Big K.R.I.T. & When Signing to a Major Label Feels Like an Office Job

I can relate to Big K.R.I.T.'s struggles with Def Jam, I've worked crappy office jobs too.
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Get money, don’t be no lame. Bench warmers never ride foreign, so play the game...

My eyes stagger open. I fumble around for my phone, pressing the first button I can find. Five minutes later...

Ain't nothing for free so get your ass up.

"Fine, K.R.I.T. You win"

Like a zombie, I would roll out of bed, (maybe) shower, throw on my wrinkled khakis, grab my button down from the dryer and rush out the door. I was late to work. Late to a bullshit job in a bullshit office with bullshit people where I’d have to fake my way through a meeting or a phone call while my boss spouts some nonsense. Never work for your significant other’s mother, especially when she runs an office that makes Dunder Mifflin look like Google. I dreamt of quitting, of throwing my coffee mug against the wall and shouting expletives as I walked out the door.

"Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you, you’re cool, fuck you".

I relished in this fantasy until the clock struck 4:45, I never could make it those last 15 minutes. I would have loved to quit but bills, rent, and the thought of explaining to my girlfriend why Thanksgiving would be extra awkward this year was too much to bear. That’s the most soul-crushing thing about a 9-5, how helpless you feel. It’s all out of your hands. You're a sheep. Sure, you signed away your life voluntarily, but did you really have a choice? You are a prisoner whose chains are bills and society's expectations. From day one you are conditioned: Get good grades, go to college, graduate and find a job. That’s it. It’s as if everything in your life leads to employment. Once you get that job that’s it, you are complete. What they don’t tell you, what they don’t prep you for, is the never ending struggle that happens after you get hired. That’s the real struggle.

I realized about four weeks into my office job I was not cut out for that shit, but I couldn’t tell anyone. I couldn’t go home and tell my girlfriend about how my boss had yelled at me because that boss was my girlfriend's mom. I couldn’t tell my friends because they were friends with my girlfriend. I couldn’t tell my parents because they would flip. Each and every day I was forced to walk in to work and act like everything was fine and dandy; that was the worst part of it all. I felt small, powerless, a victim to the powers that be. I had played their game for two decades only to be rewarded with a stagnant, dull future.

When I hear K.R.I.T.'s flip of “Morning Tears” I get a cold, dull chill. It reminds me of the days I didn’t have control, but back then it also represented something different, a light at the end of the tunnel. Our circumstances were different, but if K.R.I.T. made it so could I. It represented the cosmic balance that would always favor the noble and true. If a sample-heavy, soulful, and talented artist like K.R.I.T. could make it despite the odds there might just be hope for someone like me. I looked up to K.R.I.T., even heeded his advice as though he was a prophet. I used to bow to the king, but now I sympathize with him. I'm starting to realize K.R.I.T. may be stuck in a cube himself.

True hip-hop heads, the ones who spend time scouring blogs and finding the next great emcee, pretend like they don’t care about the mainstream, but the truth is, deep down, it concerns us more than we’d like to admit. We want that validation. The world would be a better place if the artists who created thoughtful, original art were pushed like those who cut corners and copy, so we champion artists like K.R.I.T. - ones who have the potential to unite the independent and the mainstream -because we want to live in a world where good prevails.

K.R.I.T. probably felt the same thing. Signing to Def Jam, he had a real chance to make the music he loved, make it the right way, and maybe even become a major label superstar in the process. He wouldn’t have to sacrifice any creative control and would be able to change the game.

I’m sure signing day only reinforced that feeling. Walking into Def Jam, a room full of execs nodding in your direction, seeing the plaques on the wall as you head into Sha Money’s office where he tells you how amazing you are, how much he loves your music and how he wants you to produce for everyone. Finally inking that deal. That first deposit slip. I’d have to imagine K.R.I.T. felt a little bit like I did when I got “signed,” to finally achieve that goal, to finally feel like you officially made it, must have felt good. But just like it did for me, I’m sure reality set in fast. It is vastly different from sitting at a desk watching the clock go backwards, but it’s a reality that doesn’t live up to the fantasy all the same.

The reality is that signing to a label is a business deal. When you sign that contract, you agree to play a different game, one dictated by their rules. Sure, Sha Money probably did love K.R.I.T.’s production, could you blame him? Those samples! Still, there’s a budget. K.R.I.T. was used to sampling whatever he wanted whenever he wanted, but under Def Jam’s banner, he has to worry about publishing. When dropping a tape (hosted by DJBooth), you don't need a single, when dropping an album for mass consumption a radio single is the first thing you need. Even if you manage a radio single, even if you manage to sample without sampling, it all depends on how well Def Jam markets your album, how well they ship it. 

The reality is Krizzle is a square peg trying to fit in a round hole. The reality is that “making it” is much different that what we think and like me sitting at a desk counting the minutes until 4:45, it seems like K.R.I.T is slowly but surely realizing it. Like me, he can't yell, kick and scream, but the frustration manifests itself in his music. 

"And I'ma pimp what I can from Def Jam / Cause I know my worth ain't cheap"- "Can’t Be Still"

"Tell Def Jam run that bread, I don't give a fuck" - "Let It Show"

"Talkin' fourth down, can't throw the ball to Def Jam cause they might fumble" - "King Of The South"

When you spend as much time as we do with artists (musically, and on occasion, physically) they seem so big. They seem like kings and gods hanging out in the VIP section of Mt. Olympus, riding around in cars we can't afford in places we’ll never go. That’s just an image; the king remembered in time is subject to the same rules as you or me. Artists have bosses, rules and burdens. They are a small part of a much bigger system.

Look at J.Cole’s “Note To Self,” look how many people are involved in an album who don't have their name on the cover; producers, A&R’s, DJs, social media interns and marketing teams. Albums don’t “go” based on merit, they “go” because Def Jam puts more marketing money towards Bieber than Cadillactica. They “go” (or don’t) because the new intern fucks up and they don't ship any albums to that Target in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

So much of an album's success hinges on everything but the music itself, but we treat the music itself as the deciding factor. We measure success by the system's markers while we bemoan its structure. We want K.R.I.T. to succeed because we love his music but we don’t take into account that success will inevitably change his music. We all want the safe, secure 9-5 with a 401K, a loving family and a two car garage, but we don't want to show up to the soul-crushing office job that will get us all those things. I didn't realize the ramifications of joining the mainstream, I'm not quite sure K.R.I.T. did either. 

What’s next for K.R.I.T? What happens when he’s pimped all he can from Def Jam and Def Jam has pimped all they can from K.R.I.T? Will he sign to another label? Go indie (he really should sign to JAMLA)? I’m not sure.

It seems to me though that he knows Def Jam isn’t his home, he’s merely paying rent. Where he’ll move next, who can say? Whether it be an artist or a cubical humper, once we clock out of their system for the last time, once that last paycheck comes in, all we are left with is the hope that it truly is better this way.

[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is College Dropout but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth. Art by JEM.]

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