Kris Kross adds rapping to traditional three R's

September 02, 1992|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

For most 13-year-olds, September means only one thing: the start of a new school year. And frankly, a lot of them would just as soon be somewhere else.

But not Chris Smith and Chris Kelly. Better known as "Daddy Mack" and "Mack Daddy" of Kris Kross fame, the two Chrisses will spend this September on the road, playing their first-ever concert dates in the United States. (In fact, the tour officially starts with this evening's show at Pier Six, though the duo did a rehearsal performance in Norfolk, Va., last night).

Being on tour doesn't exempt the Kris Kross crew from schoolwork, however. "We have a tutor," says Smith, over the phone from a Norfolk hotel. Adds Kelly (who just turned 14), "So we're still doing school." Even so, it's hard to imagine that too many teens would object to reading, writing and 'rithmatic when the fourth "R" -- rapping -- is part of the equation.

"It's cool," says Kelly. "It's better than going to a normal school."

For one thing, there's no dress code, so the Chrisses don't have to worry about anyone objecting to their "Krossed Out" clothing style, in which everything -- hat, shirt and jeans -- gets worn backward.

Why do they dress that way? To be different, of course. (These are 13-year-olds, remember.) "Everybody else just kept doing the same thing -- tags on your hat, inside-out clothes, all that type of thing," explains Kelly. "We wanted to do something real different.

"We just said, 'Let's put our pants on backwards.' At that time we didn't have a record out. We were just hanging out and stuff; there wasn't anybody else doing that. We've been wearing our pants backwards for like two years."

You can't just flip any pair of jeans, though. "You've got to get big jeans," says Kelly. "Like me and Chris wear a 36 or a 38 or something. You just turn them around backwards." (The two don't just roll the excess leg length, by the way. "We put little cuffs on them," he says).

Still, what put Kris Kross on the map wasn't their look, but their sound. In fact, most fans knew the sound of "Jump," the duo's hyper-infectious first single, long before they got to see what these kids looked like. And considering that the single spent eight weeks at No. 1, it's obvious that people liked what they heard.

To their credit, the two Chrisses insist that making music has always been their first priority. "We started, like, two years ago," says Smith. "So we were new to this. But we didn't want to come out and just do a sorry record. We wanted to have a good producer."

And boy, did they get one. Indeed, many in the industry ascribe much of group's success -- which at this point includes three hit singles and a triple-platinum album, "Totally Krossed Out" -- to Jermaine Dupri's fresh beats and efficient production. But Smith and Kelly insist that they are anything but a pair of puppets for their producer.

"I mean, it's our own story," says Smith. "Everything [we rap about] is true. Nobody can just make it up, and tell it with faith." He admits that Dupri did the actual writing, but says that all the tracks were composed with his and Kelly's input. "Our producer, he asked us what we wanted to rap about first, and then it was, like, all three of us working together."

Of course, there was some artistic license involved. For instance, though "Lil' Boys in Da Hood" boasts rhymes about how "it's like that where I live/ Brothers get shot trying to stay positive," neither Smith nor Kelly, who live in the Atlanta area, is actually from a shoot-em-up neighborhood. "That's not the way we grew up," admits Smith. "That's just what we saw, all these things going on. We had good things in our neighborhood, too."

But for the most part, the Kris Kross creative process appears to have been genuinely collaborative. Take "Jump," for example. Although Dupri came up with the musical hook, Smith says he and Kelly had the idea for the lyric. "It came about because, like at shows and everything, everybody was always jumping around when somebody came on," says Smith. "So that's what we started from. It was an overnight song."

It was also an overnight success, but the Chrisses had no idea that would happen. "We didn't know it was going to blow up like it did," says Kelly. "You really have no control over how your record is going to do. It's not the group that makes it big, it's the audience that's doing it.

"That's how I look at it. You can do a record, and either the audience is going to like it, or they don't."

How do these kids deal with being so well-liked? Naturally, they enjoy the attention. "When we run into people, most of the time they'll say, 'There's Daddy Mack, there's Mack Daddy,' " reports Smith, obviously please.

"I really like it," he adds. "I like it better than walking around to people saying, 'Who are you?' "

But that doesn't seem to have made the duo big-headed. "We're basically the same," shrugs Kelly. "Really, we just go out and do shows and interviews, and all that type of stuff that you've got to do.

"But we're still with the same people. A lot of other people give you big heads; the people that are around us try to keep us down to earth."

Kris Kross

When: Tonight at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Pier Six Concert Pavilion.

Tickets: $15.50.

Call: (410) 625-1400 for tickets.

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