While entrenched in Southern rap heritage, Big K.R.I.T aims to chisel his own path through the polished grill wearers and double-cup sippers. Too smart to be ignorant, too worldly to be preachy, he embraces the challenge of pleasing fickle fans and promoting the culture of his oft-ignored state Mississippi. The 28 year old is a veteran of the digital era’s exhausting release culture with six mixtapes, two albums and two EPs released since 2010.
Producing and rapping across 200 songs in four years, a sub-plot developed around K.R.I.T’s talent. Was he creatively burnt out? Would he make concessions to chase the elusive hit single? K.R.I.T’s 2012 Def Jam debut Live from the Underground was decent, but not quite the grand reveal fans expected.
Last November, he silenced fears with his sophomore album Cadillactica. K.R.I.T outsourced collaborators including DJ Dahi, Raphael Saadiq and Jim Jonsin to share his vision as well expanding his own production universe. The concept record about a planet created by 808 drums showcased a reinvigorated K.R.I.T cultivating his introspective lyrics while dabbling further in storytelling, singing and contemporary flows. Now taking a deserved breather to consider his next move, I asked K.R.I.T about his early records, what draws people to country rap and why he decided to take this album off-planet.
What was your first local hit in Mississippi?
Man, the first record that I did in Mississippi that got played on a radio station was called… ha, “Adidas 1’s in the Club.” It was basically a remake of Crime Mob’s “Stilettos (Pumps),” but we did our own version.
Did you start with a cliché street sound on your very early records before you found your own style?
Oh yeah, definitely, because I was a hardcore Three 6 Mafia fan too. Just a lot of the instrumentation and a lot of the content was extremely aggressive, so it was like more of a shock value thing of just how aggressive and how violent you could be on a song. I was probably like 13 or 14, man, and you grow out of that pretty fast because you grow to the point where you start playing your records for a lot of people that actually know you, older people, and they know damn well that you ain’t living that kind of lifestyle. In the beginning it was just your imagination ran wild on a record, and you could pretty much rap about anything and everything under the sun just to kind of build this superhero character of yourself on record.
Is there a chance if you weren’t making music or playing baseball you’d be working for the railroad?
Definitely, it’s one of those things where it’s a very lucrative job to have. My dad works on the railroad, my uncle worked on the railroad, I’ve got cousins that work. It keeps you away from home, but you make a really good living and it’s one of careers that you can retire at. So if I ended up staying in Meridian, Mississippi, I probably would have been working on the railroad and be able to acquire some kind of financial freedom at an early age.
Why do artists and promoters usually skip over Mississippi?
It goes to what people know as the far as the history is concerned and having some kind of idea that Mississippi is how it used to be, that’s one thing. It’s not necessarily a vacation destination too, if you would just generally want to go. Thirdly, I think people sometimes forget that there is an actual fan-base down there. If you’re talking about metropolitan cities, there are not really a lot of huge cities in Mississippi. So if you’re not really in touch with the ground-work, street team aspect in the deep south then you wouldn’t even understand or realize that you have a fan-base there.
Alabama is the same kind of place where people don’t necessarily always go to do shows. Arkansas is one of those places as well. I’m a strong believer in making my rounds in what people call the Chitlin’ circuit to kind of keep that foundation going, because a lot of those fans are going to be fans forever because they support the music 100% regardless of whether you have a hit record or not.
Was there a set of specific experiences that influenced “Another Naive Individual Glorying Greed and Encouraging Racism?”
I would just say life – as far as racism is concerned and being stereotyped and being in a position where someone would call me out on my name or judge me based on my skin tone. I’ve dealt with that, so what you don’t want to do is fight that kind of ignorance with ignorance. That’s why I decided to flip that word because anybody can be a “Naive Individual Glorying Greed and Encouraging Racism.” It’s about empowering yourself and understanding that sometimes people don’t know better and you’ve got to learn how to ignore those people, pray for them and continue moving on a positive path. That’s really what that song was about and that’s being honest about what we’re doing to youth and the things that we say and taking an account of the music that we create because people are listening literally, you know.
You mentioned people having to be accountable for the music they create. Do you think some of the artists you’ve collaborated with, like 2 Chainz or Rick Ross might fall into that category?
I always look at it from the perspective that it’s art at the end of the day. Most people paint on the canvas of hip hop what they actually lived, what they grew up in and their surroundings and you draw from those things as inspiration. A lot of these artists that I have worked with are the kind of artists where they don’t just tell one side of the spectrum. They tell all avenues, they tell you about the good times, the bad times, when you’re up and when you’re down.
Whatever we put on these records, there’s going to be people that take it literal.
That’s why I respect it when, yeah, we can talk about the women, we can talk about the cars, but they can also do a record where it’s totally stripped down. So it’s really about giving people a balance, nobody is perfect. All of us would hope that we could have a hit record and it be the most genuine record on the planet, but when it comes to radio sometimes and when it comes to what people want to hear in the club, it just happens to be carefree music.
With a lot of these artists there’s a large body of content and it’s more than what the single may be or the song the label pushed. Normally they give you the whole story, you’ve just go to buy the album and listen. Whatever we put on these records, there’s going to be people that take it literal. So what we have got to do is when we do these interviews and when you’ve got the ballin’ song, that you do the total opposite. That you don’t always encourage the street life. You encourage someone to go to school, to get an education because that’s cool too. That’s acceptable. That’s dope. We need more lawyers, we need more doctors and teachers.
Why did you make space a major part of your albums in terms of aesthetic?
I would say it’s probably because there’s so much mystery when you’re dealing with space and time. It’s mysterious. I don’t know, there’s something about looking at the stars and the planets that makes you feel so small, but it’s exciting to know there’s so much more to life than what you’re dealing with at the very moment.
When it comes to my music, I feel like it gives me the opportunity to kind of create on a larger scale. You don’t know what to expect and that’s really what a lot of my projects were about, being able to use obscure instruments, to be able to tie in heaven, the moon and the stars into my content because it’s so broad. I’m trying to think of the best way to explain it, but there’s just this aura about it all and to put it into the music, it makes you think a little bit more like, “Damn, what if there was another planet called Cadillactica? What kind of planet would it be? What would be on that?” Being able to answer all of those questions helps me to be able to create songs. There weren’t any boundaries. I didn’t have to rap about the street I grew up on in a traditional way and I could make it as creative as I could possibly want to.
I read that once Cadillactica dropped you wanted to go back home to see what you could do for Meridian as well as your state. Have you had a chance to do that?
Oh yeah, 100% man. The first thing that we’re trying to do is a hardcore Stop The Violence campaign. It’s probably going to really gear up once summer time hits and really just encourage people as far as being aware of the whole gun violence and police brutality and all that. Get a lot of rappers that the youth are inspired by to come down and talk, because sometimes when you remove the instrumentals, you remove the 808, the beat and you hear your favorite rapper tell you that you’ve got to do better and stay out of the streets, it kind of speaks volumes. Then we can do the show, but you can’t get into the show unless you come to the rap.
Education is extremely important to me. Just to encourage people that there’s more to life than just being an athlete and a rapper. There’s so many occupations, so many cool things you can do even with music that’s bigger than just being the artist. It’s okay to be the man behind the scenes, the manager, the booking agent, there’s all kinds of stuff you can be and still be attached to music and creativity.
I’m approaching a different level in my life, a different age.
Are you now taking more time off between albums and releasing less mixtapes so you don’t get creatively burned out?
That’s the goal. We’ll still drop content, but really take more time out to create it. Even if it is a mixtape, take more time out. I’ve dropped so many songs at this point, so now I want to travel, I want to see different things. I want to put it in music because I’ve got to grow not only as a person, but I’ve got to grow in my music too. I’m approaching a different level in my life, a different age. You know 30 is around the corner, damn near, so I can’t be the same K.R.I.T that I was when I was 21. It’s important that I put all that content in my music, what I see and how I see the world now.
What is the next challenge in your career? Is it a commercially successful single or is that not something you’re focused on?
I think it’s always in the back of your head, the single aspect, and having a hit record, because ever since you were young you knew that a hit record would do this for you and everybody you grew up listening to had a hit record. You always want one, but for me it’s also just about continuing to build my fan-base and get more into the production side of the game because I produce a lot of my own music.
I haven’t had the opportunity to share my sound with a lot of my peers and artists I respect. So it’s kind of building my production company and branching off, not only just as a hip hop artist, but getting into other genres as well because I love all kinds of music. I think that will kind of help catapult me to the level that I want to be in hip hop when people start seeing that I can create for so many other people.
Tell us about the making of “Players Ballad” from Returnof4eva. That’s one of my jams.
It was dope. I produced it and I wrote the hook. I was singing the hook and it was just like there was no way I could have kept my self singing on that hook. It just wouldn’t have worked out and the record wouldn’t have done what it did, so I reached out to Raheem Devaughn and the homie works really fast. He was able to get it back to me the next day and it became the record it is. That’s when my female fan-base really started to blossom as well. We started to see a difference at the shows. We performed it a few times in DC and it was exciting to just have a kind of different vibe because a lot of my music is energetic. There was a change in the shows after that song came out.
On “Mt. Olympus” you mention Southern rappers who people borrow their flow and style from, but don’t give enough respect to. Who is an underrated artist you think doesn’t receive enough props other than the legends like Outkast, UGK or MJG & 8ball?
That’s a good one, I would say Killer Mike. Killer Mike is up now and people have started to pay attention and that’s exciting, just because he’s always been one of those people where he raps about what is going on in society and is an extremely lyrical dude. So I would say Killer Mike, man. He’s winning now though, but still I would say he would be one… and Smoke DZA and Big Sant.
Being someone of humble origins, how were you affected when you finally achieved recognition?
It was a slow road, so I think it helped with me still staying balanced and keeping a lot of people around me that were around me in the beginning of my career and just being a little bit smarter when it came to finances and paying my taxes and things of that nature. I had so many OGs that I had conversations with about being smart with my money and what my money would really be used for. It kept me from going out and buying a crazy chain, it kept me from getting a crazy car. Technically I would have been blowing my marketing budget, the money that was needed for me to live. The game when you ain’t dropping projects... Shows slow up and you’ve got to kind of save. So once things started to pop off, I was in a mature space where I kind of knew better and I ain’t go ball out and buy crazy bottles and shit.
Why do you think people who don’t live in rural areas or the southern states of America enjoy country style rap? This goes back to European audiences loving Nelly or Ludacris, even if they hadn’t experienced that lifestyle.
There’s something about, I don’t know, the weather, the feel, and the warmth. The music and the melody I think too, because a lot of those songs still have an underlying melody like a sing-song kind of vibe and it just feels carefree and genuine. I guess it goes to just the whole idea of Southern hospitality. If you could figure out a way to put Southern hospitality on a record. I think that’s why people enjoy those songs so much. Then if you think about “Country Shit,” man, if you ain’t in a metropolitan city, you in the country and it don’t matter where you at.
I think a lot of people can relate to the real simple life. You appreciate what you’ve got and you’re not really worried about what anybody else has got. You can kind of relax and get your mind right and I think that’s where the country is at. What the south definitely offers is the idea of being able to concentrate and meditate on whatever goals you have. And the bounce, with the south there’s just a whole ‘nother bounce with the music.