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RETRO: 'Young, Rich & Dangerous,' the Best Kris Kross Album That No One Ever Heard

By Philip Trapp | May 29, 2016 08:21 AM EDT

By mid-decade 1990s, breakout hip-hop youth duo Kris Kross were already discounted as novelty in the minds of most music fans. Bursting onto the scene in 1992 with their infectious No. 1 hit, "Jump," Atlanta teen rappers Chris Kelly ("Mac Daddy") and Chris Smith ("Daddy Mac"), guided by then-unknown writer and producer Jermaine Dupri, created an ephemeral pop culture smash that moved over 2 million units. It also branded them a one-hit wonder, ex-post-facto, a juvenile gimmick.

Twelve and 13 years old when they recorded "Jump," its parent album and Kris Kross' debut LP, Totally Krossed Out, sold 4 million copies on the strength of that single and succeeding jams like "Warm It Up," "I Missed the Bus" and "It's a Shame." 1993's follow-up album, Da Bomb, sadly embodied its moniker as far as critics and mainstreamers were concerned; the green but confident display of gangsta rap fell on deaf ears, selling a quarter of the amount of its trendy predecessor.

And it truly is a shame, because their third and final album, 1996's Young, Rich & Dangerous, is possibly the Chrises' (and, perhaps, Dupri's) finest record. Coming into their own as rappers by the post-pubescent epoch of ages 16 and 17, and further coalescing with Dupri's progressive G-funk production style, Dangerous is not only the Kris Kross swan song but a practically unheard -- and now unfortunately forgotten -- Southern-aping-West-Coast, feel-good, hip-hop masterpiece.

Though any struggling artist would rightly laugh at a gold-certified album deemed unseen, for Kris Kross it was comparatively true. Young, Rich & Dangerous did manage that gold record, but it was heavily overshadowed by the faddish, four-times platinum debut (and, by extension, the thwarted but still singularly-platinum Da Bomb). At the dawn of 1996, any accolades for the efflorescent emcees of Kris Kross came solely from their quickly-dissipating cache of still-interested fans.

Contrasted with those first two records, Dangerous is virtually an extended EP; the selections are padded out with a few drowsy intro skits and a quick interview excerpt. The songs, however, stand on their own. The album's lead single, "Tonite's tha Night," was Kris Kross' first-ever slow jam and announced the group's grown-up, carnal intentions with a bouncy ode to run-and-gun trysts. Dupri knocked it out of the park on the track with his low-key, psuedo-new jack swing draping.

"Live and Die for Hip Hop" further displayed the new-era Kris Kross style and made effectual use of a star-studded cameo cast. Emboldened by revved-up verses from Da Brat, Mr. Black, Dupri, and an unannounced vocal hook from legendary R&B singer Aaliyah, the Chris-and-Chris back-and-forth on the song made you believe that they really would be willing to die for their artistry. It was the last single promoted from the album and the Krossed Out kids' final commercial single of their career.

Where Young, Rich & Dangerous really shines, though, is in the deep cuts featuring unknown-and-never-heard-from-again rapper Chris Terry. The album's strongest tune, "Money, Power and Fame," is Terry's coup de grâce of bravado lyric-spitting. Perhaps imbued by his proficiency, the other Chrises match him on the track with some of their most muscular verses on the record. It's a stark reminder of Kris Kross' power at the mic, and it's quite probably the best Kris Kross song.

As evidenced in that track and another Chris Terry-featuring jam, "Hey Sexy," the three Chrises refer to themselves throughout the album as the C-Connection. Long-abandoned message board mythos and word-of-mouth Kris Kross folklore posit that this "C-Connection" was intended to be the next phase of Kris Kross; the revamped group would feature all three rappers -- a trio of Kelly, Smith and Terry -- and continue releasing new albums of original material under the guidance of Dupri.

Obviously, none of that ever happened. At some point, Dupri took off for greener pastures, chalking up hits with Mariah Carey and Janet Jackson. Kelly founded indie label C. Co. Records, studied audio engineering and began mentoring new artists. Smith continued to sharpen his production skills under his One Life Entertainment brand. It's rumored that Chris Terry died not long after the release of Dangerous, but it's difficult to find further information on C-Connection and/or Terry and I have no sources apart from legend, so feel free to take that bit of information as pure conjecture.

Young, Rich & Dangerous boasted some of Kris Kross' most refined and mature material. That may be why it was so decidedly unfashionable -- mainstream fans of the group's jaunty adolescent hits from the Totally Krossed Out era did not want or need a sophisticated Kris Kross, whether that instinct was conscious or not. Kris Kross were on their own, their sharpened game (and spectacular extra rapper Terry) set adrift in a music world since moved on and completely unconcerned.

Additional reports suggest that Kris Kross did begin recording a fourth album, circa 2000-2001, with Dupri and the group's longtime engineer, Joe "The Butcher" Nicolo, but it was never released. The Kris Kross duo reunited in early 2013 for the So So Def 20th anniversary concert, giving their final performance. Chris Kelly died at his home in Atlanta on May 1, 2013, from an apparent drug overdose. Chris Smith is still an artist, making music independently and painting.

Young, Rich & Dangerous:
01. "Some Cut Up"
02. "When the Homies Show Up"
03. "Tonite's tha Night" [featuring Trey Lorenz]
04. "Interview"
05. "Young, Rich and Dangerous" [ft. Da Brat, Big Rube and Chris Terry]
06. "Live and Die for Hip Hop" [ft. Da Brat, Mr. Black, Jermaine Dupri and Aaliyah]
07. "Money, Power and Fame (Three Thangs Thats Necessities)" [ft. Chris Terry]
08. "It's a Group Thang"
09. "Mackin' Ain't Easy" [ft. Mr. Black]
10. "Da Streets Ain't Right"
11. "Hey Sexy" [ft. Chris Terry]
12. "Tonite's tha Nite" (Remix)

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