Music Reviews
10:51 am
Fri July 6, 2012

Big K.R.I.T.: Music Straight 'From The Underground'

Originally published on Fri July 6, 2012 1:20 pm

Big K.R.I.T.'s distinction as a rapper is the way he spreads his vowels out over his beats like gravy. There's little that's harsh in his phrasing, even as his lyrics can be tart or tough. In general, though, his tone over the course of Live From the Underground is a voice of coolness, of relaxation or resignation, even occasionally serenity.

Justin Scott, the man behind the Big K.R.I.T. image, possesses a sense of history. His immediate influences include other Southern hip-hop acts such as OutKast, David Banner and Scarface. But his musical influences reach back farther than that. He's said he was deeply influenced by soul men such as the gritty-voiced Bobby Womack and the angelic-toned Curtis Mayfield. It's no surprise, therefore, to hear him team up with a contemporary neo-soul singer, Anthony Hamilton, in "Porch Light," and to hear Big K.R.I.T. sample B.B. King in "Praying Man."

In Big K.R.I.T.'s vivid manifesto "Cool to Be Southern," the Mississippi native summons images of his grandparents and his favorite Southern food, aligning himself with what he frequently calls "country people." He concludes Live From the Underground with a languid version of the title song, singing as well as rapping, invoking the underground railroad as well as his own emergence from obscurity, taking care not to conflate the two. By the time it ends, you feel as though Big K.R.I.T. has taken you on a trip through his version of Southern history: troubled and comforting, bound by tradition and yet bursting with the ambition to be free in every aspect of his life.

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Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

Big K.R.I.T. is a Southern hip-hop artist who's recently released his major label debut titled "Live from the Underground." Justin Scott uses the stage name Big K.R.I.T., and the K.R.I.T. stands for Kings Remembered in Time. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of his album.

(SOUNDBITE OF "COOL 2 BE SOUTHERN")

BIG K.R.I.T.: (Rapping) We make it cool to be Southern. We make it cool to be Southern. We make it cool to be Southern. We make it cool to be Southern. We make it cool to be Southern.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Big K.R.I.T.'s distinction as a rapper is the way he spreads his vowels out over his beats like gravy. There's little that's harsh in his phrasing, even as his lyrics can be tart or tough. In general, though, his tone over the course of "Live from the Underground" is a voice of coolness, of relaxation or resignation, even occasionally serenity. Listen to the way he comes to terms with a life he describes as characterized by poverty in "Rich Dad, Poor Dad."

(SOUNDBITE OF "RICH DAD, POOR DAD")

K.R.I.T.: (Rapping) I had a rich dad, poor dad. I had a rich dad, poor dad. I had a rich dad, poor dad. So nothing in the sense of money spent. Christmas trees are beautiful without presents up under them. Lead by example. Don't get catch up in the rapture. Life is just a raffle, mostly pain, but some laughter. The older that you get, it's even harder to believe. No superheroes on TV you used to see.

(Rapping) Remember that I told you slow down, control your speed. The more you walk with God, the harder it is to scrape your knee. I remember when I fell from my first bike, there were no are-you-okays and rarely are-you-all-rights, just dirt in my pockets, handful of gravel. That's when I realized that getting up is only half the battle.

TUCKER: Justin Scott, the man behind the Big K.R.I.T. image, possesses a sense of history. His immediate influences are other Southern hip-hop acts such as Outkast, David Banner and the rapper Scarface. But his musical influences reach back farther than that. He's said he was deeply influenced by soul men such as the gritty-voiced Bobby Womack and the angelic-toned Curtis Mayfield.

It's no surprise, therefore, to hear him team up with a contemporary neo-soul singer, Anthony Hamilton, on the track titled "Porch Light," and to hear Big K.R.I.T. sample B.B. King on "Praying Man."

(SOUNDBITE OF "PRAYING MAN")

B.B. KING: (Singing) Yes, I was on the road, didn't know which way to go. I think I hear a praying man coming, a praying man coming. Sometimes I couldn't read the signs. My people done left me behind. Think I hear a praying man coming. I think I hear a praying man coming.

K.R.I.T.: (Rapping) Stumbling along the path, he emerged from the grass, stopped me and asked, why so sad - perhaps because they had taken what I had. I'm sure it wasn't much to them, but it was all that I could grab. I was on my way to church. I was running late at first. But with all this riffraff here, I missed service, and it hurts.

(Rapping) But what's worse, I'm not sure how long I've been swaying in the breeze, tired of talking to the trees, and you the first praying man I've seen. I figured you'd lend a hand, but if simply got some time, I'm glad you looked up, because most people pay no mind. He smiled and said, son, well, I can do you one better. He removed a pocket knife and cut me down from my oppressor forever.

KING: (Singing) Yes, I was on the road, didn't know which way to go...

TUCKER: At the start of this review, I played Big K.R.I.T.'s vivid manifesto "Cool to Be Southern." The Mississippi native summoned up images of his grandparents and his favorite Southern food, aligned himself with what he calls, throughout much of his work, country people. He concludes "Live from the Underground" with a languid version of the title song, singing as well as rapping, invoking the slave era underground railroad, as well as his own emergence from obscurity. Yet he's careful not to conflate the two.

By the time it ends, you feel as though Big K.R.I.T. has taken you on a trip through his version of Southern history, troubled and comforting, bound by tradition and yet bursting with the ambition to be free in every aspect of his life.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed "Live from the Underground," the new album from Big K.R.I.T. Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new Oliver Stone film, "Savages." This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.