"Royalty Check" by KRS-One & Bumpy Knuckles

KRS-One & Bumpy Knuckles
Royalty Check

6.8.2 Records
2011

Review

It is most definitely "a thing" right now in Hip-Hop to create super-groups. You've got (perhaps the most hyped one in) Kanye and Jay-Z. You've got Pete Rock and Smif and Wesson...sure the collaboration over one or two tracks has usually been the norm. But now you've got entire albums coming out around a pairing of vets.

The other trend that I am noticing is that even without the guest spots, the vets in Hip-Hop are angry at the status quo of the genre. Personally, I don't blame them. In fact, I tend to understand and relate to their anger. Of the three high-profile pairings in Hip-Hop to come out this year (Jay/Kanye, Pete Rock/Smif, KRS/Bumpy), KRS-One and Bumpy Knuckles get voted up by me as being the peoples champion record. Sure that Jay-Z/Kanye collaboration brings some good rhymes and some slick production. Sure it's good (review coming). But it's good the way most entertainment is in that it's entertaining. It's not really about anything though except lining the pockets of the artists that it is featuring.

"Royalty Check", on the other hand, is about being pissed off. It's about bringing to light the things that those of us who aren't obsessed with celebrity culture and who are concerned about the direction of this country are worried about. Specifically, this album is about the sorry state of popular Hip-Hop, the sorry state of our economy, and finally the sorry state of the people who gobble up popular culture that caters to the lowest common denominator in order to escape everything else. Look, I can't fault those folks. Honestly, I can't. The news is often the most depressing thing a person could watch. What's better? Hearing about very rich people getting richer from stealing from the poor, or fantasies of having so much money you can afford to throw hundred-dollar bills in the air?

If this sounds like too much medicine, bear in mind that it comes in a nice sugary package. This is still Hip-Hop music. The album has a noted "West-Coast Hip-Hop In It's Prime" feel to it. That's a bit strange to me considering that Bumpy and KRS aren't usually associated with that sound. Bumpy Knuckles (a.k.a. Freddy The Foxx) is probably most well-known for his collaborations with the legendary Gang Starr and less so for his production acumen. But rest assured that he more than holds his own on his production duties on this album.

In terms of the rhyming, KRS-One is ANGRY. I know KRS is a legend, but for a while there he was rhyming about Hip-Hop like it was the Force or something as opposed to what it is. Now that he's got a clear enemy, he's free to just destroy everything lyrically. To his credit, Bumpy mostly stays out of his way. I wouldn't so much call this a partnership as much as I would call it an understanding. The title "Royalty Check" probably refers to more of the concept than the execution because it's clear that if KRS is an A+ lyrically, Bumpy is probably a B. The difference to me is just the focus. That's not to say Bumpy is bad (c'mon, a B is pretty good), it's just that he's noticeably a step slower than the legend.

There are a couple of songs here that were essentially gimmicks or an effort to slow things up. Yeah, I don't want that. Angry KRS is GOOD KRS, and so while I can understand these dalliances from a "hey, I need to do something else" perspective, this understanding doesn't make them any better to listen to.

It's nice to hear people on the microphone who have passion behind the art form. It's nice to hear them speak about issues that bother me. It's nice to hear it done the way only true Hip-Hop heads can do it. What's not so nice is the fact that I wonder to myself what difference does this make? I can hear this record and it can energize me to be even more pissed off at the crap that is popular, but what good does that do? People are going to still want to hear a song about drinking something with a name-brand in some club probably "tonight" and then want to find a girl with the appropriate endowments worthy of praise ("Booty In The Air"-style), and I can basically take my anger and disappointment and do nothing with it. I can't change their minds anymore than they can change mine. It's easier to pretend things are better than they are than it is to face them. I'm glad that we have living legends like KRS-One to speak up on behalf of what's good, but what concerns me is that it's the veterans taking it upon themselves to do so while the youngsters making money hand over fist probably don't even know what KRS stands for as an acronym. So yes, this album is amazing and brilliant, but does that make it relevant? It's not selling anything other than a specific version of the truth and you can't buy that shit in a shiny bottle or use it to pick up a pretty girl.

4.231 out of 5

Track Ratings

1. Street Poison (Stressed Out mix) (05:32) 5
2. Just You (03:53) 4
3. Flowing With the Vets (04:14) 4
4. Ghetto Berd (03:39) 3
5. Hip Hop We Love You (04:17) 4
6. Never (03:39) 5
7. Stand Up (05:11) 5
8. I'm a Be Back (04:13) 4
9. Take Ya Time (04:52) 5
10. We Don't Need Ya (03:50) 4
11. Fight for Love (04:54) 3
12. Who Is It (03:52) 5
13. Change Gears (04:37) 4