by Kyle Cochrun
On Saturday, hip-hop’s premier philosopher, KRS-One, and most criminally underappreciated posse of Afrocentric spokesmen, the Jungle Brothers, will perform at Musica. Columbus-based DJ/producer J Rawls will rock the ones and twos between sets, topping off a true-school lineup brought to you by Keepers of the Art, Akron’s hip-hop preservation society.
Donovan Rogers and Ismail Al-Amin, the group’s founders, are bent on promoting pure hip-hop and combating the artistic degradation and straight-up wackness that has bled into the culture and warped the public perception of what it’s all about. Since 2006, the duo has been responsible for booking some of the best hip-hop shows to come through Akron.
When examining hip-hop music today, Donovan and Ismail talk about major labels manufacturing values, tastes and trends. They talk about the dissolution of socially conscious lyrics and the sameness of lyrical delivery from rapper to rapper. They talk about artists opting for quick-burst success and big paydays instead of long-term artistic development and carefully crafted LPs aimed at timelessness.
“Hip-hop now is like fast-food instead of home-cooked meals,” says Donovan.
This might sound pejoristic, and it is, but it’s a view shared by most serious hip-hop fans who grew up spinning the golden-era platters. It’s also just plain true.
“Today’s outlets for rap and rappers/emcees is so over-saturated and ‘kiddy’ that serious emcees like me are hardly ever really heard through such outlets,” KRS-One told the Village Voice in 2015. “I am not a mainstream rapper; I am hip-hop!”
Having taken up a role as one of hip-hop’s most outspoken edu-tainers, KRS-One is the possibly the best act the Keepers of the Art could book in hopes to showcase the culture’s roots to the city of Akron.
Though the Jungle Brothers may not be as well-known, they churned out two classic albums, introduced the world to Q-Tip, and founded the Native Tongues collective before being cheated out of releasing their avant-rap masterpiece, Crazy Wisdom Masters, by their label, Warner Bros. Records.
“The impact the Jungle Brothers had on me was helping me be comfortable in my skin as a young Black American and embracing my roots that go all the way back to Africa,” says Ismail. “When I was 16 or 17, I didn’t see the commercialization [of hip-hop] coming, but thanks to people like the Jungle Brothers, when they did come through, I had an alternative perspective. I was grounded and had a firm knowledge of myself as a person of African descent. It really boosted my confidence and my self-image.”
“KRS-One and the Jungle Brothers represent a time period in hip-hop when skills mattered,” adds Forrest Getemgump, a long-time b-boy, DJ and crater-digger who lives in the Akron area. “For them to still be doing dates in 2020 when a lot of rap has been dumbed down is a testament to their music being timeless.”
In 1988, at the height of hip-hop’s golden age, journalist Greg Tate wrote that “hiphop [sic] might be bought and sold like gold, but the miners of its rich ore still represent a sleeping-giant constituency.” For some, going to a show headlined by two acts that arguably reached the peak of their popularity during this same year might come off as novelty or nostalgia, just another night on the town. But for true-school heads, for those whose lives are irrevocably enmeshed in the culture, concerts like this are capable of proving there’s still some of that rich ore waiting to be mined. You just have to dig deeper, get down in the roots.
Kyle Cochrun is a writer and turntablist from Akron, Ohio. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.