Beyond the cootchie-coo freakshow aspect of kiddie bands, it’s rare that pre-teens get their strings pulled by credible enough backliners to make records of substantial merit. While Kris Kross’ unbelievable success — more than four million copies of the Atlanta duo’s Totally Krossed Out crossed retail counters in 1992 — and goofy reverse oversize fashions are now little more than a memory (the second album, an unseemly attempt to go hardcore, did a fraction of the business), the debut fulfills nineteen-year-old producer Jermaine Dupri’s dreams with highly entertaining results.
Dupri and engineer/mixer Joe “The Butcher” Nicolo work both sides of the chronological fence on Totally Krossed Out, treating spunky and skillfully burbling rappers Chris Kelly (aka Mack Daddy) and Chris Smith (aka Daddy Mack) — born, respectively, in 1978 and 1979 — like kids without repressing their need to act older. “I Missed the Bus” faces school without complaint, while “Party” accepts the pair’s age impairment with goodnatured frustration. “Lil’ Boys in the Hood,” “A Real Bad Dream” and “It’s a Shame,” however, unflinchingly face up to the reality of drugs and violence as adults, implicitly making a dismal point about the impossibility of protecting kids from the dangers of urban existence. Still, all that was overshadowed by two picture-perfect pop exercises — the Jackson Five-sampling “Jump” and the equally danceable “Warm It Up” — that ate up the charts. Age and gimmicks may have contributed to the records’ successes, but such potent singles craft didn’t need the help.
Where the debut makes effective sport of rap’s macho posturing by keeping sight of the rappers’ tender years, the stingy Da Bomb — thanks to the pair’s deeper voices, popularity and hardening attitude — has a fuzzier time defining where they’re at on life’s maturity elevator. The modest, fan-praising “Alright” is as wholesome as oatmeal but the title track, which begins as harmless rote bravado, turns ugly (or at least rashly exploitative) with a detailed discussion of firearms. “Sound of My Hood” is a non-judgmental observation about gunplay. Other than an infusion of dancehall styling, Da Bomb sacrifices targeted efficiency for tonnage and fails to detonate.
Defying the odds, the prematurely adult Kris Kross (still working with Dupri) ended 1995 with a stylish new rap/R&B single (“Tonight’s tha Night”) in Billboard’s Top 40, and released their third album in early ’96. The skimpy effort barely makes it past the half-hour mark and includes one remix, three filler chat intervals (“It’s a Group Thang” is a sleazy invitation to a three-way; “Interview” draws journalist dream hampton into a credibility-queering spot of collusion), other time-wasters and a bunch of guests to take the vocal load off the young playboys. With soft, soulful grooves and grown-up raps styled like a junior tag team of Snoop and 2Pac, Young, Ri¢h & Dangerou$ is as miserable as it was inevitable.