Money Making Jam Boys’ “Crown on the Ground” has had me thinking lately: whose crown? After all, everyone in the group save STS is from Philadelphia, yet he of the Houston area steals the scene (as usual on that tape). And with good reason, as the southern crown is most up for grabs with T.I. unable to stay out of prison, Wayne seeming more of a pop star these days, and we’re all still hesitant to claim Ross is as good a rapper as he is an executive producer. But really, are any rappers crowned in their cities right now? I can’t think of a time the west coast has been less relevant—the Internet’s given way to some online celebrities, but the Game is still the coast’s most relevant MC, and that’s a shame. New York has Jay-Z, but at this point doesn’t he feel bigger than the city, as massive as that requires he be?
And then there’s Atlanta, or more obtusely the South, for whom the crown has always seemed to hold immense social importance. After all, the crown never meant that you were just the best rapper in the region. Hell, most scenes down south don’t necessarily recognize ‘rap talent’ in the old understanding of the term. There’s been Pimp C, there’s been the Dungeon Family collectively, there’s been T.I., and now possibly Rick Ross. But I’m sure you see where I’m going with this by now—straight to the self-proclaimed “king without a crown”, Big K.R.I.T.. He’ll no doubt be a king remembered in time, as his name postulates, but why should we wait for time? I say we go ahead and let K.R.I.T. lift the crown from the ground to his head post-haste.
Returnof4eva is, for those who came into K.R.I.T.‘s life through K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, a surprise. Where that album stormed out of the gates full of self-righteous purpose and self-serving awesome sauce, Returnf4eva finds K.R.I.T. already moving to a much cooler head space. The unfortunate, striving, starved attitude of tracks like “Hometown Hero”, “Something”, and “Children of the World” are much more prominent here, beginning with “Dreamin’”, K.R.I.T.‘s utterly amazing lead single that blends the sample-incorporating lyricism of “Something” with the coming up story of “Hometown Hero” to create a song that more effectively communicates K.R.I.T.‘s musical vision than any song of his to date. Consider it perhaps his “Return of the ‘G’”, a mission statement so direct, forceful, and poignant that you can’t help but feel the same satisfaction with the end product K.R.I.T. must have felt as he submitted the final cut.
The OutKast comparison remains fair throughout, which is amazing enough in itself, especially since the previous album earned equally appropriate comparisons to early-era UGK. Many of the songs still lean towards that UGK feel, especially cuts like “Rotation”, “My Sub”, and “Made Alot”. But the album’s closers are undoubtedly indebted to the finish line of Aquemini, with K.R.I.T. lamenting the new century model of Niggerdom via “Another N.I.G.G.E.R.”, the spirit-melting “Free My Soul”, and nearly spoken-word poetry of “The Vent”. But he doesn’t just borrow from OutKast’s gloomier moods, as evidenced by the awesome party qualities of the Big Boi ode “Amtrak” and the album’s first trio of songs, which are full of big band energy and positive outlooks.
There’s no doubt that K.R.I.T. is an amazing producer. “My Sub” features this surprise beat flip near the very end, switching from low end music to breezy southern soul in an instant, which leads perfectly into “Sookie Now”, a horn-drenched celebration of rags to riches. “Free My Soul” and “The Vent” feature atmospheric production heretofore unsuspected from Young Krizzle, as he veers about as far as possible from what one might expect K.R.I.T. to whip up. There’s also “Player’s Ballad”, which is simply awesome with it’s sampled Raheem DeVaughn “whooooooo"s and the interplay between K.R.I.T. and DeVaughn proper. I haven’t heard a song that sounded so happy to merely exist in what feels like a long, long time. “Get Right” is a great party track that molds the sounds of the mid-‘90s west to the late-‘90s south and comes out with a “hellafied banger” (© Snoop Dogg), the sort of song that just makes listeners want to have a great time. The fact that he’s able to balance all these different moods, to make them interact and play together nicely, speaks so much further than just describing how different the songs are, though. His production talents seem to know no bounds, as he can flit between all formats of the diaspora with ease and come out with a beat that may not always feel otherworldly, but will certainly feel flawless.
Obviously new times can make comparisons to earlier artists’ debuts a bit of a struggle. After all, the creation of a true pop star takes so much more effort these days, especially in black music. It probably takes more effort than all but 1% of the hip-hop industry is willing to expend, hence artists like K.R.I.T. are relegated to releasing two classic LPs for free online, with the option to purchase autographed copies through his website. But if the times weren’t so different from the industry’s glory days, I would be eager to predict Big K.R.I.T. to be on his way to becoming the south’s own Kanye West, sans swollen ego and bruised emotions. Like West, as a producer K.R.I.T. seems to stand not among but above and outside nearly all his peers from the gate. As an MC, he’s not the most technically proficient, but he has a way of delivering bars and hooks such that they entrench themselves in your soul.
He’s a rapper who makes himself feel more essential than his raps, which you can ask anyone in the business is one of the hardest coups to pull. Not as much as the glory days, but it’s still hard to find artists who can become a mainstay without at least some sort of rappity-rap exhibitionism. But K.R.I.T. exemplifies the newer school of hip-hop artist that still believes how you say it is important, but more and more leans towards the what taking precedence over the how. All the double time in the world can’t save you from a generic, soulless verse after all. Pharoahe Monch he almost certainly will never be, but an artist who can concoct exceptional odes to partying-on-a-budget (“Get Right”), soul-baring laments on the state of himself and his people (“The Vent”, “Free My Soul”, “Dreamin’”), anger over the machinations of the industry (“American Rapstar”, “Made Alot”), simple superstar get-togethers (the “Country Shit” remix featuring Ludacris and Bun B), and everything in between K.R.I.T. has shown himself way more than capable of being. Returnof4eva is undoubtedly his second potential classic LP in less than a year, and to think—acquiring it is as simply as clicking this link. You don’t even have to leave your couch or dust off any Cheetos stains.