We lost half of the 90s rap duo Kriss Kross Wednesday. Chris “Mac Daddy” Kelly, 34, died in his Atlanta home from a possible drug overdose. His death has been trending on Twitter since the news broke. Many of us have shared the same sentiment - he took a piece of our childhood with him.
Kriss Kross debuted in 1992- an iconic year for music for my generation. It was the year that R&B all-girl group TLC’s “Ooooooohhh... On The TLC Tip”
was in heavy rotation with songs like “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” “Baby Baby Baby” and “What About Your Friends”. TLC personified the diversity of African American women in a way that was enlivening for a young, black girl like me.
The soundtracks for “Boomerang” and “Mo’ Money” put love at the forefront of our minds. While only eleven at the time, I believed Boyz II Men’s “End of Road” was the best love ballad of my era. I listened to it continuously, wanting so badly to believe that Janet Jackson and Luther Vandross were right when they said that “the best things in life are free.”
And 1992 was the year that Kelly and Chris “Daddy Mac” Smith, “two little kids with a flow you ain’t never heard,” debuted with the chart-topping “Totally Krossed Out” album.
Kriss Kross was unapologetically urban. They glamorized street fashion and rugged style. The duo brought hoodies, oversized jackets and sagging pants to the mainstream in a way that was palatable for the masses. Through them, the city limits I often crossed were bridged. It didn’t matter if I was in the South Bronx or Southeast DC - their rubber-banded braids and Timberland boots always hit home.
“Jump” gripped me from the beginning. In the video for that song, I heard a sound and watched moves that captured the energy of my generation. We were striving so hard to be rebellious and unpredictable. If we didn’t have it in us to put a condom over our glasses like Left Eye, we could at least put our pants on backwards. Like Kelly said in the song “Live and Die for Hip-Hop,” we did it because we wanted to be different.
While their careers were built on hip-hop’s embrace of thuggish and gangster culture, there was an innocence to them that is nearly extinct from today’s mainstream hip-hop. They were kids being kids - a rare find in today’s rap landscape.
As far as we were concerned, Kriss Kross had birthed generational innovations and was taking us along for the ride. We had no way of knowing, as this Los Angeles Times editorial points out, that their manager Jermaine Dupri had “tightly weaved oft-sampled funk standards from the Honey Drippers (‘Impeach the President’), Ohio Players (‘Funky Worm’) and the Jackson 5 classic ‘I Want You Back’ over innocuous rhymes he penned.”
In the end, Kriss Kross’ legacy wasn’t just about style. It was about culture - our culture. A culture that can bring deep meaning to something as simple as an alphabet - X. Whether it was the symbolism of being “totally krossed out” a.k.a. backwards or paying homage to civil rights icon and martyr Malcolm X, our generation wore our resistance on our sleeves.
Through a 90s kid rap group, we, as black youth, were not only given a piece of hip-hop history that was uniquely our own, we were also given something that smelled like our culture’s teen spirit.
For that, we thank you and will never forget you, Chris Kelly. You will forever live on in the inspiration you give us to be radically different.
Rahiel Tesfamariam is a columnist and blogger for The Washington Post. She is the founder and editorial director of Urban Cusp , an online lifestyle magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness. Follow her on Twitter @RahielT .