Ryan Buell | This Week in Hip-Hop
Love for the underground
Published: Monday, September 30, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 30, 2013 02:09
The rise of the Internet and social media has brought drastic changes to the music industry. Album sales are being displaced by free downloads, both legal and illegal, as the means for music distribution. Radio plays have given way to YouTube views as the measurement of an artist’s popularity. Even the once indomitable record companies are losing their power due to the rise of independent artists and labels. All of these trends are making it easier than ever for an underground musician to “blow up” and reach an ever-expanding audience. And yet there are still exceptions. Sometimes all the talent in the world isn’t enough to propel an artist to music’s forefront. Case in point: Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T.
Renowned within hip-hop circles for his passion, lyrical depth and production work, K.R.I.T. (which stands for King Remembered In Time) has yet to see any significant mainstream success, despite his outstanding body of work. Frequently compared to Southern hip-hop legends UGK and OutKast, K.R.I.T. has the full skill set: a characteristically smooth Southern flow, a penchant for trunk-rattling bangers, an ability to conjure deeply personal and nostalgic lyrics, a phenomenal ear for sampling and production and an unmatched hunger that is reflected throughout his work. Anyone that gives his music the time of day it deserves will surely agree that he is one of the best rappers of the new generation.
So why then, if what I say is true, haven’t more people heard of him? Foremost, K.R.I.T.’s formula was never one designed to reach mainstream success. His production work relies heavily on sampling, which can make clearing songs on for-purchase albums troublesome. This helps explain why K.R.I.T.’s main body of work is in the form of free mixtapes. Furthermore, he isn’t one to compromise his sound or creativity in search of radio spins. As a result, he receives limited promotion from his label, Def Jam, possibly due to a perceived lack of commercial viability. His commitment to his home state of Mississippi compounds this issue, because there is a bias towards rappers from big cities, particularly those with a strong hip-hop past. K.R.I.T. has resisted pressures to change his regional alliance to a more prominent hip-hop hub, such as Atlanta. Though record labels may view these “issues” as commercial liabilities, for K.R.I.T., they are just examples of how he remains true to his music and to his fans. These factors — lack of promotion, problems with sample clearance, label pressures for a commercially viable single — combined to make his debut for-purchase album “Live from the Underground” relatively lackluster and commercially unsuccessful (it has sold 83,000 copies to date).
Big K.R.I.T.’s most impressive work, however, can be found on his free mixtapes. Two of his early mixtapes, “K.R.I.T. Wuz Here” and “Return of 4Eva” are considered modern classics by many hip-hop heads, myself included. For the new listener, I recommend the songs “American Rapstar,” “Dreamin’” and “Neva Go Back” as his most accessible listens. With that being said, there is hardly a track worth skipping on either of these free albums. The same can be said of the mixtape “4EvaNaDay,” a personal favorite. The project blends soulful ballads (“Yesterday”), passionate pleas for recognition (“Handwriting”) and head-nodders meant to blow out your speakers (“Temptation”). Every song is evidence of K.R.I.T.’s undying commitment to his music.
Rare are artists that I fully and wholeheartedly believe in, but Big K.R.I.T. is one of them. In a rap game dominated by the false and fake (cough Rick Ross cough), K.R.I.T. is a refreshing taste of truth and realness. If even one more person learns to appreciate the brilliance that is K.R.I.T.’s music, I will consider this column a success. The time to remember the King is now.
Ryan Buell is a sophomore who has not yet declared a major. He can be reached at Ryan.Buell@tufts.edu.