Most rappers recoil when you compare them to artists who came before. “No,” they insist, “what I’m doing is completely and entirely original,” as if they’re making music in exile, completely cut off from hip-hop’s history, and present.
What these rappers fail to understand is that there’s an enormous difference between simply recycling, and building upon tradition, between wholesale copying, and adding your own home onto the musical foundation laid down by those who came before. What’s more, in the end, it’s always the homes with the strongest foundations that are left standing.
So when I say that newcomer Big K.R.I.T. is carrying on the legacy of fellow Southern heavyweights like UGK and Outkast, that should in no way diminish how undeniably dope his new album K.R.I.T. Wuz Here is, just like it doesn’t diminish Kobe’s accomplishments because Magic Johnson also once wore the same uniform. UGK was able to layer elements of intelligence and spiritually on top of their street swagger, an extremely difficult balancing act that K.R.I.T. also manages to pull off on Wuz Here. Now that doesn’t mean he doesn’t also have trailblazer tendencies. David Banner aside, his native Mississippi has no home state hip-hop hero to hold up as their own, but if K.R.I.T. can continue to grow as both a producer and a rapper, Meridian, Miss. should soon be proudly calling itself The Home of Big K.R.I.T.
There are two easy ways to think about K.R.I.T. and this album, and they’re both wrong (although a little right). First, you could listen to Wuz Here and think that he was yet another weed-smoking, pimp-obsessed Southern rapper, and you’d find evidence to support your theory. The album starts off with "Return of Forever," a pimpishly paced joint featuring a fearlessly bold verse from Big Sant that pushes the joint “bi**h/ho” count into the hundreds. A closer listen reveals a deceptively complex beat, but on the surface, the record lives shallowly on the streets and is happy to do so.
Closely related is the screwed influenced "Country S**t," an ode to K.R.I.T.’s rural roots that may have its edges rounded, but ultimately is about nothing more than, as the chorus suggests, looking fly, candy yams, collard greens, and p**y poppin. And just in case you thought that only those south of the Mason-Dixon line were interested in supremely soulful pimp anthems, K.R.I.T. reaches up north to bring Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y onto "Glass House," a formula he largely replicates, though slows down significantly, on the chronically influenced "No Wheaties," featuring Smoke DZA and, yet again, Curren$y. There are those who will listen to Wuz Here and think K.R.I.T. is heavy on hedonism and short on introspection, and as we can see, they wouldn’t be that far off.
Or would they? As well as K.R.I.T. plays the role of the production/emcee/pimp, there are moments, and a lot of them, on which its revealed that he’s a deeply intelligent and openly emotional emcee. Let’s start with my personal favorite "Hometown Hero," a beautiful track that K.R.I.T. laces with a gripping piano melody and ethereal vocal sample while he expounds on the tensions between big dreams and small-town reality (cue the Friday Night Lights references). Similarly, while Wuz Here never truly approaches ballad territory, "I Gotta Stay" comes close. The most lightly produced track on the album, "Stay" proves that K.R.I.T.’s relationship with women isn’t purely sexual as he reflects on love lost. The scope of his vision expands exponentially on the searching "Children of the World," and then retracts again on the deeply autobiographical "Good Enough." There are those who will listen to Wuz Here and think K.R.I.T. is a deeply serious rapper carrying the weight of the world on his mic, and they wouldn’t be that far off.
So how do we reconcile these two sides of K.R.I.T.? We don’t have to. He doesn’t have two sides. Instead, he has only one, very complicated side. Like—wait for it—Outkast and UGK, he’s talented enough to simultaneously reflect the world around him and reflect on it, like on the narrative-driven "They Got Us," which shows us the painfully human side of the strippers and hustlers glorified elsewhere on the album and the revolutionary funk-soul of "2000 & Beyond."
K.R.I.T. Wuz Here isn’t a perfect album, it could have used a more critical eye, but we can now rest assured that the future of Southern hip-hop has at least bright hope. Will Big K.R.I.T. ever truly make it to the top? Only time will tell, but no matter where he goes, the world will now know where he once was.