Each week, Sunday School takes a second look at a classic album worth revisiting years after its release. EMMIE staff handpick releases that shaped a genre, defined a generation or deserve recognition despite being left in the distance. Keep up with Sunday School for your weekly dose of dusted-off classics and throwbacks that merit a second spin.
By All Means Necessary, Boogie Down Productions
Good For: Controlling a positive destiny, Paying homage to hip-hop legends, Educating yourself
Standout Tracks: “Ya Slippin’”, “Illegal Business”, “T’Cha – T’Cha”, “Necessary”
Born out of the Bronx, KRS-One and his group Boogie Down Productions were pioneers on all fronts in hip-hop. After their 1987 album Criminal Minded brought new combinations of dancehall, reggae and rock samples to the forefront of hip-hop production along with controversy in New York for calling out “Sucker MCs” with its diss songs “The Bridge is Over” and “South Bronx”, Boogie Down Productions cemented themselves as key figures in the early days of hip-hop. A year later, in 1988, after the murder of lead producer DJ Scott La Rock, Boogie Down Productions released their highly praised album By All Means Necessary. Now thirty years old, By All Means Necessary has become one of the most important rap albums of all time.
Their sophomore record — regarded by many as the first socially conscious hip-hop album —took the influences of reggae and dancehall from their debut, stripped them back and laced them with heavy drums giving KRS-One a wide open lane to share his teachings.
Where Criminal Minded lauded the violence that came as a part of life in the Bronx, By All Means Necessary took a more critical look at violence, seeing it not as an act that should be praised, but more of a means to an end. Highly inspired by Malcom X and his philosophy that black people should arm and defend themselves “by any means necessary,” the album’s cover is a photo of KRS-One that mirrors the famous photo of Malcom X peeking out the window with a rifle in hand. The record’s title also works as a spin on Malcom X’s philosophy of “by any means necessary.”
Throughout the album, KRS-One — backed by the simple, entrancing production — addresses the issues plaguing minority communities throughout the late 20th century. In fact, By All Means Necessary’s influence stretches so far because many of KRS-One’s philosophies still ring true to this day. Police corruption and brutality continue to disproportionately affect marginalized neighborhoods. Drugs — and the punishments associated with them — are unfairly targeted toward impoverished communities.
KRS-One’s lyrics were filled with twisting stories while advancing more complex rhyme schemes that were growing in popularity in the late 80s. “Illegal Business” — a song that tells the tale of a “guy named Jack, selling crack” being extorted by corrupt cops so they can get a cut of his drug money.
By All Means Necessary is loaded with candid moments that don’t shy away from addressing pressing issues that were threatening to destroy the communities that KRS-One, and hip-hop as a whole, grew out of.
KRS-One saw unity between communities and other rappers as a potential solution to the ailments that continue to be so pervasive to this day. On “I’m Still #1”, he raps about people seeing hip-hop being thrown to the side as another passing fad. He knew its potential for change from the beginning, and took the initiative to speak his mind. It’s obvious now that he was right — hip-hop has gone on to become a force for change across the country over decades. By All Means Necessary brought that idea to a new, revolutionary level.
On the album’s closer, “Necessary”, KRS-One trades a backing beat for light, pulsating synths. His flows turn into spoken word as he preaches the core message of the album: “They know, by all means necessary, that Peace is the name of this game/ Whether peace by war or peace by peace, the reality of peace is scary/ But we must get there, one way or another/ by all means necessary.”
Inspired by the death of his close friend, KRS-One took it upon himself to denounce the direction that hip-hop was heading into. Though he laid the foundation for East-Coast gangsta rap on Criminal Minded, KRS-One was one of the most out-spoken hip-hop artists in the early years of the movement. Boogie Down Productions — whether directly or indirectly — went on to pave the way for other socially-aware artists like A Tribe Called Quest, 2Pac, Talib Kweli and Kendrick Lamar.
Hip-hop grew out of the need to denounce the inequalities in the Bronx. It has always been a revolutionary art form. Socially conscious rhymes would have found a home without By All Means Necessary, but Boogie Down Productions kick-started a movement that has produced some of the most relevant and impactful music of three decades.