Big K.R.I.T.: Big Heart, Thick Drawl

Big K.R.I.T.
Courtesy of the artist

Big K.R.I.T. will turn 26 in August and seems halfway to stardom. His Def Jam debut, Live from the Underground, will feature a B.B. King cameo and is scheduled for a June 5 release. It should hit the charts high.

Although he's never had an official album, he's been releasing free mixtapes regularly since 2005. His 2010 K.R.I.T. Wuz Here won him a contract with Def Jam. 2011's Return of 4Eva made many top 10 lists. And a few months ago, 4Eva N a Day went up gratis after sampling issues held up its commercial release.

The thick drawl, female-soul backup, defiant pride and deep-seated stick-to-it-iveness are all part of the Big K.R.I.T package. Most aspiring hip-hop artists make "Keep grindin' " a motto. But for K.R.I.T., persistence in the face of adversity is a central theme. As the title track on 4Eva N a Day repeats and repeats, he knows his moment will last forever and a day, and he knows why.

The football coach pep talk of "Boobie Miles" is pure K.R.I.T.: "Get back up when you fall / And when you get the ball / You better give your all." But so is the solid, rolling beat and syrupy tenor sax. Like most young African-Americans, K.R.I.T. conceives soul as a continuum running from Otis Redding to Barry White and beyond. He's steeped in hip-hop history and cites many Southern rappers as influences. But no earlier rapper has brought so much soul feel to his beats and delivery, or such down-home moralism to his content. K.R.I.T. has some street in him.

But in a genre where rhythmic novelty and straight-up hedonism are commercial staples, it's his old-fashioned music and old-fashioned values that brand him. These are far less hopeful times than the mid-'60s. But Big K.R.I.T.'s openhearted directness reminds me a little of Otis Redding anyway.

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