A Brief Survey of the Sources of Black Esoteric Thought – Spirituality in Hip Hop Part 4: The Temple of Hiphop
During the Civil Rights/Black Power struggle of the mid-20th century many metropolitan locales were torn apart and left for dead, leaving scores of impoverished African American residents deprived of all hope. After the dust settled, urban occupants were left to piece their neighborhoods and lives back together without much federal assistance. In the midst of this, young African Americans fought against the tsunami of urban degeneration by developing what is now known as Hip Hop culture. Through this culture, urban youth were able to channel their energies toward self-expression rather than self-destruction, making a way for alternate understandings of individual and community being-ness.
Lawrence Parker encountered Hip Hop at the very ground floor of its founding, at 1520 Sedgwick Ave., as a child growing up in the South Bronx. From a very young age Parker showed a particular interest in philosophy which earned him the nickname Krishna, or Kris for short. His philosophic approach urged him to look deeper into the purpose of Hip Hop culture and the reason for its existence. In pursuit of cultural and spiritual enlightenment, he took up residence on the streets of the South Bronx to immerse himself in Hip Hop culture. One of his earliest efforts to express himself as a Hip Hop artist came in the form of taggin’. Essentially, a tag is a Hiphoppas’ name or label, meant to signify one or many elements of their personal and social identities. Once a name is settled on, taggas employ a particular method of Hip Hop calligraphy called wild style. This tag is then spread throughout their neighborhood as a way to mark territory but more importantly as a means to get notoriety as an artist. This is one of the reasons why public busses and trains are the favorite canvases for taggas, with their tags displayed on public transportation their names and reputations are spread throughout the city without them ever having to leave their neighborhood; principally, taggin’ is a means of social networking before the internet. Parker’s tag became KRS One which is derived from his nickname Kris, but with greater esoteric meaning as an acronym which is: Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everybody.
Hip Hop expression for KRS One blossomed further when he formed Boogie Down Productions with DJ Scott La Rock aka Scott Monroe Sterling and Derrick “D-Nice” Jones. As a Hip Hop Emcee Kris employs Zun-gu-zung style of emceeing reminiscent of Hip Hop’s Jamaican toasting roots which highlights Hip Hop culture’s African foundation. However, the ills of impoverish communities presented new challenges to the Hip Hop community in the 1980s with the introduction of crack cocaine. Any progress towards anti-violence that may have been made by the efforts of Afrika Bambaataa and the UZN seemed to have washed away as the new drug tore through already crippled communities. Kris experienced first-hand the hardships of urban violence when DJ Scott La Rock was murdered. The death of Scott La Rock not only shook Kris but the entire Hip Hop community as a whole. As a result he and a host of artists: Chuck D, Heavy D, Mc Lyte and others, developed the Stop the Violence Movement (STVM) in 1988.
Kris expanded his efforts to organize Hip Hop into a spiritual force for positive change by developing the Temple of Hiphop in 1996. Kris argues that early outgrowth of the Temple of Hiphop was born from the STVM, as well he unapologetically claims the philosophic foundation of the Temple is centered on Christianity. Songs like “Take It To God” and “Ain’t Ready”, on the Spiritual Minded album making it clear KRS One’s focus was not just on Hip Hop philosophy but instead was a part of the emerging Holy Hip Hop movement. Moreover, Hip Hop for Kris is more than just rap music, for him it is and always has been a social/political/religio movement that had the capacity to change the world for the better. As such, Kris worked to organize the Temple of Hiphop into a way of life with clearly defined parameters and goals.
From this, the development of the Temple of Hiphop took on a scholarly approach, in that it was concerned with self-definition and rigorous engagement of the culture. That is to say, KRS One was not satisfied with the art form being undersold as a passing fad, but rather he argues and teaches that it is a culture with its own language and cosmology. To explain, the term Hiphop, as a capitalized unhyphenated idiom means intelligent movement according to Kris. He argues that the term is a combination of slang words used by Hiphoppas: to be hip, is to be informed, to have knowledge or to be intelligent, as in “Are you hip to this?”; to hop, is to move or to be in motion, as in “to keep a party hoppin’”. By extension, KRS One argues that Hip Hop Studies as an emerging academic discipline is not to be understood as an appendage to Musicology or Africana Studies but a unique field of study has that developed its own language and methodologies for analyzing the world. That is to say, it seeks disciplinary agency much the same way that Africana Studies has pushed for its own space in the academy independent of Ethnic or Multicultural Studies.
Furthermore, as Teacha of Temple of Hiphop, KRS One believes that Hip Hop culture is the only phenomena of the last century that could realistically unite all of the world’s nations and ethnicities. On a 1998 BET Tonight broadcast hosted by Tavis Smiley during Hip Hop appreciation week (usually held in the third week of May), KRS One states: “If anywhere in the world we are to see Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream fulfilled it’s in Hip Hop… Look around anywhere and you see young black youth, young white youth, Asian youth, Native American, Chicano, Mexican, Latino on a whole, all coming together under one cause one culture, one vibe, that’s Hip Hop.” This is a bold claim for a culture that is still realistically in its infancy and already marred by controversy. Further, Hip Hop artist are known for haughty boasts and over exaggerated assertions. Nevertheless, Hip Hop as a spiritual expression continues to demonstrate the ability to challenge assumptions as well as the desire to break societal boundaries while also possessing the capacity for growth and maturation.
 Emmett G. Price, III. Hip Hop Culture. (Denver: ABC-CLIO, INC, 2006), 165-167.
 “KRS ONE Talks about Hare Krsihna”, accessed April 14, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lz_DguzvIaY. His particular interest was in the Hare Krishna spiritual movement. The above link features a conversation between himself and Ice-T (Tracy Lauren Marrow) where he explains he experience with the Hare Krishna movement and his exposure to the Bavada Gita.
 “The Temple of Hiphop”, accessed April 14, 2016, https://thetempleofhiphop.worldpress.com. Spelling is critically important to the Temple of Hiphop; Hip Hop is spelled as one word and most gerunds omit the ‘g’ in place of an apostrophe.
 “Redefinitions,” Temple of Hiphop, accessed April 14, 2016, http://www.krsone.biz/refinitions.html. Hiphoppas is one of many terms defined on the Temple of Hip Hop website, it is defined as “an active participant in the Hip Hop culture. A citizen of the Hip Hop Nation.
 World renowned artist, Jean Michel Basquiat began his career as a tagga on the streets of New York. His tag was SOM@ which an acronym for Same Old Shit.
 “KRS-One,” accessed April 14, 2016, http://www.krs-one.com/. His personal website explains the origin of his name. KRS One. KRS-One. “Emcees Act Like They Don’t Know”, 1995. In this song he spells out his name in lyrical form.
 Wayne Marshall. Follow Me Now: The Zigzagging Zun gu zung Meme. (April 2007). The reggae artist Yellowman is known for this lyrical style and is also known as an inspiration for early Hip Hop artists.
 Emmett G. Price, III. Hip Hop Culture. (Denver: ABC-CLIO, INC, 2006), 65.
 Ibid., 53.
 KRS ONE and the Temple of Hip Hop. Spiritual Minded, 2002.
 Emmett G. Price, III. Hip Hop Culture. (Denver: ABC-CLIO, INC, 2006), 53.
 KRS One at Somoma State University”, accessed April 14, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gjJDhyW2BaY.
 “Temple of Hiphop: M.A.S.S. Movement”, accessed April 14, 2016, https://thetempleofhiphop.wordpress.com/the-m-a-s-s/. For example, the M.A.S.S. (Ministry, Archive, School and Society) movement which is affiliated with the Temple is an international organization that serves as a think tank and archive for the culture.
 KRS ONE argues, much like Molefi Asante does for Africana Studies, that one cannot understand Hip Hop Studies through other disciplines, but instead Hip Hop Studies must have its own space for agency, self-definition and world understanding.
 “Redefinitions,” Temple of Hiphop, accessed April 14, 2016, http://www.krsone.biz/refinitions.html. Teacha – a highly skilled Hiphop Minista who has claimed victory over the streets.
 “KRS ONE – Lecture Hip Hop Master Class: Introduction to Hip Hop”, accessed April 14, 2016,
 “First Hip Hop Appreciation Week”, BET Tonight broadcast May 1998, accessed April 14, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qU7i2AFVQ44.