Thursday, May 2, 2013

Kriss Kross Changed My Life

Posted by Jarvis Holliday On 5/02/2013 No comments
People everywhere are saddened by Wednesday's death of Chris Kelly, one half of the 1990s teen rap duo Kriss Kross. And if you're an 80s baby like me, you're feeling especially sentimental. Kriss Kross will forever be known for their chart-topping, massive-selling hit single, "Jump." Hearing it played today during news stories of Kelly's untimely death brought back so many childhood memories--middle school dances and talent shows, for example--and the song still makes you want to move. Many people label Kriss Kross, who were discovered and produced by a barely-legal Jermaine Dupri, as one-hit wonders, even though their 1992 debut album, Totally Krossed Out, also featured "Warm It Up" and "I Missed the Bus." But when they burst onto the scene with the release of "Jump," the two 13 year-olds--Chris "Mac Daddy" Kelly and Chris "Daddy Mac" Smith--changed my life.

It's not because they wore their baggy clothes backwards--I didn't have over-sized jerseys and jeans (seriously, Kriss Kross were probably dressed in size 40 jeans) like they had (but I wanted them) so it would've looked crazy if I turned my pants around (as if wearing clothes backwards isn't already crazy). The reason they changed my life is because they were only two years older than me when, in March 1992, I watched them perform "Jump" on television for the first time, on In Living Color.

See, you gotta understand. This was 1992, during an era when MC Hammer had rap music on lock after a string of successful hits (including "U Can't Touch This," 1990; and "Too Legit To Quit," 1991). Also in the early 90s, Vanilla Ice had a massive hit (do I even have to name it?), Naughty By Nature had us asking "Who's down with O.P.P.," and this was a time when there was a lot of fun--and dancing--in rap music. But as catchy and trendy as they were, those were all adults performing those songs. When Kriss Kross came along, here were two kids, who didn't look much different than me, doing something amazing.

When I watched them on that episode of In Living Color, and the way they had the cast and crew, including a little-known Fly Girl whom, years later, we would come to know as Jennifer Lopez, jumping and hanging onto their every word, that inspired me. My twin brother and I had formed our own little rap group with two other friends a few months earlier, and had recently won a talent show. I remember watching Kriss Kross on that Sunday night (In Living Color gave us a reason to look forward to Sunday night, even though that meant the weekend was almost over and we'd soon be getting ready for bed for school), and thinking that my prepubescent rap group--Stone Cold Gentlemen was our name at the time--needed to step up our game.

When I got to school the next day, my friends were all like, "Did y'all see Kriss Kross last night?" But the confidence, finesse, and talent Kriss Kross exhibited in front of that national television audience transcended music for me. It made me, at 11 years old, feel like I wanted to do something great. It made me feel like I could be great. And that's how you want kids to feel growing up, even if the inspiration is coming from two rapping, baggy-crisscrossed-clothes-wearing youngsters.

Rest in peace, Chris Kelly.


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