Chris Kelly: Rapper who hit the charts with the '90s duo Kriss Kross

 

Chris Kelly was one half of Kris Kross, the kid duo who helped put Atlanta on the hip-hop map with their 1992 worldwide novelty hit "Jump". Known as "Mac Daddy", Kelly and his friend Chris "Daddy Mac" Smith were barely in their teens when the rapper and budding entrepreneur Jermaine Dupri, himself only 18, discovered them in a shopping mall in 1990.

A savvy trend-spotter who had toured with New York rappers Kurtis Blow and Whodini and watched the impact Run–DMC's "My Adidas" had on sales of trainers in 1986, Dupri suggested the backward-clothes look that chimed with and helped promote the Kris Kross brand and became their trademark.

In 1991 he signed the duo to Ruffhouse Records, an urban label with international distribution through Columbia, and wrote and produced their debut album Totally Krossed Out. To create "Jump", their introductory hit, he cleverly sampled "I Want You Back", the Jackson 5's first smash, dropped the shrieking synthesiser from "Funky Worm", the Ohio Players track he had heard on a couple of NWA cuts, and knocked the rest together in record time.

"I made a beat," recalled Dupri. "I just started writing the raps and came up with the first verse. I called one of the Chris's on the phone. I said: 'Listen to this, this is going to be our single'.' He liked it, then I wrote the second rap and put it down again, gave them a tape. We recorded the song in less than two hours. Major success."

Indeed, post-MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice, Kris Kross offered a wholesome alternative to the boisterous excesses of the early Beastie Boys and made rap acceptable to the mainstream. The Atlanta duo also broke the long-standing dominance of hip-hop acts originating from the East Coast or the West Coast, and paved the way for the emergence of Arrested Development and Outkast.

Directed by Rich Murray, the bouncy, dynamic video for "Jump" became an MTV staple, and Kris Kross topped the singles and album charts in the US. In Britain, "Jump" was kept off the No 1 slot by a revival of KC and the Sunshine Band's "Please Don't Go" by UK dance act KWS and then Erasure's Abba-esque covers EP. Kris Kross guested on numerous children's TV shows and spent the summer of 1992 as the opening act on the European leg of Michael Jackson's Dangerous World Tour.

They also appeared in the video for Jackson's "Jam" alongside rapper Heavy D and basketball legend Michael Jordan, and scored three more hits with the million-selling "Warm It Up", the endearing "I Missed The Bus" and "It's A Shame", arguably the best showcase for Kelly's flow as the duo traded verses over Zapp's electro-synth classic "More Bounce To The Ounce", a trick they later repeated on "2 Da Beat Ch'yall".

Totally Krossed Out sold four million copies worldwide and for a while Kris Kross were ubiquitous, popping up on the sitcom A Different World and the comedy sketch show In Living Color, doing cameos in videos for Run–DMC and the Atlanta R&B girl group TLC, and recording the "Rugrats Rap" for the children's TV channel Nickelodeon. At Christmas 1992, they even launched a Sega CD console game, Kris Kross: Make My Video, whose risible, self-explanatory, premise earned it a place among the 20 Worst Games Of All Time.

Having hit puberty, they came back with the harder-sounding Da Bomb album in August 1993. Built around Slave's irresistible "Just A Touch Of Love" groove, the "Alright" single featured the Jamaican dancehall star Super Cat and dissed their Philadelphia teen rivals Da Youngsta's, with Kelly famously rapping "I didn't come out wack, I came out right, unlike those moles who choose to pass da mic", a reference to the Philly trio's single "Pass da Mic".

The laughable feud revolved around the fact that, unlike Kris Kross, Da Youngsta's wrote their own rhymes. The comments obviously hurt Dupri, who let Kelly and Smith contribute to a couple of tracks on Da Bomb, though the million-selling album was more notable for featuring Da Brat, a female rapper spotted by the duo.

The album Young, Rich & Dangerous, issued in 1996, spawned the slower, G-funk style, US-only hits "Tonite's Tha Nite" and "Live And Die For Hip Hop", again featuring Da Brat as well as Aaliyah and Dupri, but sold only half a million copies. With Dupri concentrating on production and running his So So Def label, as well as making his own albums, before launching another barely teenage rapper, Lil' Bow Wow, Kris Kross broke up in the late 1990s. They reunited earlier this year to perform at So So Def's 20th Anniversary concert in Atlanta. Kelly's shaved head appearance at the event shocked some but he revealed he was suffering from the skin disease alopecia.

Kelly was rushed to the Atlanta Medical Center after being found unresponsive at his Atlanta home. A drug overdose is suspected.

"To the world, Chris was 'Mac Daddy' but to me, he was a son I never had," said Dupri. "As much as you may think I taught him, he taught me. God has blessed me to be in the presence of so many naturally talented people, and Chris was one. His understanding of what we set out to do, from day one, was always on point.

"His passion for the music, his love for doing shows, his want to [be] better than everyone else, was always turned up. When I think about it, I spent more time with Chris and Chris than damn near anybody in my whole life, so you can imagine how bad this hurts."

Pierre Perrone

Chris Kelly, rapper: born Atlanta 10 January 1979; died Atlanta 1 May 2013.

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