Few rappers can match the longevity and skill KRS-ONE consistently shows. Throughout more than 20 years in the rap game, he has never fallen off, lost face or sold out his image — even rhyming in Sprite commercials, he kept it hip-hop.
That said, Adventures in Emceein is not his best work. Our hero — and yes, he is depicted in album art wearing a Superman-esque cape and leotard, flying over the city —showcases his trademark style and incisiveness, but falters with hit-or-miss production and a couple of poorly picked duets. The CD, all raw, creative energy and some real gems alongside completely skip-worthy filler, has the haphazard vibe of a mixtape.
The cover boldly announces that the album “Contains 20 New Tracks,” but some are simply remastered tracks from as far back as 2005. His previous release, 2007’s superior Hip Hop Lives, produced with Marley Marl in response to Nas’s provocatively titled album Hip Hop is Dead, focused on reminding listeners of (or introducing them to) the Golden Era of hip hop, roughly 1988-1995. He even had a chorus for it: “Where my people that’s over 30 at? Where my people that’s over 40 now? Classic, that’s what they call us now.”
This time around, The Blast Master seems intent on reclaiming his spot as battle champion; the old lion striking terror in young would-be upstarts. The hazards of stepping to him are broken down and spelled out at the close of “The Teacha Returns”:
I speak the truth, I’ma show you what god is / I heard your CD, from the start it was garbage / Click click click I load the cartridge / Look in my hand, man, that’s where your heart is.
Still in play are the heavy, consciousness-raising lyrics and social critiques KRS is known for. He makes sure to give props to Southern and West Coast musicians, and guest appearances by MC Lyte, Chuck D and Nas are nicely done.
But the varied roster of producers yields a bit of inconsistency in the sound. “Whachanoabout” takes risks with a guitar that don’t quite pay off, and “All My Love” and “It’s All Love,” while pushing nice sentiments, are just too soft-core R & B compared to the rest of the album. On other tracks, the beats can come off as derivative, probably the result of KRS’s choice to go entirely with lesser-known producers instead of giants like Premier that he has worked with before. Guess the recession’s hitting everybody.
Stand-out tracks include the previously mentioned “Teacha Returns,” “The Real Hip Hop,” and the poignant “What’s Your Plan,” wherein Kris rips into detractors who challenge his right to steward hip hop with a palpable sense of betrayal:
This a lifetime thing / you in the darkness, heartless, complaining about the light I bring? / Well stay there then! I guess you ain't my friend / But remember, Hip Hop, it ain't gon' end / and there in the future, we gon' see / who really was the slave and who was free / Who sold out the culture to be on TV? / Nah, it won't be me!
Calling the liner notes spartan would be generous. In their entirety, they consist of the track listing, a couple of paragraphs from executive producer Jeffrey Collins, and a seven-word dedication to the late Randy Parker, KRS-One’s son who committed suicide last summer at the age of 23.
Adventures is by no means a bad CD. It just doesn’t stand up to the super-human expectations of Spitacular: The Greatest Emcee of All Time, which has been building anticipation for almost three years with no release date and which several tracks on Adventures were clearly intended for. Adventures may have been put out to appease a bit of the hunger for Spitacular, which has built up an almost urban legend frenzy, but I would have preferred KRS just wait until he was ready. If you’ve been out of the loop and are looking to jump back in the rotation of quality hip hop, I suggest giving it a listen before running out to buy.