Big K.R.I.T. Transcends Time and Space on "K.R.I.T. Iz Here"

The Mississippi-born rapper and producer strikes a balance between his roots and the future of rap on his latest album.

Between the years of 1997 and 2007, southern rap was unavoidable.

In the wake of a bloodsoaked war for hip-hop dominance between East and West Coast rappers, Southern artists quietly rose to prominence. As tensions escalated, Tupac Shakur was gunned down in Las Vegas on September 7, 1996. He died from his wounds six days later. A little over a year afterwards, on a chilly March morning in 1997, The Notorious B.I.G. was murdered in Los Angeles, behind enemy lines. Following these back-to-back tragedies, many feared that the very foundation of hip-hop might crumble. In a 2014 interview for Music Times, Nas reflected on the culture's darkest age: "Those two things hit me real hard, because I knew both of them [...] what they meant to the art form can never be redone, can never be replaced [...] And when those two guys passed away I thought [it] was the end of rap."

Meanwhile, two little-known emcees in Atlanta were poised to change the game forever with their refreshingly fun and funky Southern sound. Not only did Outkast keep lit the torch of hip-hop in its hour of direst need, they also contributed greatly to redefining the genre's increasingly polarized sound—which, for the majority of the '90s, existed in two extremes: the gritty street griots of NYC and the G-Funk stylings of gangsta rap artists from South-Central LA. They offered something brand new by laying out the blueprint for another regional sound in hip-hop, that of the Dirty South. In the years to follow, radio waves were bombarded with new and unique artists like T.I., Ludacris, Lil Wayne, Master P, Trick Daddy, Three 6 Mafia, and Mystikal, as well as (more recently), J. Cole, Killer Mike, and Big K.R.I.T.

K.R.I.T., however, found his beginnings at the tail end of the Dirty South's commercial reign. His 2006 mixtape, Hood Fame, garnered him some well-deserved recognition, prompting some high-profile guest spots on albums like Curren$y's major label debut, Pilot Talk, as well as Wiz Khalifa's critically acclaimed mixtape, Kush & Orange Juice. From there, K.R.I.T. quickly rose through the ranks of rap as an emcee and producer, often praised for the ways in which he rapped like T.I. (raw, lyrical, and quintessentially Southern), yet his beats were reminiscent of the late Pimp C (heavily rooted in '70s funk grooves and trap drums).

Big K.R.I.T., unlike some of his Dirty South contemporaries, has been able to adapt and evolve in order to survive the modern hip-hop landscape, which is seemingly always in flux. And his latest album, K.R.I.T. Iz Here, is yet another testament to that rare propensity for longevity.

In terms of production, K.R.I.T. Iz Here is a far cry from his early work. There are certainly elements of that iconic Dirty South vibe thrown in throughout, particular on songs like "M.I.S.S.I.P.P.I.," a horn-driven ode to his roots (and succeeding despite great adversities), On this track, K.R.I.T. raps, "Daddy worked up on a train / Momma always had brains, she a teacher now / You knowin' how we get down / So stop with all them bullshit moves about where I come from…"

He raps about fighting his way out of poverty so he could help his parents and his community find reprieve from struggle, demonstrating all the while a wealth of lyrical growth since the days of Hood Fame, skillfully bobbing and weaving through rhymes with the grace and patience of a veteran boxer. "Proud parents, black parents, my parents," he rhymes, "They standin' on the same steps that they supposed to / In the same place that they supposed to / And I'ma keep raisin' 'em higher and higher / And the biggest house I can find, I'ma buy it and buy / I'ma keep tryin' and tryin' to make 'em proud and all."

Other standout moments on K.R.I.T. Iz Here, though, see the rapper and producer solidifying a new voice—one for which he began laying down the foundation with 2017's critically acclaimed, 4eva is a Mighty Long Time. On much of …Iz Here, K.R.I.T. has traded in that signature Dirty South sound for beats that could be characterized as echoing that classic late '90s/early aughts East Coast aesthetic. Songs like "K.R.I.T. Here," "Make it Easy," and "Everytime," for example, rely heavily on smooth and flourishing soul samples—which make for unexpected and interesting backdrops to K.R.I.T.'s Mississippian, drawling flow.

There is a third ingredient, too, in this eclectic mix of hip-hop's multifarious and ever-shifting sounds. Songs with a more contemporary trap feel are darkly synth-laden and pummeled with speaker-shaking 808s; bangers like "I Made It" (featuring Yella Beezy), "Believe," "Prove It" (featuring J. Cole), and "Addiction" (featuring Lil Wayne and Saweetie) all showcase K.R.I.T.'s ability and eagerness to put his own spin on not only where rap has been, but also where rap appears to be headed.

Like Outkast did before him, Big K.R.I.T. is bridging a chasm in rap—again at a time where the culture is fractured and segmented, albeit to a much lesser degree. At a point in hip-hop history when the Dirty South has all but faded from the conversation, Big K.R.I.T. is here to keep it from disappearing, to open the doors for the Southern emcees and producers of tomorrow to bring their roots into whatever new terrains hip-hop traverses in the years to come.



INTERVIEW | Obie Iyoha "Karats"

Michigan rapper Obie Iyoha took a trip home and returned with a "golden" new single

Akin Oluwadare (Press)

Obie Iyoha is an emcee/producer with an energetic flow, and a buzz that possess the same energy.

The son of Nigerian immigrants, Obie's African upbringing coupled with his love for hip hop and rock has helped him forge his own lane. He's opened up for the likes of A$AP Rocky, Logic, and MGK, and has toured with the likes of Ghostface Killah and Big K.R.I.T. Now gearing up for his sophomore release "Pink Moon", Obie hits us with "Karats". The afrobeats influenced single was inspired by a recent trip to Nigeria. Obie took some time from working on "Pink Moon" to talk to us about "Karats".

Deascent: Talk to us about the inspiration behind "Karats".

Obie Iyoha: Well, my cousin got deported from Canada back to Nigeria a couple years ago. He had to leave behind his newborn son and everything. Coincidentally, I was at a low point in my life as well. I booked a flight to Nigeria in order to reconnect. I felt so inspired after just kicking it in the studio out there doing tracks with cats from my hometown in Benin. So this is more of a motivational track for my peeps.

D: What was it like growing up in a Nigerian household in the South

O: There was a duality. I felt like I was always on the fence of two cultures. At home, it was Fufu & Okra, Akaba Man records, and Nollywood cassettes. But when I stepped out of the house into rural Greensboro, I was surrounded by African American culture. Sometimes (a lot of times) we got picked on for our long African names. I developed a thick skin about my cultural identity and how to navigate on both sides. Both perspectives influenced my music a huge deal.

D: You have a very eclectic ear. How do you manage to take all of those influences and create your own sound without sounding like them?

O: I'm a visual artist first, so my influences are like different coats of paint added to a picture over a period of time. I guess I just created my own color, but if you look closely, you can see where it started. That's how I see sounds.

D: You've been on tour and have opened up for some big names in the industry. Do you have a crazy show/on the road story you can share with us?

O: I'd have to say my set in Zory, Poland on tour with TBO (The Black Opera). It was surreal to watch a crowd on the other side of the world catch vibes to a song I wrote in my dad's basement in Ann Arbor. Not the craziest story, but I did almost cry lol.

D: What do you hope to accomplish as an artist with the release of "Pink Moon"?

O: I hope to establish my vibe as an artist with the people and begin to bridge the gap between my cultures.Stream and/or purchase "Karats" here.

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