Remembering Kris Kross’ Chris Kelly, and the power of ‘Jump’
In 1992, “Jump” was nearly impossible to escape. The debut single from 1990s rap duo Kris Kross was light-years from becoming a go-to crowd mover for party DJ’s when it cemented its place in pop history.
It was a remarkable feat considering Chris “Mac Daddy” Kelly, who died Wednesday at age 34, and Chris “Daddy Mac” Smith hadn’t even yet brushed puberty when a barely legal Jermaine Dupri discovered them in an Atlanta mall.
Dupri’s vision was simple: a kid rap group. But it was the execution of “Jump,” and most of their debut, that was brilliant. He 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.
It worked, and the single became the fastest-selling single in 15 years and stayed atop the Billboard Hot 100 for eight weeks in 1992 and turned the youngins (Kelly and Smith were 13 and 12, respectively) into stars. They toured with Michael Jackson and landed their own video game.
They were kids, yes, but they came equipped with swagger that didn’t feel manufactured -- even if they never got a chance to veer from Dupri’s vision -- and a memorable gimmick of wearing clothing backward. It also helped that they possessed a flow that was nimbler than their age suggested.
“Jump” propelled their 1992 debut, “Totally Krossed Out,” to sell more than 4 million copies when it was released. And I was one of probably many young kids who gravitated toward the duo and kept the album on repeat.
It was tough to convince this future music journalist, then 5 years old, that other music outside of Michael Jackson actually existed -- it helped that he co-signed them at their height. I don’t remember where I first heard “Jump,” but the single and that album are among the earliest memories I have of falling in love with music.
I still wasn’t privy to the genius that was Dupri that would come later through his work with Xscape, Jagged Edge and another one of his child rap protégés, Bow Wow.
Dupri stacked their early music with samples from incomparable funk masters like James Brown, George Clinton, Rick James, Zapp, Isaac Hayes and Sly & the Family Stone giving their music a timeless flourish -- even if songs as silly as missing the bus were more memorable than meatier lyrics. Sadly, it’s an appreciation that comes in the customary visitation of one’s music after they’ve departed us too soon.
I can only remember thinking the music was fun, not realizing I’d heard most of the originals from my parents (later singles sampled everyone from Sammy Davis Jr. to Dr. Dre), even if some of the material certainly was over my head, and most likely theirs too.
I would spend hours jumping, stomping and flailing my arms about as if I was in their music video. And yes, I’d even put my clothes on backward. Once I even thought it would be funny to recite the lyrics to “I Missed the Bus” when I overslept for school. My mother was not amused.
Kris Kross was some of the first rap that was purchased for me -- outside of MC Hammer -- and until my brother would introduce me to grittier rhyme-slayers like Tupac, Notorious B.I.G., Nas, Jay-Z and UGK, it was all I played. But like countless child performers before them, transitioning into adulthood was rough and although their fans were growing older, they weren’t necessarily growing with them.
Only two more albums would come after their massive debut and they had already peaked professionally before they were old enough to vote. It’s a shame considering 1996’s “Live and Die for Hip-Hop” (it featured fellow Dupri protégé Da Brat and the late Aaliyah), which would end up being their last single, is a nice footnote to the slow dripping, soulful rap that was starting to put Atlanta on the map.
“Jump” might have proved too impossible to top, but that’s often the power of a smash single.
In February the pair -- who had parted ways after their last album, 1996’s “Young, Rich & Dangerous” -- reunited for the 20th anniversary of Dupri’s So So Def Records. In one of those strange twists of fates that amplifies the sadness of Kelly’s death, the duo performed a handful of hits including “Jump.” They didn’t need a hype man. The crowd, much like the world, knows that chorus by heart -- 20 years later it’s still quite easily accessible thanks to countless replays.
“Jump Jump / The Mac Dad will make you / Jump Jump / The Daddy Mac will make you / Jump Jump / Kris Kross will make you / Jump Jump.”
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