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.
K.R.I.T. IZ HERE
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As reprehensible as Jake Paul is as a person, he is innocent in this case
Over the weekend YouTube star Jake Paul was filmed in a Scottsdale, Arizona Mall that was in the process of being looted by rioters.
Though Paul insists that he did not participate in any of the looting or vandalism—which included smashing the windows of a display car and breaking into a Sephora—the Scottsdale Police Department reports receiving hundreds of tips alerting them to his involvement. Internet sleuths who saw footage of Paul posted on Instagram have insisted that Paul was complicit—if not directly implicated—in the worst of the rioting and wanted to see Paul locked up. As a result, the 23-year-old icon of Internet buffoonery has now been charged with two misdemeanors: Criminal Trespassing and Unlawful Assembly.
This Dreamville Records mega-compilation showcases both amazing talent and the spirit of hip-hop.
343 elite hip-hop artists were invited to appear at Tree Sound Studios in Atlanta, Georgia for 10 days of nonstop music-making. 142 songs were recorded in that time, 257.65 GB of music.
This is what the Revenge of the Dreamers III sessions looked like: one-part chaos, two-parts competition, and a whole lot of creative fun—at least according to the project's coinciding documentary. During this 10-day marathon, there were 12 separate studio setups for artists and producers to wander in and out. Each recording space functioned as its own unique and constantly shifting world. With so many talented individuals roaming the halls and feeding off whatever energies pulled them in, everybody felt an unspoken pressure to step their game up, vying not only for artistic space in a packed recording session, but also inrying to write something dope enough to make the album's final cut. This pressure appeared to stoke, rather than stifle, creativity.
"It's a frenzy," Dreamville artist Omen said in the documentary, addressing the sessions' vibe of healthy competition. "First of all, you gotta find your room, your spot, where you're gonna set up—whether that's writing, making a beat—because it's so many people coming through, and them spots get snatched up…And it's studios all around here, but, I mean, within probably 30 minutes, they might be all taken."
Once the creative frenzy finally came to an end, 18 songs were chosen out of the 142 recorded to appear on the final cut of Revenge of the Dreamers III. The end result featured 34 artists and 27 producers. Of those 18 songs, not a single one flopped or felt like filler, but this should come as no surprise. When you start with such a massive mountain of music inspired by such a uniquely dynamic and collaborative process, success is almost inevitable.
In addition to Dreamville co-founder and veteran emcee, J. Cole, ROTD III also showcases the breadth of the label's eclectic and talented roster: J.I.D., Bas, Omen, Cozz, Lute, Ari Lennox, EARTHGANG, and in-house producer, Elite. Since the album is a Dreamville Records compilation, these artists are the glue that holds everything together, offering a sort of stylistic motif in a crowded list of features that would otherwise risk sounding chaotic and without direction.
ROTD III also features Reason (of Kendrick Lamar's Top Dawg Entertainment fame), Young Nudy, T.I., Ski Mask the Slump God, Smokepurpp, Smino, Ty Dolla $ign, Saba, and Vince Staples (to name a few). So, this album is star-studded as a summer blockbuster, but what really stands out about this impressive guest list are the creative opportunities born from putting all these artists in one building for days on end—we get collaborations and truly fun moments that, had this album been recorded more traditionally, may have never been possible.
One such standout moment comes in the form of J.I.D. teaming up with T.I. for one of only two duets on the record (the other comes in the form of J. Cole with Young Nudy). Their track, "Ladies, Ladies, Ladies" is a buoyant spin on the Jay-Z classic, "Girls, Girls, Girls," in which J.I.D. runs through a list of the diverse range of women he's been with and the unique issues each one presented him. Then T.I. takes the second verse, prefacing it by playfully nodding to how much longer he's been around: "Young n----, you don't know nothing 'bout no bitches. Listen…" The track is a collaboration that we never knew we needed, and the two emcees bridge this generational divide smoothly.
Another powerful collaboration comes in the form of Reason and Cozz at the end of "LamboTruck," as they plot to rob their respective label-heads. Reason throws the idea out, rhyming, "Cozz, look, I done been broke too long / n----, bills too long, can't hide that, n---- / Cole just pulled up in a Lamborghini truck / On the homies and God, we should rob that n----." After Cozz takes issue with the plan, citing his allegiance to Cole, Reason offers another solution to the problem: "Look, let's make a deal / While I go and rob Cole, you go rob Top / Cool," Cozz agrees. This back and forth is the rare collaborative fire that ROTD III opens itself up to in its unprecedented approach to making a mixtape.
At the heart of this album is something that is at the heart of hip-hop itself: an element of fun and mutually beneficial competition for the greater good. The recording sessions at Sound Tree functioned as a microcosm of what it's like to try and make it in rap—throwing hundreds of talented people together into a shared space, all of them vying for their chance to shine. In the end, everyone grows creatively by their desire to surpass the bar set by their peers and predecessors. The whole of the culture is pushed forward every time one artist takes a step toward greatness. And in mirroring this, ROTD III translates into one of the most organic, enjoyable, and authentic hip-hop albums of the decade.
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