No one in Atlanta’s emerging, early ’90s hip-hop scene was stranger than K.I.N. Formed at Morehouse College, their shows featured a shirtless, dreadlocked guy who clutched an axe and stood motionless in the middle of the stage, and a white, would-be Klansman who smacked the group’s black members with a whip. Something of a cross between Public Enemy and Fishbone, K.I.N. was a rap early bird, and its alums are still influential.
The group was founded in 1990 by rapper Andre Henderson, who went by E=MC2. Originally paired with three other collaborators, he broke off after meeting producer Christopher Davis, a card-carrying Nation of Islam member who called himself Christopher X but quickly abandoned his bow tie for a mohawk and combat boots. K.I.N. also included beatmaker Sol Messiah, a backup dancer named Saul Williams, and King Esseen, whose sole duty was to hold the axe.
Their sound was punk mixed with hip-hop of the politically-driven, East Coast variety, but their message wasn’t always entirely clear. Sol Messiah says he has no idea what the title of their popular song “90,000 Days and Nights” refers to, and found their moniker — which stood for “Knowledge In the Name of the ancestors” a bit confusing. “We were like, ‘That’s a lot of letters. Where is the ancestors part?” he remembers with a laugh.
Their shows were equal parts inspiration and perspiration; group members bounced off of trampolines into bloody mosh pits. The fake racist with the whip entered during a segment of the show dealing with slavery. Unfortunately, the audience didn’t know the bit was planned, however, and so the group members had to defend him from stage-rushers. Drawing on a fan base of local college students, K.I.N. opened for everyone from A Tribe Called Quest to Cypress Hill, and aspiring hip-hoppers including Lil Jon and Andre 3000 saw them perform. Davis suggests his wig selection may have inspired Andre to later don the blond bob.
Though K.I.N. never released an album, many of its members went on to successful solo careers. Saul Williams now lives in Paris; he’s a world-renowned poet and musician who starred in the indie-hit film Slam, recorded an album with Trent Reznor, and recently began a nationwide tour in support of the U.S. release of his latest LP, Volcanic Sunlight. Atlanta-based Sol Messiah has produced tracks with Dallas Austin, toured with Nappy Roots, and mentored a handful of Atlanta acts, including current god-hop emcee Sa-Roc. Esseen, who goes by K. Esseen Bowling, recently ran a biweekly live art/live music event at Space Atlanta. Henderson lives in Baton Rouge and owns a wholesale distribution company that produces clothing items for black colleges.
The Brooklyn-based Davis, meanwhile, goes by CX KiDTRONiK, has recorded with Kanye West, joined re-formed German digital punk group Atari Teenage Riot, and is currently opening up for Saul Williams ongoing tour. His bow tie remains in the closet, but his enduring mohawk indicates that his K.I.N. spirit is still quite alive.
Ed. note: The YouTube video above features footage from a Feb. 29, 1992 concert at Emory University in which K.I.N. opened for A Tribe Called Quest. CX KiDTRONiK recently posted the video in honor of the show's 20th anniversary. Click the link for K.I.N.'s full bio and history. Corrections have been made to original posting.