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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

In 2010, the rapper and producer Big K.R.I.T. landed a record deal with Def Jam Records. Music critics marked him for success and then they waited. Well, finally, Big K.R.I.T. is about to release his first official album. Our critic Robert Christgau gives us an introduction to the rapper through some of his earlier material.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "4EVANADAY")

BIG K.R.I.T.: (Singing) They say it couldn't be forever, wouldn't be forever. The grain ain't enough ya gotta mix it with the leather. Your grind ain't enough, ya gotta mix it with the hate. When it's all over, watch what I say, 4eva n a day, day, day, day, day, day.

ROBERT CHRISTGAU, BYLINE: At 25, Big K.R.I.T. seems halfway to stardom. 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 on the Web gratis after sampling issues held up its commercial release.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "4EVA N A DAY")

K.R.I.T.: (Rapping) If you never been to the top, it's something that you got to see, somewhere that you got to be. I never dealt with the lames, knock on wood, but I'm hella good in this candy paint. No time to waste, keep my pace, forever steering, worry about you and how you living. I did it big. I hurt their feelings. They said it couldn't be forever, wouldn't be forever.

CHRISTGAU: The thick drawl, female soul backup, defiant pride and deep-seated stick-to-itiveness are all part of the Big K.R.I.T package. Most aspiring hip-hop artists make keep grinding a motto. But for K.R.I.T., persistence in the face of adversity is a central theme.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOOBIE MILES")

K.R.I.T.: (Singing) Never drop the ball. Never accept loss. Get back up if you fall. And when your number called, you better give your all. I hope you give your all.

CHRISTGAU: The football coach pep talk 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. 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. Hear how he mourns his grandmother in "Yesterday."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "YESTERDAY")

K.R.I.T.: (Rapping) Yeah, I know it sound cliche. They tell me just to pray, but I miss you like yesterday. Like an autumn breeze, knocking all the pecans out the trees, baking your fruitcakes for Christmas Eve. The smell of sweet potato pie make it hard to leave. Sit and reminisce, out the grab bag, everybody got a gift. Just be thankful for the thought, don't be giving lip. We laugh and cry. You knew you couldn't save the world, but you had to try. I been doing the same. Just so you know, your lectures ain't going in vain. Accepted that you're gone, but I deal with the pain, weather the rain. Just know I won't be the same because I miss you like yesterday. Hey.

CHRISTGAU: Big K.R.I.T.'s Def Jam debut, "Live From the Underground," will feature a B.B. King cameo and is scheduled for a June 5th release. It will hit the charts high. 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COUNTRY RAP TUNES")

K.R.I.T.: (Singing) This is for all my country folks slamming them caddy doors, sitting out on the porch.

SIEGEL: Reviewer Robert Christgau telling us about the music of rapper and producer Big K.R.I.T.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "COUNTRY RAP TUNES")

K.R.I.T.: (Singing) Be proud of who you is no matter where and when. Let them know the game you're in. This is for all my country folks.

(Rapping) Back on my grind again, wasting no time again, putting it on the line, been losing. I'm trying to win. Whenever, right now...

SIEGEL: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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