Some artists linger on major labels for years without putting out a classic album; Big K.R.I.T. had to put out a classic album just to get signed to one. Two years after releasing K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, his pivotal 2010 mixtape — or albumixtape, as Andrew Noz appropriately called it — gets the industry treatment it should have had the first go-round with an official album release, along with his follow-up mixtape Return of 4eva, via Green Streets Entertainment. Both are available on retail shelves this week. It’s part of the promotional buildup to the forthcoming release of his official Def Jam debut Live From the Underground, due to drop June 6.
Considering all the ground he's covered in the past two years — producing T.I.’s big post-prison single “I’m Flexin’,” linking with the likes of Bun B and Ludacris on the “Country Shit” remix, even working with B.B. King for his upcoming album — it’s hard to believe he was barely keeping his head above water prior to 2010. With a handful of mixtapes to his name, the majors were flirting but steady dragging their feet on the Meridian, Miss. native — until K.R.I.T. drew a line in the sand with K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. Not only did he find his voice, behind the boards and in the booth, he instantly became the most vital new voice of the South.
A couple of days before the rerelease I got on the phone with K.R.I.T. to talk about the mixtape that finally got the industry to come correct. As K.R.I.T. reminisced about recording K.R.I.T. Wuz Here in his now-deceased grandmother’s bathroom several years ago, I had to remind myself that this is still just the beginning of this kid's career.
For a lot of people K.R.I.T. Wuz Here served as their introduction to you, even though you’d been putting out mixtapes like five years before that. But since that album/mixtape really put you on the map, so to speak, I’m curious if you consider it your personal best?
Man, that’s hard to say [laughs]. I think up until that point, yeah. I think K.R.I.T. Wuz Here was the best up until that point. I can’t really take away anything from [the follow-up] Return of 4eva because it was a different point in my life…. People got the opportunity to see me work with other artists. It just changed it up on a funky, kinda soulful level. K.R.I.T. Wuz Here was more like, “I rap.” And [the last mixtape] 4eva in a Day stands alone because it’s super personal, like a day in the life aspect. There’s not a lot of footage of me or people following me around, so I put my whole life on wax. But K.R.I.T. Wuz Here has stood the test of time, so it definitely played its part as far as introducing me to the world. And when people go back they see this growth.
I heard you say in an interview that you recorded the entire album K.R.I.T. Wuz Here in your grandmother’s bathroom. How surreal is that looking back on it now that she’s passed?
Craaazy. Crazy. I did I’ll say 50 percent of it in the bathroom and then whenever she’d go to sleep, the other amount of content I did in the living room area. And it was records after that — like “Country Shit,” “Gumpshun,” “Return of 4eva” — I actually did those records years later.
I had three years to make K.R.I.T. Wuz Here — technically, three or four years. That’s why a record like “Something” was on See Me On Top Vol. 3, but it was before social networks were really popping like that. And if you drop a mixtape in the streets, you better be able to press up thousands of them hoes and give them away. That’s why it got overlooked then, but it was crazy three years later dropping it on K.R.I.T. Wuz Here and so many people loving it and it being one of the records that really impacted for me.
K.R.I.T. Wuz Here has so many levels — from hype to mellow and insightful, it even gets melancholy and vulnerable in some places but always remains cool. And then there are songs where you’re obviously frustrated with the industry and the state of rap, along with the fact that you and your home state, Mississippi, are so overlooked. What’s your outlook on that now, two years after signing with Def Jam off the strength of K.R.I.T. Wuz Here and watching your notoriety grow?
As far as the light shining on my state, there’s still work to be done. There are a lot of artists coming out now and we’re all playing our role: You got Tito Lopez doing his thing now, you got Big Sant who is also a part of my label and from Meridian, Missisissippi, my hometown. You got the Joker. David Banner’s still releasing crazy content and doing his thing on the political side. You got B…; it’s a lot of other artists making their way out, too. It takes time, and at least we’re all willing to work together. I still feel like I have to prove myself, and that might just be the hunger in me and the mindstate I’ve always had just being from the South.
It’s a good thing ’cause I’ll never get comfortable. But still sometimes saying I’m from Mississippi, people have a doubt about the music or what the content will be like. So there’s still work to be done. But I hope when people hear my [forthcoming] album [Live From the Underground] and they hear the record I did with B.B. King and some of the other content, they’ll understand it’s more than what you think. Just because I’m country doesn’t mean I’m not intelligent. I try to incorporate that in my music and try to empower people from the country and let them know it’s cool to be Southern. It’s nothing wrong with the way I was raised, you know what I’m saying. So it’s that ongoing battle. But I’m used to it now and I’m always going to be country.
Is it hard projecting all 360 degrees of yourself as an artist? Because that’s so rare in rap nowadays. We’re so used to one-dimensional artists and depending on what mode or vibe you’re in, you have to switch what you’re listening to. But you seem to show the whole scope of humanity through your albums — from sexuality to spirituality. Does that come naturally or is that something you had to work on as an artist?
Even if you go back to See Me On Top Vol. 1 — my early, early stuff — I wanted to have a broad range of ideas and subject matter. Life is full of ups and downs and different things that you go through. It’s not all financial, it’s not all spiritual. It may not all be relationships, it may not all be get up and get money. It’s a lot. So if I’ve got three minutes and 20 seconds of a song, if I’ve got an hour and 15 minutes on a CD, then I’ve got a lot of time to talk about a lot of different stuff. And I always wanted to do that. Everybody’s not going to like every song but if I can make one song that you love and take with you everywhere, then my goal is accomplished.
So much of your music speaks to that Every Man character, which is what I think people connect with because so much of rap nowadays focuses on the other end of the spectrum. As more success comes your way and your lifestyle starts to change, what kind of impact do you foresee it having on your music?
The only difference I see it having is just being able to have more live instrumentation at my disposal. I really want to make the music as big as possible, and I’m not just talking about sales. I’m really talking about being able to compose, and dynamics, and really learning the art form, not in a hip-hop manner but just in overall music — being able to have background vocalists and a choir. ’Cause at the end of the day its so many places to go with music and hip-hop, and I don’t want it to be like I’m always sampling. I love sampling but I want to be the kind of artist that makes a record that you want to sample.
A lot of people talk about you upholding that Southern aesthetic that 8-Ball/MJG, Pimp C, and Dungeon Family brought about. Do you feel any kind of responsibility to do maintain that legacy?
It’s just paying homage. Music is extremely influential and a lot of game and knowledge about other places — as far as the South and just being proud about being country — I got from a lot of these groups. UGK and OutKast and Scarface. And we talkin’ ’bout Goodie Mob. A lot of the knowledge that they were dropping on this music helped me understand a lot about myself, a lot about my culture, a lot about hip-hop in general. ’Cause I could understand where they were coming from, and whatever they rapped about I could see. So growing up and being able to have the same kind of voice, it’s only right that I pay homage or I remember how Southern hip-hop sounded. And if that’s the kind of music that I like and grew up on, and I know how much it did for me and my life, why woudn’t I put other people on it as well?
Even the “Big” in my name is a part of what was traditionally going on in Southern hip-hop at the time — having a Big, Little, Young — it was just a part of when I grew up. Even 808s and snare drums over gritty Southern beats and triple hi-hats, and subs and bass, like that’s what I grew up on and so that’s what I feel more comfortable rapping on, that’s what I know, that’s what I create.
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