Big K.R.I.T. Iz Still Growing: Interview

“I want people to know I’m growing and I’m learning as I get older.”
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2019 feels like Big K.R.I.T.’s moment in the sun. The 33-year-old rapper-producer has been making trunk knockers, Southern anthems, soulful confessions, and pushing his pen for over a decade. In 2010, K.R.I.T. dropped K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, his sixth mixtape. In 2019, the wordsmith released K.R.I.T. IZ HERE. The story of triumph writes itself. 

Going from the past to the present, from case-locked to caps-locked, 2019 feels like K.R.I.T.’s official arrival and declaration of unwavering confidence. K.R.I.T. IZ HERE is the artist’s most celebratory record. It is K.R.I.T.’s grand statement of purpose. Where 2010’s Wuz Here was focused on proving K.R.I.T.’s place in rap, the 2019 offering has a much broader vision.

“It’s me and the confidence I have to tell people what I do is at its highest,” K.R.I.T. tells me over the phone. “I still have a lot more work to do as far as—to me—sonically and creatively. I can’t become complacent; I always have to do more. I’ve been blessed to grow continuously… I feel like I haven’t reached the level I wanna be at, and Lord knows I may never.”

K.R.I.T. IZ HERE works for myriad reasons. Lyrically, K.R.I.T. is in his braggadocious pocket, without sacrificing sharpness. Sonically, too, he stepped out of his comfort zone and employed a gang of producers—Rico Love, Tae Beast, DJ Khalil, and more—to help shape his 2019 sound. Though K.R.I.T. is one of the most capable rapper-producer-mixers currently working, it’s admirable to watch him cede creative control in one aspect of his artistry, a decision that is allowing him to focus on his writing and bringing his songs unparalleled life.

“It was terrifying at first because I always wanna do my best,” he admits. “We ended up having over 70 songs. It showed me the value of creating with others, the collective effort. And understanding the criticism sometimes [is] because people want me to change it up and flow a little different, and challenging myself to do those things.”

While there are many lessons to glean from the Meridian, Mississippi native’s career, the main takeaway is perseverance. K.R.I.T.’s here. He’s not satisfied. He’s not going anywhere, either. He’s still growing.

“As I grow, my music should grow,” K.R.I.T. concludes. “I shouldn’t feel like I felt when I was 21 years old. I have a little bit more clarity, a little bit more wisdom. I should strive always to be better, and if that’s the case, then my music will continuously grow. Lord willing, people will be proud of [the music] when I’m gone.”

Our full conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: Across your career, you’ve never buckled under the pressure of trends. K.R.I.T. always sounds like K.R.I.T.. In hindsight, where did that dedication to yourself come from?

Big K.R.I.T.: It was staying true to my roots, wanting to bring people into where I was from and what I had to deal with in the music industry. With that, it’s the road less traveled, not worrying about radio all that much. I’m not concerned with if people get my music at the moment, but knowing I tried to make something timeless.

Was there any moment where you wished you had taken the easy way out?

Definitely! In the early parts of my career. One of the biggest goals was getting my music played on the radio and getting signed to a label. That’s the “You made it” kinda vibe. But once those things don’t transpire for you, the reality of the grind sets in. It’s not gonna be one song that puts you in front of the world and gets you the check that’s gon’ take care of your family. It’s not gonna be the label that gives you everything you want to push your music out.

You gonna have to get it from the ground up. That came from me having to put out a lot of music at once, doing the smallest shows possible, and growing and being adamant. It was for the best, for me. It gave me this thing now where I don’t have to be on the radio or a label. We been doing this for so long, [fans] trust me to give the quality over quantity. I want people to know I’m growing, and I’m learning as I get older.

Your career has been so windy, but K.R.I.T. IZ HERE feels like you’re shouting from the mountaintop.

Now, it’s me and the confidence I have to tell people what I do is at its highest. I still have a lot more work to do as far as—to me—sonically and creatively. I can’t become complacent. I always have to do more. I’ve been blessed to grow continuously. I got the kinda people who will be honest with me, too. I got an engineer who’s gonna tell me, “That verse is aight, you could go harder.” These are the things that, even now, I need. I feel like I haven’t reached the level I wanna be at, and Lord knows I may never. That’s gonna make for great music and great visuals and keep me pushing. I’m still just as hungry as I was in my grandmama’s kitchen, recording.

Earlier this year, you told Rob Markman K.R.I.T. Wuz Here was your attempt to prove you “belong in this arena of hip-hop.” What did you want to prove with K.R.I.T. IZ HERE?

To celebrate all the people that see me in a certain light and for me, out there on the block like “Have you heard that K.R.I.T. album?” To show that I’m here and I got that confidence, too, and we’re gonna take [the music] even further now. Even with the shows, I feel like a new artist. It’s interesting to see younger people out there, mixed in with some people I’ve seen throughout the years. It’s a realization that I’mma say what I wanna say. I’m gonna talk about what I wanna talk about. It’s not the stress of wondering… If I ain’t got the single, we ain’t ready. Nah, this what I wanna put out. This what I got, and we gonna run with it. It’s a beautiful thing to be independent and do it my way.

More than ever, you sound tuned in with your vision of yourself. From 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time to the new album, how did your view of yourself change?

I would say it started with 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time, because I had the opportunity to do a double album. I wanted to do a double album with Cadillactica, and we didn’t get a chance. So I was working on 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time, probably a year in, and I remember talking to my manager Dutch and marketing manager Steve-O, being like, “Man, I wanna divide it.” I always had a hard time sequencing my records. You wanna have the energetic record, the car record, the introspective record, and sequencing it was difficult. With 4eva, I wanted to do a double album and show my duality.

With the album, it was the first time where I felt a little freer with the transparency. Showing people I have these mixed messages, and some things I love to do are bad for me! That was the beginning, and after that, K.R.I.T. IZ HERE was [me] getting out of my comfort zone completely. I only produced one song on the entire album. I worked with a lot of other producers and kind of gave up the reins on the production end to write. That was a different thing for me. It was time for a change, and I was confident in my writing! It was an amazing experience.

Was that scary for you, giving up creative control in one avenue to focus on the writing?

It was terrifying at first because I always wanna do my best. If I produce the record and it doesn’t come out right, no one has to hear it. But you get in with other producers, and you don’t know if you execute it the way the producer heard it. It allowed them to be brutally honest. We ended up having over 70 songs. It showed me the value of creating with others, the collective effort, and understanding that the criticism sometimes [is] because people want me to change it up and flow a little different, and challenging myself actually to do those things.

Going back to your interview with Rob Markman, you end by talking about the importance of breaks. What moment led you to understand it’s okay to take time off?

Yes, that was during the EP. Once we finished TRIFECTA, I was dealing with a lot of things emotionally. Trying to figure out, not only the album, but how I felt about music, and whatever might’ve been going [on] with society. 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time, I worked on for two years. I was under the radar, hadn’t dropped anything, and I remember the space I got in. I was aware of my anxiety, my depression, creatively where I wanted to be, and getting to spend time with my family.

Fast forward, working on this album, it dawned on me that I have spent a lot of time working on music and chasing it. I’m not giving people the time they deserve. I encourage artists to decompress. Put yourself in a position to be around people that knew you before any of this happened, because it’s a recharge. It’s a refuel. All that positive energy, you’re gonna need it. It’s amazing on tour, the hugs I get from people, the handshakes, the excitement… It’s giving me fuel for this next album.

As a multi-talented artist, when you take a break, is there any worry about losing it if you don’t use it?

Definitely. My grandma told me, “God gave you a talent. If you don’t use it, he’ll take it away.” That weighed on me, but I think of it as an ongoing thing as far as sharpening your sword. You have the technique for it, you have the passion for it, and sometimes your sword gets dull. You just gotta sharpen it. I haven’t written anything while I’ve been out here, other than notes to myself. Mind you, when I get home, I might be rusty, but the more I write, my talents will get sharper. It’s still a muscle memory thing. I’ve been doing it long enough now, I’ll find it. I’ll find the flow [laughs].

How would you define the Big K.R.I.T. legacy?

It’s interesting that my rap name is still prevalent in everything I do. It’s all coming into fruition. It’s all happening in front of me. I’m making the proper steps to leave something here. It’s being aware of all the songs [and] the energy I put out. As I grow, my music should grow. I shouldn’t feel like I felt when I was 21 years old. I have a little bit more clarity, a little bit more wisdom. I should strive always to be better, and if that’s the case, then my music will continuously grow. Lord willing, people will be proud of [the music] when I’m gone.

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