Boogie Down Productions “Edutainment”: A 30th Anniversary Retrospective
Rap’s self proclaimed “Teacher” was at a career crossroads after the release of “Self Destruction” and his successful album “Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop”. Where could he possibly go from here? How about the world of academia?
In February 1989, Jive/RCA released the Stop The Violence Movement’s “Self Destruction” 12". The D-Nice produced posse track became a breakout success, eventually going Gold and raising $250,000 for the National Urban League. KRS One followed that up by releasing Boogie Down Productions’ 3rd LP in as many years, “Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop”.
The album’s lead single was the D-Nice produced “Jack Of Spades” off the “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” OST but BDP’s profile greatly benefited from the runaway success of the Stop The Violence Movement’s “Self Destruction” which was at one point the quickest selling 12" single in the history of RCA Records, could’ve possibly gone Platinum if only Black radio decided to support it fully.
KRS One followed it up by dropping the single “Why Is That?”/“Who Protects Us From You?” in late May 1989. This song was groundbreaking for many reasons, one being that KRS One broke down IN SONG the genealogy of countless Biblical figures and explained that they were Black/African but the current flawed educational system misleads to populace into thinking they were all White which is the foundation of several things including White supremacist ideologies that still affect us today.
“Why Is That?” took the medium of Rap music and used it as a tool to educate the youth and the masses over a hard ass beat. The flipside spoke to police brutality and harrassment of inner city residents in a simple and easy to comprehend manner. “Why Is That?” took off and became one of the many classic Rap songs that came to define Summer 1989 alongside Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power”, peaking at #5 on Hot Rap Songs and cracking the Top 50 on the Hot Black Singles chart between August 12th and 19th, 1989 while getting little to no support from Black radio.
“Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop” was released on July 4th, 1989 and immediately became one of the biggest albums of a Summer that included Heavy D. & The Boyz’ “Big Tyme”, Kool Moe Dee’s “Knowledge Is King”, LL Cool J’s “Walking With A Panther”, Soul II Soul’s “Keep On Movin’”, Prince’s “Batman OST” & Special Ed’s “Youngest In Charge”.
BDP’s next single “You Must Learn” was released just after KRS One wrote an essay titled “A Survival Curriculum For Inner-City Kids” that ran in the op-ed section of the September 9th, 1989 edition of the New York Times. The Blastmaster blasted the New York City public school system for their insensitivity to the plights and unique challenges facing Black and Latino students and their failure to properly educate the youth and properly prepare them for the future.
The piece caught the attention of several educators and academics across the nation, shortly afterwards requests started coming in for The Teacher to do speaking engagements and lectures at high schools and institutes of higher learning. Whenever mainstream media outlets or networks needed quotes or perspectives about Hip Hop culture or Rap music at the time, the leading candidates to get quotes from were either Chuck D of Public Enemy, Daddy-O of Stetsasonic, Ice-T or KRS One of Boogie Down Productions.
KRS One was never one to turn down the opportunity to move the crowd with a mic on stage, even if this time he’d do it behind a podium. Rap’s quest for respectability, legitimacy and full acceptance from the mainstream was an uphill battle but academia was an obvious space to enter considering how college radio and campuses were where Rap music was taking over circa 1989.
If you recall, the premise of Boogie Down Productions’ video for “You Must Learn” began with KRS One in a classroom repeating what he outlined in “Why Is That?” to a room full of high school students before he’s stopped and removed from the classroom by force and thrown out of the school. He then broke down where the education system fails brown students in the inner city, shorts White youth by keeping them from learning about their classmates’ history and culture and ran down the origins of White supremacy from the world of academia all over a classic Hip Hop breakbeat.
If anyone was perfect to lecture the youth of this nation and other teachers, educators and academics alike, it was Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone. Shortly after entering the lecture circuit, “Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop” was RIAA certified Gold on September 25th, 1989. KRS got acclimated to doing speaking engagements rather quickly, in December 1989 he lectured at Yale and Harvard, two of the top institutions of higher learning in the country and most prestigious universities in the world. These experiences began to shape the concept of his next album, he’d call it “Edutainment”.
After having months of professional public speaking under his belt, KRS got the idea to format his next album like a presentation to the audience. He’d use audio excerpts from his lectures as skits he’d name Exhibit A through F and songs where he’d present a case, concept, or an idea to the listener in song form, intermittently he’d just have straight up bangers to satiate the core fanbase who want the hardcore Hip Hop and B-Boy shit they came to expect from BDP album since 1986.
The success of “Self Destruction” & “Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop” afforded KRS One several advantages and benefits in his career by 1990, one of them being an imprint label called Edutainer Records on Elektra. The BDP Crew was growing and branching out, his wife Ms. Melodie released an album “Diva” on Jive/RCA in 1989 and had a verse on “Self Destruction”.
D-Nice was now an in demand producer and a hitmaking emcee with both the album and its lead single “Call Me D-Nice” presently climbing the charts. His recent track record of production wins going back to “Jack Of Spades” through “Glory” and “Self Destruction” continued through “Call Me D-Nice” which eventually became the #1 Rap single in Billboard.
Ms. Melodie’s younger sister Harmony’s debut LP “Let There Be Harmony” was dropping soon on Virgin. KRS One added his younger brother Kenny Parker to the crew as his DJ to offset the loss of D-Nice who had gone solo. New additions to the BDP roster included two young reggae acts, an emcee named Jamalski and a band called Skadanks plus a fierce young lyricist named Heather B, all of whom would be featured on his highly anticipated follow up to “Ghetto Music: The Blueprint Of Hip Hop”. What KRS needed was another classic lead single to set things off first…
Pal Joey delivered a perfect song for Summer 1990 with Boogie Down Productions’ haunting and poignant “Love’s Gonna Get’cha (Material Love)”. KRS One does a story telling rhyme from the perspective of an impoverished inner city kid who’s also an honor student with an overworked single mother and two siblings. He shares 3 pairs of pants with his older brother and there’s nothing to eat but beans, rice & bread in the home. In addition, he lives in a dangerous environment rife with gun violence due to the crack trade where he gets harassed constantly.
He attempts to seek employment to help his mom out but no one is willing to hire him so he takes up low paying odd jobs which don’t seem to alleviate any of the pressure or financial burden from his mother. His friend who’s also the neighborhood drug dealer offers the teen $200 to do a quick delivery for him. After only 2 deliveries his situation at home is already looking better. Given his limited opportunities and dire situation, they completely override whatever moral issue the young man would normally have working for a drug dealer. Everything escalates from there.
Back in the early to late 80’s there were several famous anti-drug campaigns, one was Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” which was first eviscerated by Whoopi Goldberg in her self titled one woman show that ran on Broadway between October 1984 and March 1985. Another famous one was the brainchild of the Partnership for a Drug Free America (PDFA) titled “This Is Your Brain On Drugs” which consisted of someone cracking an egg in a hot frying pan and telling you it was your brain on drugs which debuted in 1987 which was joke fodder for stand up comedians for years afterwards.
In “Love’s Gonna Get’cha (Material Love)”, KRS pokes fun at both campaigns and illustrates how ineffective they are from the perspective of a young person who just just quit school to sell crack full time and lifted his entire family out of poverty because of it. These anti-drug campaigns were performative and none of them addressed the issues that led to young people choosing to sell drugs or do them in the first place, many stemming from policies instituted by the Reagan/Bush administration that caused many of the conditions in the inner-city in the first place.
The song ends with his former friend and now drug dealing rival attempting to kill him but hitting his brother so he retaliates in kind which results in him shooting his rival but also a cop. The song ends with the narrator being cornered by the police who immediately kill half of his crew members. KRS made it a point to humanize and detail the circumstances surrounding many young people who enter the drug trade but were always painted as violent animals that need to be locked up and given astronomical jail sentences by the Reagan/Bush administration in the mainstream media.
“Edutainment” was released on August 7th, 1990 after a loaded July that saw new albums drop from Special Ed, Master Ace, Three Times Dope, Intelligent Hoodlum, The Jaz and D-Nice so it was very possible the Rap audience would experience some sort of fatigue. The album’s graphic design layout was in the Chicago font, the same font used in Apple Macintosh SE’s which were used in high school, college & university computer rooms of the era to appear like the term papers, presentations or speech/lecture notes both students and teachers/professors alike would use.
The album consisted of 21 tracks, 6 of which were excerpts from KRS One’s lectures between September 1989 and May 1990 as Exhibits A through F (this same format would appear on Harmony’s album). The album opens with the powerful D-Nice co-production “Blackman In Effect” then into the kinetic “Ya Know The Rules” before yielding to the bouncy PSA for a vegetarian/vegan lifestyle “Beef” which relents to “House Niggas” where KRS drops hard rhymes over a classic breakbeat. One third of the album in you already know you’re in for one hell of listening experience.
“Love’s Gonna Get’cha (Material Love)” is followed by the Reggae flavored gun smuggling ode “100 Guns” before Side A closes with the D-Nice co-production “Ya Strugglin’”, a song dedicated to people with issues with Black identity featuring excerpts from a Kwame Ture lecture. Kwame Ture was the Black revolutionary formerly known as Stokely Carmichael who was a devoted member of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party and if you were unfamiliar with him, the listener might think he was simply a comedian.
Since Black radio was resistant to playing Boogie Down Productions music even though they clearly had a sizable fanbase, devoted following and growing industry clout it took a while for “Love’s Gonna Get’cha (Material Love)” to chart. It didn’t enter the Hot Rap Singles chart until August 11th, 1990 at #21, ultimately spending 15 straight weeks there peaking at #4 where it stayed between September 22nd, 1990 and October 6th, 1990.
Without significant radio play it never rose higher than #46 on Hot Black Singles (October 13th, 1990). Regardless, the video was played on MTV’s “Yo! MTV Raps”, BET’s “Rap City”, the FOX syndicated Rap video show “Pump It Up!” and The Box and Boogie Down Productions performed the single in front of a national audience on The Arsenio Hall Show in September 1990.
The second half of “Edutainment” opens with the infectious “Breath Control II” then the titular song that samples a Ska classic and explains his personal approach to Rap plus his overall mission statement for his album and beyond. Next is “The Homeless” where he explains an extended metaphor about Black people in America being homeless because although they were born in a country their ancestors toiled in for free while in captivity and helped to build this country isn’t their true home. Coming from someone who was homeless as a youth this really hit hard. “The Kenny Parker Show” was a showcase for KRS One’s younger brother and BDP’s new DJ to drop some cuts as The Teacher blesses us with another lyrical lesson.
On “Original Lyrics” KRS One begins by telling President George H.W. Bush, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Bensonhurst in Brooklyn where Yusef Hawkins was murdered the previous Summer and Frederik Willem de Klerk then the State President of South Africa all to get off his dick. I was on board before he even started rhyming. I remember everyone losing their shit when it came on. Summer/Fall 1990 was a magical time for Rap, we thought it’d stay like that forever. With youth comes naiveté…
For those of you that didn’t get to experience the era first hand, this was when the Nation Of Gods & Earths (NGE) commonly referred to as The 5% Nation, Pan Africanists and Afrocentric/Conscious Rap thrived alongside Gangsta Rap while Pop Rap was hot. The Hot Rap Singles chart in Billboard and the back pages of Jet that listed the top singles & albums in Black America every week were quite a sight to behold back then…
On “Edutainment”, there were a few PSA’s (“Beef” & “The Homeless”) but the final one is “The Racist” where KRS explains there are 5 different types of racist people and how to differentiate them from each other. All that’s left are the bonus tracks, the BDP posse track “7 Dee Jays” featuring D-Nice, Heather B, Jamalski, Harmony, Ms. Melodie, & Rocker-T of Skadanks (who weren’t listed in the album credits nor in the liner notes) and the album closer “30 Cops Or More”, a song highlighting the racism and implicit bias in American policing under a Conservative president.
As you could imagine, there would be no other singles from this album with a real shot to make any noise on Black radio after Fall 1990. “Ya Know The Rules” wasn’t able to make significant noise but it didn’t matter much. In mid October 1990, Jive/RCA had an event at the then newly opened Macklowe Hotel near Times Square (now the Millenium Times Square New York) where they presented KRS One and the BDP/Edutainer Crew with Gold plaques for “Edutainment” which exceeded 500,00 units sold officially on October 10th, 1990. In addition, $150,000 more was donated to the National Urban League from the further sales of the Jive/RCA 12" “Self Destruction” by the Stop The Violence Movement.
To recap, KRS One’s last two albums and side project one off single where he was able to convince an all star lineup of Rap luminaries to appear on an anti-violence song all went Gold or better even without widespread support from Black radio. It was extremely hard to succeed in Rap with radio support back then, even with all the inroads Rap made in 1990 there were a good percentage of Black radio programmers who avoiding playing Rap as much as possible. Some stations banned it from being played while the sun was up, any time spent reading old issues of Billboard or Radio & Records to see what songs got the most adds nationally in Black radio each week will confirm that bias.
His next mission was his H.E.A.L. initiative (Human Education Against Lies) which was introduced by black t-shirts that read “JESUS WAS A BLACK MAN” on the front referring to his single “Why Is That?” that challenged miseducation, its role in White supremacist ideals and the flawed education system. Those t shirts were much sought after items in Fall 1990.
Jive/RCA next released a VHS tape titled “Boogie Down Productions Live” which bore both the logos of the Stop The Violence movement and H.E.A.L and was directed by Darnell Martin, a young Black woman from The Bronx who also directed videos for D-Nice (“Call Me D-Nice” & “Crumbs On The Table”). In order to capitalize off Rap’s emergence as a sales and revenue generating force after MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice both began to dominate the Rap and Pop charts simultaneously, Zomba began to aggressively enter the burgeoning market of Rap home video sales.
KRS One’s next endeavor was to establish that Rap was a legitimate artform by releasing a live album at the top of 1991 then release his compilation album as the first project on his Edutainer Records imprint on Elektra later that same year. Little did he realize that the Rap landscape was about to change drastically in just 6 months. All he needed to do was look at the R&B and Rap charts for proof.
In late October 1990, “Love’s Gonna Get’cha (Material Love)” was kept out of the top spot on the Hot Rap Singles chart by Snap’s “Oops Up”, A Tribe Called Quest’s “Bonita Applebaum”, Candyman’s “Knockin’ Boots” and Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby”. Right on his heels was MC Hammer’s “Have You Seen Her?” and the next big climber up the charts was Father MC’s “Treat Them Like They Want To Be Treated”.
The window for revolutionary music that educates and uplifts the masses in this ever changing major label Rap terrain was closing. After Vanilla Ice did the inevitable and hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with a Rap song just weeks later, Pandora’s Box suddenly flew open. Nothing was ever the same in the Rap world ever again.
When it was all said and done, Boogie Down Productions’ “Edutainment” spent 25 straight weeks on the Top R&B Albums charts between September 1st, 1990 and February 16th, 1991 and went Gold in two months without multiple big singles or any real support from Black radio program directors nationwide. For that reason and many others, when classic Rap albums from the early 90’s are usually written about, this one rarely gets considered for a deep dive.
This was the last album where BDP was a massive crew coming off a big album with a bright future and countless irons in the fire. “Live Hardcore Worldwide” wouldn’t become a significant sales success for Jive/RCA after it dropped in March 1991 and their 1990 “Boogie Down Productions Live” VHS tape sold far fewer units than anticipated. Furthermore, the first release on KRS One’s Edutainer imprint on Elektra by H.E.A.L “Civilization vs. Technology” was an abject failure.
There was a book planned to be funded by sales of this compilation but after it was given less than stellar reviews by The Source and every other mainstream music publication who covered it plus the lead single flopped, those plans were scrapped and left further releases coming from the imprint were put under serious pressure to perform saleswise going forwards.
This left Heather B, Jamalski, Rocker-T & Kevin B. of Skadanks potentially without deals going forward or they needed to find new situations and Ms. Melodie and Harmony were both jettisoned from BDP Crew following KRS One’s separation from her then their divorce being finalized in 1992. KRS One also had a falling out with D-Nice, presumed to have to do with many past D-Nice productions either going uncredited or miscredited plus creative differences between himself and KRS One so he was out of BDP as well. One calendar year following the release of “Edutainment”, BDP as we knew it was no more.
Around this time, KRS One had come under fire from X Clan, King Sun and Poor Righteous Teachers amongst others for contradicting his Pan African and Black upliftment message by referring to himself as a “Metaphysician” inside the “Edutainment” liner notes plus intermittently referring to himself as a “Humanist”, including on the underperforming “Heal Yourself” single.
There was a confrontation at one of KRS One’s lectures where Culture Freedom of Poor Righteous Teachers challenged him for “switching up around White people”, for comments made about them on a live Boston area teen forum “Rap Around” plus a statement he’d made in a recent issue of The Source he took issue with. On the other side, X Clan took issue with KRS One’s collaboration with R.E.M., “Radio Song” then having Michael Stipe featured on his H.E.A.L “Civilization vs. Technology” album because it seemed like he was attempting to crossover, something he always claimed he was against doing on previous albums.
Then before the release of his 1992 answer/response album “Sex & Violence” KRS One was behind the incident that marked the beginning of the Second Golden Era, when he threw Prince Be off the stage at The Sound Factory during a P.M. Dawn/Super Cat show that doubled as a birthday party for T-Money from “Yo! MTV Raps” on January 13th, 1992 after Prince Be made some less than flattering comments about both KRS One and Public Enemy in an interview in Details. This action had both positive and negative consequences for KRS One & the entire BDP/Edutainer Crew that need to be analyzed at a later date…
Given these reasons, that makes a decomposition of “Edutainment” and a proper effort put into placing this album into its full historical context within the early 90’s all the more necessary. YOU. MUST. LEARN!