Up to now, Meridian, Miss., population 40,000, is more known for being the hometown of Jimmie Rodgers, famous country yodeler of such Depression-era classics like “In the Jailhouse Now,” than for being a hotbed of hip-hop talent. That could change, though, with the emergence of rapper/producer Big K.R.I.T. Though Big K.R.I.T. has been releasing independent albums since 2005, he has only become a rising force in hip-hop circles, especially blogs, over the past year. Last winter he released the DJ Break ’em Off-sponsored mixtape, The Last King, and the album finally captured the buzz and recognition K.R.I.T. had been striving for. A free album released through Cinematic Music Group and Creative Control, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, hit the Web this month to further critical acclaim.
Sounding like a cross between T.I. and Pimp C, Big K.R.I.T. raps in a breathless drawl about the familiar themes: hustling, pimping, and the plight of the impoverished and isolated. He’s a remarkably versatile rapper, appearing as comfortable on a widescreen banger like The Last King’s “The South” as he does on the introspective, subdued “Something,” off K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. What’s unique, and arguably more impressive, about Big K.R.I.T.’s music is the fact that he produces all the beats himself. Like his hero Pimp C, K.R.I.T. favors vintage soul samples, but he dresses up those old tunes with layers of keyboards and club-ready percussion for an effect that is less lean and funky like UGK than it is dizzying, maximalist, and utterly absorbing. This is country rap, sure, but it’s country rap stamped with the cosmopolitan influences of the Internet and Atlanta, where K.R.I.T. has resided for the past few years.
You’ve been making music since 2005. Tell me a little bit about those early albums and the beginning of your career.
I did From the Trap to the Stroll with DJ Folk, and that was the first time I ever did a mixtape with a DJ who was really pushing it and doing his thing. Then I came out with See Me on Top 1 in 2005, which was all originals but one song, and it was crazy ‘cause everybody was taking to the music, the fact that it was all original, that I was a young kid from Mississippi. But on an underground level, pushing independent with no budget, it only went so far. When See Me On Top 1 came out, I was still based out of Mississippi, going back and forth to Atlanta. But When See Me on Top 2 came out in 2007, also hosted by DJ Folk, I moved to Atlanta.
The first record that really took off for me on an independent scale was “Just Touched Down,” and so on an underground level everybody was fucking with it. Just off the strength of “Just Touched Down,” we kind of built a street buzz and I was doing shows, in parts of Georgia like Macon and at home in Mississippi. But I was turned down a lot by record labels because I was from Mississippi and the music didn’t sound like what was popular on the radio back then, and there were a lot of big artists who were coming out around that time. Jeezy just coming out and Gucci Mane was getting his buzz up. I think I got swallowed up.
How do you think your producing and rapping has evolved since 2005?
It goes from being a beat maker to producer. You can make a beat, but producing a record is a totally different thing. Now I have a better understanding: “Well, maybe I shouldn’t put this there” and “Let’s move this over there.” The mixing aspect, I’m way better with it. It’s about understanding acoustics and sounds, and what’s good to the ear. In a rapping aspect, compared with the songs I did way back then, my hooks are stronger, my voice is bringing more feeling, and I’m not scared to hit the red on the microphone, to really express myself with my words. It wasn’t an overnight thing, but at the same time I feel blessed that I’m getting the opportunity to be seen in this light. If it had been two or three years ago I might not have been ready, but now I feel like I’m on deck, you know.
What is your hometown, Meridian, like, and how has it influenced your sound? How did the transition to Atlanta affect you?
First of all, Atlanta is a big, metropolitan place, with a lot of people. Where I’m from is a small city. We’re country. In terms of pushing hip-hop music, the radio stations in Meridian are only playing what every other radio station is playing and what the labels are sending them. There’s not a real big underground hip-hop thing. When I got to Atlanta, you’ve got radio stations that really only play what’s in the street. It was a lot of love in Atlanta. There are so many rappers, and everybody’s kind of working together, and the DJs are a little bit more open to saying, “Yeah, I’ll check it out.”
Everybody in Atlanta wants to get hip to shit. People want to work. Being put on to how to market my music, get covers and put out mixtapes properly and networking — I got a lot of that from being in Atlanta. And it’s a melting pot as far as hip-hop’s concerned, and I took it back to Mississippi and built my buzz up. As far as the sound’s concerned, it’s all soul and Mississippi blues where I’m from, so I try to incorporate that in my music, especially as far as using samples of soul shit that I really like and trying to make it as timeless as possible.
How often do you go back to Meridian? What it’s like when you go home?
It’s definitely love. They understand that I’m not just doing it for my personal, like, “Oh, I wanna be the greatest rapper.” It’s more of a movement to me, as far as my state having a sound, a shot like other places. Not a lot of people get the opportunity to rap and tell the story about what’s going on in Meridian. And when I’m at home it’s all love. I’m calling out places that they recognize. When I’m doing these mixtapes and interviews and I holla out “Redline” or 300 block or 8th Street, where I’m from, people know exactly what I’m talking about.
One of the things you rap about on the album is the fact that other Southeastern states — Louisiana, Texas, Alabama — have had their moment, but that hasn’t happened for Mississippi yet. What makes Mississippi unique? What makes Mississippi different from those other places?
We have our own way of living that the world hasn’t gotten to see. On the record I do a song called “Gumpshun.” It was a word that was utilized in my household. If my grandmamma said “you got gumpshun,” it’s like you’ve got guts, you’ve got nerve, you’ve got will, you’ve got drive. I want to bring a word that I used and play off that lingo. Like when Outkast first came out, everybody was like, What are you talking about. You had to listen to the music and dive deep and you finally figured out what the words meant, and then you were like “Ohhh.” And so that’s what I want to do. It’s another lingo; it’s a different culture going on down there that I want to expose people to. We’re country but we have our cities, we’re still intelligent, we’ve got substantive lyricism, you just gotta go down there and find out. There’s a lot of history there too, and I want to touch on all that.
Video for “Hometown Hero,” off The Last King:
K.R.I.T. Wuz Here: http://www.djbooth.net/index/mixtapes/entry/big-krit-krit-wuz-here/
The Last King: http://www.sendspace.com/file/0ggude