape of sorts that retraced many of his usual steps. Adventures in Emceeing was good enough, and it did nothing to diminish KRS-One's reputation as a topnotch lyricist, an "emcee", but it also did little in the "adventure" department. Although it wasn't as "adventurous" as it could have been, it was nevertheless entertaining and certainly worth a few listens.

KRS-One's latest album, Maximum Strength 2008, follows suit as an enjoyable release with few surprises. It does, however, come highly recommended because, at 12 solid tunes and a running time of about 33 minutes, its contents are lean and taut. There just isn't a lot of room for filler here, so the album moves quickly and seamlessly.

Did I mention it's a pretty good listen? Because it actually is. Despite the fact that KRS-One is probably the least likely emcee to sneak up on us with curveball material, he knows how to put a seriously mean rhyme together. And, yes, KRS-One can probably out-rhyme a lot of aspiring hip-hop contenders in his sleep, and, yeah, he can outdo his performances here, but Maximum Strength 2008 actually has a quite a few things to offer.

This time out, he makes effective and efficient use of his favorite routines. His imposing, authoritative voice commands the boom bap production provided by Duane "Darock" Ramos, Dirt, and Oh No, and also works well on the softer tunes like "New York", his ode to the Big Apple. That song, believe it or not, sports a sample of Tevin Campbell's "Can We Talk". That's right, I said Tevin Campbell, the kid who sang for Prince and Quincy Jones back in the day. The same kid who made the Ashley Banks character pass out on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. On paper, it doesn't sound like KRS-One's voice should be anywhere near "Can We Talk" and a recording studio. But it works as one of the LP's creative standouts, similar to Kurupt's "Welcome Home" track from Streets Iz a Mutha (1999). The other mushy track, "Hip Hop", isn't as compelling in the hook department -- way too sing-songy for me -- but the verses are kind of hot. Sing-songy hooks aren't always negatives, though.

Tolerable to good ones appear in the bump-n-clap opener "Beware" and the bouncy "Rockin' Til' the Morning". KRS-One gets away with it, although I've always been skeptical of his singing. There are only a few rappers I can handle as singers, the main ones being: Lauryn Hill (of course), Cee-Lo Green, Queen Latifah (but not when she does jazz), Ladybug Mecca (formerly of Digable Planets), Phonte (currently of Little Brother), Mos Def (most of the time), Pharoahe Monch, and Andre 3000 (sometimes). I just don't think of KRS-One when I think of someone belting out a soulful note. On the flipside, KRS-One occasionally brings out his reggae vibe, an embellishment he has frequently employed in the past with success. In total, it all sounds like vintage KRS-One, which means it is completely by the numbers, but it's mostly a good look for the pioneer.

The same thing goes for the album's subject matter. KRS-One doesn't do "bling", or "crack rap", or anything related to "rims" or the car he's driving. Rather, he preaches messages of self-reliance and social responsibility. Sometimes, he'll use historical data to get his message across, as in "Pick It Up" when KRS-One's traces the practice of democracy in "Western" culture to ancient Greece. At other times, he relies on the more fundamental method of coupling a strong rhyme pattern with a fly beat.

I say he "preaches" his messages because KRS-One has a tendency to come off as didactic and maybe even a little condescending. On his 2007 collaboration with fellow legend Marly Marl, Hip Hop Lives, KRS-One proceeded to break down the words "hip" and "hop" that comprise the compound word for the culture and musical genre:

Hip means to know

It's a form of intelligence

To be hip is to be up-date and relevant

Hop is a form of movement

You can't just observe a hop

You got to hop up and do it

When his lesson plans are on point, KRS-One inspires his audience to consider issues from different perspectives. When things go awry, he sounds like a bully. Maximum Strength 2008 finds a comfortable zone for KRS-One's edutainment rap, loaded with enough swagger to satisfy the hip-hop heads who value lyricism above all else, even beats. The most exciting track is "Straight Through", a frenetically paced romp along the lines of Black Thought's "75 Bars" from The Roots's Rising Down. Both songs, KRS-One's and Black Thought's, are reminiscent of something Big Daddy Kane might do. It's fast, fearless, and furious -- three characteristics of a classic KRS-One track.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.


Aalok Bala Revels in Nature and Contradiction on EP 'Sacred Mirror'

Electronic musician Aalok Bala knows the night is not a simple mirror, "silver and exact"; it phases and echoes back, alive, sacred.


Clipping Take a Stab at Horrorcore with the Fiery 'Visions of Bodies Being Burned'

Clipping's latest album, Visions of Bodies Being Burned, is a terrifying, razor-sharp sequel to their previous ode to the horror film genre.


Call Super's New LP Is a Digital Biosphere of Insectoid and Otherworldly Sounds

Call Super's Every Mouth Teeth Missing is like its own digital biosphere, rife with the sounds of the forest and the sounds of the studio alike.


Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.