Big K.R.I.T. - Live From the Underground

Posted May 31, 2012

I’m willing to concede that there may be some people for whom Live From the Underground is...

Live From the Underground Album Review

I’m willing to concede that there may be some people for whom Live From the Underground is their first real experience listening to Big K.R.I.T. To those people I say welcome, you’re not too late. Enjoy listening to a man with a vision, a man who’s simply one of the more talented emcees and producers alive.

To everyone else though, and I have to assume the vast majority of people reading this, KRIT’s Live From the Underground is about much more than just an album. I’m writing this review for those people. For many us this album came weighted with expectations of “classic” status, an expectation set by the release of three previous phenomenal projects: K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, Returnof4Eva and 4EvaNaDay. For those of us steeped in over two years now of peerless Krizza releases it’s impossible to listen to Underground and not compare it to his previous albums, and expect more. After all, this is his first “real” album, the first album released officially through a major label (Def Jam) and the first K.R.I.T.’s asking us to spend our money on. That means it has to be better, right?

I understand that way of thinking, but it’s completely backwards. The reason we’ve grown to love K.R.I.T. is because he’s delivered “album” quality projects, for free, more consistently than anyone else in hip-hop. Literally anyone. He didn’t hold back on Return of 4Eva, he didn’t take his best work off 4EvaNaDay and save it for the “album”. He didn’t deliver the quality sh*t to the label and give the people his second-rate sh*t. Hell, he called his major label debut Live From the Underground, what more could you ask for? So yes, by all means compare Underground to his previous projects, debate away. But anyone who says anything even in the neighborhood of, “ReturnOf4Eva was better, I’m not gonna pay this,” is ironically punishing K.R.I.T. for giving us so much.

In Krizza’s case the distinction in quality between a mixtape and album is irrelevant and outdated. If Live From the Underground is your third favorite K.R.I.T. project that doesn’t mean he’s underdelivered on his “album”. Instead it means he’s given us four albums, all of which range from classic to approaching classic, and one of them just so happens to be for sale. A major label album isn’t a validation of K.R.I.T.’s work, unlike most artists it’s not the biggest moment of his career. It’s simply another moment in the journey of a rapper dedicated to making timeless music. So if you’re so fixated on Underground’s (real or perceived) faults that you’ve lost perspective on everything K.R.I.T.’s given us, you’re what’s wrong with hip-hop.

There, now that I’ve laid down that extremely long but completely necessary pre-amble, we can get to the music. The brilliant thing about the best Southern hip-hop (see also, Outkast, UGK, etc.) is that it combines the soul of hardship with the celebration of success, the spirit of the church with the reality of the streets. It’s K.R.I.T.’s ability to combine both those extremes in one song that’s made tracks like Sookie Now and My Sub so addictive, and its that ability that’s the most notably absent on Live From the Underground. I Got This has it; I don’t know what to tell you, if you listen to that track and don’t feel like taking over the world, you might not have a pulse. I’d say the same thing for the more relaxed but equally affecting Money on the Floor, but What U Mean, featuring the album’s biggest name Ludacris, just doesn’t connect as strongly as, say, the Country Shit (Remix), and My Sub Pt. 2 doesn’t quite hit the heights of the original My Sub.

On the other end of the spectrum though Underground is absolutely excellent. Simply put, Praying Man is literally hip-hop history in the making – how many other rappers could get B.B. King on a track? – and Rich Dad, Poor Dad is lyrical proof of just how much K.R.I.T. has grown as an emcee. And in the middle of the spectrum between Underground’s slower, more contemplative offerings and its trunk rattlers lies tracks like the strangely hypnotic Hydroplaning, the more musically adventurous Don’t Let Me Down and the piano driven If I Fall, which pushes K.R.I.T. into more R&B territory without having him abandon his Southern roots. More importantly, it turns out that those who feared that Def Jam would push K.R.I.T. into “mainstream” territory, a topic he addressed repeatedly on 4EvaNaDay, had nothing to fear. There’s not a song on Live From the Underground that reeks of an attempt to woo MTV, thank sweet baby jesus.

Ultimately, Live From the Underground may not be K.R.I.T.’s best album yet, for most that’d be ReturnOf4Eva, but that’s like saying Michael Jordan’s fourth championship was the “best” of his six titles. You’re still comparing excellence to excellence, and everything we’ve heard from Big K.R.I.T., including Live From the Underground, says the man’s positioned to be one of hip-hop’s greatest when all is said and done.

DJBooth Rating - 4 Spins

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Posted May 31, 2012
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