Donald Glover did a stand up bit about old school hip-hop and how simplistic it sounds when compared to newer stuff. I can’t really argue with the guy. Even as I sit and listen to “Criminal Minded”, it’s pretty basic. I mean, not “throw your hands in the air/and wave ‘em like you just don’t care” basic. But, it’s simple beats and rhymes. The production isn’t dazzling. KRS-ONE hadn’t fully honed his emceeing style at this point, either. The most innovative thing on the whole record might be KRS’s badly sung a-capella Beatles interpolation in the intro. Still, there’s something to be said for meat and potatoes hip-hop, and “Criminal Minded” has a magic that still resonates with me thirty years later. Granted, that resonance might not be felt by people born after, like, 1995 or so. But there’s a definite difference in the way songs like this are appreciated by people who were there to witness the growth of hip-hop vs. people who are accustomed to a world in which hip-hop culture is not only accepted, but dominant.
Title aside, there’s nothing about “Criminal Minded” the song that could even be remotely connected to what eventually became known as gangsta rap. Some folks cite BDP as one of the first acts to fall under that subheading, but I think that’s mainly due to KRS-ONE’s own myth making and the public’s general propensity towards sheeple-dom (as opposed to independent thought). OK, KRS and Scott La Rock are posing with guns on the cover. There’s a song on the album called “9mm Goes Bang”. Sadly, Scott wound up being murdered shortly after “Criminal Minded”’s release. All that said, the ratio of emcees that were metaphorically murdered on BDP’s records vs. actual criminal narratives was, like, 100:1. There was nothing to be found that approached NWA’s nihilism or Ice-T’s street stories. My point: this ain’t gangsta rap. It’s dope as hell. But it ain’t gangsta rap.