Of the pantheon of hip-hop gods, many consider Larry Parker the All-father. And like any god worth his salt ‘n’ pepa, he goes by many names: Kris Parker, The Teacher, The Blastmaster, The Philosopher, and, mostly, KRS-ONE.
The man who made famous the terms “edutainment” and “raptivist” has been a premiere emcee for decades, creating anthems for both the party and “conscious” crowds. Inspired by a unity summit in 1987, Parker created the Stop The Violence Coalition, with the aims of disconnecting the association of hip-hop culture with gang violence and raising awareness of the tide of Black-on-Black violence. In time, he learned that his movement would only affect those who chose to participate. Though his ambitions may have scaled back some, to his credit, he didn’t give up on the mission: one love.
In town Tuesday evening as the featured guest speaker at a town hall summit sponsored by youth groups Manifesto, GYC (Grassroots Youth Collaboration), and The L.I.F.E. Movement, Parker held forth on what Toronto and hip-hop can do to stem the alarming rise in violent crimes in Toronto’s Afri-Canadian community.
Giving a wide-ranging talk, even touching on themes of quantum physics—hip-hop is first an idea, an “omnihood” in superposition no matter where you are in the world—he drew gasps from the mostly student-aged audience when he declared that violence is a necessary part of nature. Childbirth and sex, he noted, are violent acts, and nature constantly stirs violence at all levels, even inside our bodies with collisions at the cellular or even atomic scale. Mother Nature, he explained, blesses the deer with great speed and the lion with great strength and pits them against each other. It is the mastery of our given talents that determines the result of the inevitable violence to come our way. As ignorance magnifies violence, knowledge decreases it.
Getting down to more practical terms, Parker agreed that poverty (desperation) and illiteracy (a hampered ability to interact and express) are two primary causes of violence. But perhaps most powerful is a lack of purpose. “If you don’t have some place to be and some thing to do, boredom sets in, and that leads to violence,” said Parker.
Under the name Boogie Down Productions, KRS-ONE’s 1987 album with DJ Scott La Rock (left) became one of the seminal releases in hip-hop. La Rock was murdered soon after the album’s release. Image courtesy of B-Boy Records.
Law enforcement, Parker said (neither uncontroversially nor specifically) shoulders a lot of the blame. Their only job is to keep the peace, but when law enforcement breaks its own vows, and when public servants instead act like public kings, violence is the result. Violence in Toronto, he said, is not your problem (pointing to the audience); it’s the government’s problem. Violence is not something caused by the youth—it stems from adults not doing their job.
He later modified his stance when called on it during the subsequent question-and-answer session, concurring that good parenting is crucial and really the first stage of violence prevention. “We fear our children; we don’t love them.” (It was a little disturbing to hear him admit that he pressed the government-as-problem theme mainly “because of the setting,” City Hall.)
As for solutions, Parker continued, citizens need to call out their public servants and gain their attention. Parker’s call for a city-wide boycott of public schools for an entire school year was met initially with stunned silence, and then a smattering of mono-syllabled interrogatives reverberated across the full house. What? Huh? (It didn’t pick up momentum.)
There are two ways to respond to a bully, Parker said, moving on to community-level action: defend yourself or capitulate. Faith leaders are commonly looked to for leadership, but Parker has often found them lacking in conviction. “Too many righteous people are cowards,” he said. Community members need to stop being afraid and “return to God,” because, he explained, allowing violence to fester and grow in your environment is tantamount to violating your own principles as God-fearing people. You need to approach thugs in the right way, though; they are, Parker said, still children of God as well. “Be the peace we want to see,” Parker advised, borrowing an Obamaism: interact with thugs, get to know them as individuals, and earn their respect. It wouldn’t take a whole army to take back the streets; Parker claims all it would take is ten “real” people (such as himself—”real” wasn’t defined) to save the entire country.
The last fifteen minutes of the meeting was something of a freestyle talk, covering his children, his wife’s guns, street cred, and a final warning that, despite their best efforts, not everyone is going to make it, and some are still going to die. A respectful crowd listened in sober reverence. It was up to them to go out and live their hip-hop lord’s decree: spread love, peace, unity—and have fun.
KRS-ONE performs at the Opera House tonight.