Old-school rappers face a troubling paradox: If they attempt to remain current and change with the times (à la LL Cool J and Run DMC), they're desperately compromising their music to sell records. If they continue to make music in the style that made them famous, they're stubborn relics who refuse to change with the times. Faced with that seemingly impossible situation, KRS-One has responded with typical defiance by making The Sneak Attack, his first album in four years and a record as unmistakably old-school as a fat gold chain and a pair of unlaced Adidas sneakers. Freed from the influence of industry suits (The Sneak Attack is his first independent solo release), KRS-One has taken his hip-hop wayback machine back to 1987, when beats were hard and simple, performing was everything, and hip-hop hadn't yet assimilated into mainstream American culture. Anyone looking for jiggy, ultra-commercial samples like the Blondie and "Heartbeat" bites found on 1997's I Got Next will come away disappointed, as will anyone looking for superstar guest appearances or production from the latest hot names. But anyone looking for a spirited return of KRS-One the high-minded, sometimes silly, sometimes pretentious hip-hop teacher will be satisfied, as he delivers a raw, grimy set of anthems as noncommercial as anything he's done. The Sneak Attack surges with muckraking energy, as KRS-One scolds materialistic new-school rappers, holding it down for the old school and social consciousness at every turn. Seemingly designed as a giant fuck-you to the critics who've accused him of being a didactic preacher in MC's clothing, The Sneak Attack is less a sneak attack than a full-frontal assault on the misplaced values of modern hip-hop. It's been 15 years since KRS-One first changed the face of the genre, but The Sneak Attack proves that his artistic voice is as vibrant and vital as ever.

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