In an era of watery pop rap, it’s heartening to see KRS-One’s name on a record. And it’s even better to see his name alongside Buckshot’s, pulling two of hip-hop’s most qualified MCs together to work as one unit. With Survival Skills, Buckshot and KRS-One unleash a fleet of exceptional rhymes backed by solid production and some truly wicked guest spots.
The album, out on Duck Down Records, makes 15 for KRS-One and four for Buckshot. Survival Skills is almost like a tutorial, uncorking scads of advice and industry critique from two of the finest rappers in the business.
The lessons never stop throughout the album’s 14 diabolical cuts. It’s a lean, mean recording, totally lacking in mechanical filler and idiotic skit tracks that waste time and zap momentum.
Buckshot, the leader of Boot Camp Clik and member of Black Moon, works immaculately alongside KRS-One, elevating the excellence of each track through the value of his rapid-fire release and hassle-free confidence. KRS-One’s Bronx belligerence is in full effect, blowing through ridiculously slick verses with the assurance only a professional of his level can muster.
Production is handled by some of the most capable hands in hip hop, including Black Milk, Ill Mind, Marco Polo, Nottz, 9th Wonder, and Khrysis. The beats are polished and clean, with slight production tricks and minimal samples keeping things simple.
The range of guests spots is eyebrow-raising, to say the least, with underground superstar Immortal Technique tearing it apart on “Runnin’ Away” and Grammy winner Mary J. Blige adding her impeccable vocals to “The Way I Live.” Other guest stars include Talib Kweli, K’Naan, Slug of Atmosphere, and Pharoahe Monch.
Unlike some other hip hop records of late, however, the guest spots are never overpowering. Instead, Survival Skills is a record that keeps it basic; it’s about lyricism and the craft of rhyming, plain and simple.
Making their case against bland modern rap, Buckshot and KRS-One use Havoc’s efficient production to bring “Robot” to life. “Seems you can’t sing or rap these days without Auto-Tune in the back these days,” says Buckshot before introducing listeners to Roger Troutman.
“Oh Really” uses some nice old-school keys to set up a hot exchange of verses from Buckshot, KRS-One and Talib Kweli. And “Think of All the Things” allows the always interesting K’Naan a little time with the masters.
Overall, Survival Skills is as good a hip hop album as you’re likely to hear this year if purity and skill are your top priorities. KRS-One and Buckshot never fade into the background and never turn down an opportunity to open minds and rock beats. It’s a sleek, crisp, well turned-out record that marks a strong step in the right direction for a genre that often suffers from flavorless efforts.