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.