GROWING UP HIP-HOP: COMING OF AGE NARRATIVES

KRS-One: Outta Here
From Return of the Boom Bap (Jive, 1993) (also on Jive/Zomba 12″, 1993)

Gang Starr: The Planet
From Hard to Earn (Chrysalis, 1994)

These are two of my favorite songs by both artists. There is something powerful and inspiring about hip-hop coming of age narratives – probably the same reason why such bildungsroman tales are recurrent throughout literature and cinema. It’s all about overcoming adversity, turning nothing into something, blah blah – you know the MFin’ deal. Of the two, “Outta Here” is definitely more self-congratulatory, but hey, it’s KRS-One, right? The power in the song is KRS’ rail against inevitability, the awareness that all the great ones fall off but that he won’t join that parade of has-beens. The chorus is the hotness: “No doubt BDP is old school/but we ain’t going out!”

As for “The Planet,” it’s one of the greatest moments in Gang Starr’s long history. Guru’s journey from Boston to Brooklyn isn’t epic but instead, it’s just real: talking about hugging his father before leaving home, about the world of Bed-Stuy around him, about how he used to “lay up in the crib/listening to Red and Marley/wishing I was on, kid” is the stuff of hip-hop dreams that almost anyone can relate to. It’s about wanting something more and Guru doesn’t have to brag that he’s made it: we already know it. The point here is to credit the dream, as embodied by Brooklyn itself, a city of working-class idealism and hope manifested into The Planet. (And Primo’s minimalist track is a thing of wonder too).

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