It’s been a big year or so for Big K.R.I.T. Shortly after signing with Def Jam last June, he was booed off the stage at the Highline Ballroom; later in 2010 the Mississipi-bred MC hit the road on the Smoker’s Club Tour (with Curren$y and Mac Miller) and the Wake And Bake Tour (with Wiz Khalifa), and in March of this year he released the critically acclaimed mixtape Return Of 4Eva.
The rise of K.R.I.T. (an acronym for King Remembered In Time) is particularly notable for coming during a time when the super-stupid styles of Waka Flocka and Lil B are all the rage. Despite—or maybe because of—his thought-out lyrics and soulful soundscapes, listeners gravitate to his music like he’s spitting nonsense about going hard in the paint and dead rappers being back. SOTC spoke to him about his reading habits, his biggest influences and the first time he sold a beat.
Why do you think people are latching on to your music?
I think it’s the honesty in my music, especially the lyrics. I’m not so glamorized and glittery that regular people can’t relate to me. My stuff deals more with my everyday life. I’m not scared to put my real life on wax so I think people admire that and feel what I’m saying and so gravitate toward it.
What’s been the best compliment you’ve gotten thus far?
That I’m reinstating the golden era of southern hip-hop. I’ve been told I’m, like, reintroducing the new generation to its roots. A lot of people didn’t know about our golden era. I’m talking the likes of UGK, the Dungeon Family, Geto Boys… that era, nahmtalkinbout? That influential music…
Speaking of influential, who were some of your biggest influences growing up in Mississippi?
Influences? Well, it wasn’t just southern rap because I was heavily influenced by B.I.G. and ‘Pac. Nas and AZ and even Mobb Deep. OutKast has a special place in my heart, though. So do UGK and Scarface. Music back then, people was more original. People repped their local culture and where they were from. Their lyrics took you to their hoods. You would learn their lingo, their slang, the neighborhood ins and outs. The music I like paints a vivid picture of a situation and a reality because that’s all I’m trying to do with my music.
You have an interesting way of putting words together. Do you read a lot?
I read more periodicals than I read books. The books I do read are kind of like success and self help-type books. I usually read those on long flights. I watch a lot of documentaries—that’s a big thing for me. I like documentaries a lot. I do want to read The Alchemist. Been meaning to pick that up. The last book I read was Crisis in Black and White by Charles E. Silberman. It deals with race relations. It made me very introspective while I was reading it and changed my thought process after I finished it. You should pick that one up.
So how’d you start making beats?
Out of necessity. I couldn’t afford to buy beats so I started producing. First, I started with MTV Music Generator on Playstation. If you can make beats on that you can do it on anything. After I got better I started fucking with Fruity Loops and then eventually graduated to Reason. That’s what I still use today.
Which do you feel you can express yourself better with? Rhymes or beats?
The rhymes. Before beats it was just freestyling, you know? Just saying something dope and people reacting like “Oooooo!” More importantly, when people tell you that you helped them through something with your words is probably the best feeling ever. You don’t get that type of reaction from beats.
Your beats often have a dusty, soulful edge to them. In the video for “Dreamin'” you have a shot of you looking through crates of old records. How much time do you spend digging in the crates?
It depends. I dig as much as possible but I’m trying to use some more live instrumentation on this next Def Jam album because I’m producing all of it and I want it to be even more soulful.
To be honest, I check the Internet for shit to sample a lot, but I dig as much as possible. Thing is, vinyl records take up a lot of space. But I will say the crackle and pop of vinyl just sounds so much better than streaming an MP3.
What kind of kid were you in high school?
I did a lot of writing. Rhymes, poems, stories… I played baseball and the tuba, which is probably why I love that thick bass and 808s. Overall I was pretty quiet. Me and my potnas were always into music though. Even back then, I was making beats. I remember I sold my first 5 beats in Atlanta for $500. I was so happy. It solidified my desire to do music full-time. I remember I went to the mall and balled out on that $500. I was in eleventh grade, so that was a big deal to me. After that I started selling my first CD, called Comin’ Down, hand to hand. It was chopped and skrewed and I was selling it for $5. People would buy it and come back later like, “It’s dope!” Mind you, this is shit I wouldn’t want people to hear nowadays (laughs). But it definitely motivated me. It made me feel like music was my calling.
I’m glad you mentioned motivation. You talk about smoking and drinking fairly often in your music. Do you think those habits hinder your motivation and hence productivity?
Depends. Before shows I don’t get too intoxicated. It’s not the move to be stumbling around the stage and forgetting the words to your shit. As for smoking, it’s more about the health aspect. The rap lifestyle can be unhealthy. I was on the Wake and Bake Tour, The Smokers’ Club Tour… [All that smoking] can get excessive. Plus you’re eating bad on the road, you don’t sleep much… all of that takes its toll.
But it doesn’t hinder my productivity. I do this from the soul.