Live From the Underground
6:00PM ET June 10th, 2012
Contributor: Todd Williams
A Rocky Williform Company
"Mama say I'm letting life go by, as if I ain't grinding. As if I don't try."
The lead-up to Big K.R.I.T.'s debut album may not have reached feverish, Drake-like levels of anticipation, but the Mississippi-born rapper has become one of the most respected rhymers in the game--and quietly one of the South's most distinctive producers. Fans of classic southern hip hop fawned over K.R.I.T. for his distinctive blend of U.G.K.-isms and Organized Noize musicality. But K.R.I.T. is no mere throwback artist, he uses the past as a touchstone, but he has developed his own voice.
He's not a revivalist, he's a survivalist.
And K.R.I.T.'s debut Live From the Underground, fulfills much of the promise the young emcee revealed on mixtape after mixtape and via guest appearances with critically-acclaimed artists like The Roots.
This is the thinking man's trap music.
The evolution of a young man's psyche, as well as reverence for classic southern hip hop are recurring themes throughout the album. Eightball & MJG, UGK and Ludacris all make guest appearances. An from the rainy day sounds of "Hydroplaning" to the Dungeon Family-esque "Porchlight," K.R.I.T. isn't afraid to pick himself a part over a stirring string of tracks.
The piano-driven "If I Fall" is a standout, with Melanie Fiona providing vocal-assistant as KRIT raps about perseverance in a percussive flow reminiscent of early Ice Cube one second and 2Pac at his most thoughtful the next. "Praying Man" opens with an evocative snippet of a Southern Baptist Church congregation singing a traditional hymn, which bleeds into legendary bluesman B.B. King's world-weary vocals singing the hook. "They've taken what I had. I'm sure it wasn't much to them but it was all that I grab," raps KRIT, with King's distinctive licks permeating the track throughout.
"Rich Dad, Poor Dad" covers familiar hip hop territory; fatherhood and the struggles that come along with it. But K.R.I.T.'s perspective is one of gratitude for his own father's guidance and the acknowledgement of his own inadequacies. There hasn't been a rapper as unashamedly pensive as this in quite some time. K.R.I.T.'s in his own head a lot.
That could make for a frustrating listen--no one likes a narcissist, after all. But K.R.I.T. puts it all across with a humility and sincerity that never seems self-absorbed. If the album has a flaw, its that uptempo, brag-fests like "Yeah Dats Me" sound a little less-than-convincing when coming from a rapper as notoriously self-questioning as K.R.I.T.
But, for the most part, Big K.R.I.T. reveals himself to be a young man with an old soul--and a sick flow. There are lots of upstart rappers that have technique, but many of them don't have a sharp perspective. Live From the Underground may fall just short of instant-classic status, but there's no shame in that when music is this rich.
This guy is just getting started.