When Big K.R.I.T. proclaims himself “King of the South” it’s because he has a right to it. From a critical standpoint, few artists, if any, in all of hip-hop could keep up with the discography Big K.R.I.T. has built up over the last half decade, let alone artists exclusively from the South. T.I. hasn’t made any real noise in six years, and while the South as a whole is doing just fine, no one has stepped up to claim the throne that’s there for the taking. From K.R.I.T. Wuz Here to King Remembered in Time, K.R.I.T. has established himself as an underground legend.
On his major label debut, Live From the Underground, K.R.I.T. attempted to reach out to a more mainstream audience with bangers that had radio potential. While a strong effort, fans who wanted more of the conscious K.R.I.T. didn’t feel it lived up to his standards, and the singles failed at making K.R.I.T. a household name. His second Def Jam album attempts to one-up the debut, but not by listening to fickle fans or trying to please critics. Cadillactica is Big K.R.I.T. getting back in his creative groove and simply making music.
If Cadillactica feels the most separate from his other works, you can point to the production for the answer. Make no mistake, the soulful, Southern flavor is pervasive. However, for the first time in his career K.R.I.T. is using outside production on multiple tracks on an album. The likes of DJ Dahi, Raphael Saadiq, Jim Jonsin, Alex da Kid, and Terrace Martin supplied K.R.I.T. with beats and allowed him to sit back and focus on the songwriting. Opening himself to different producers allows K.R.I.T. to experiment with different sounds and sculpt an album that stands out sonically from the other projects in his catalog while holding on to the charm that made those classics.
As it would be a waste for one of the best producers around to not utilize his talents for his own album, K.R.I.T. still ends up handling most of the production workload. However, even K.R.I.T.’s beats sound a bit different from what you’ve come to expect. While past projects have been guided by sample heavy beats (thanks to free albums not having sample clearance issues), Cadillactica is stripped back, making use of a mere three samples in total. This ironically results in the studio album having less elaborate production than the free albums, but it’s a change of pace that differentiates the sophomore effort from the debut.
K.R.I.T. likes to play around with concepts and overarching themes on albums, but Cadillactica is certainly the most ambitious concept he’s attempted to tackle thus far. The title refers to a planet, which in itself is a metaphor for K.R.I.T.’s subconscious. The story begins with the birth of the planet and/or a person (some of it is left open to your own interpretation) encountering “Life” after crash landing on this planet (referring back to the cover of Live From the Underground). As 4eva N a Day took you through the ups and downs of a single day, Cadillactica traverses a lifetime, from adolescence to enlightenment, as the sequencing of the tracks matures. The concept isn’t forced down the listeners throat. You could choose to completely ignore it if you choose, but if you want to dig deeper you’ll find that the lyrics are full of double entendres that are constantly weaving back into the concept.
Following the concept of progression through life’s stages allows K.R.I.T. to flex his versatility. You get some of the ignorant, ostentatious Southern swagger in “My Sub, Pt. 3”, a dose of laid back “Soul Food”, and of course the captivating reflections of introspection on “Saturdays = Celebration”. The album has a nice variety while maintaining its cohesiveness, and while some songs have more of an aforementioned component than others, K.R.I.T. is able to incorporate a little of everything into every track. Just because it makes the trunk rattle doesn’t mean K.R.I.T. isn’t dropping knowledge.
K.R.I.T. has always been lyrical, and Cadillactica is no exception. To say it’s more lyrical than his previous efforts would be lying for the sake of complaisance. K.R.I.T. has simply set the bar too high for that to be true. It’s remarkable enough to say that he maintains that level that you’ve come to expect. Just listen to “Third Eye” if you want a lesson in how to write a rap love song. K.R.I.T. is rapping his ass off, producing hits, and is even giving a bit of a glimpse of his vocal talent. It’s really not fair.
In a pool of 15 excellent tracks, one breakaway highlight is the title track. If there’s one song that could sum up Big K.R.I.T., it just might be “Cadillactica”. The DJ Dahi produced track smells of Cadillacs and wood grain. It feels like Southern hip-hop, from the booming bass to the funky synths with a touch of ATLiens futurism. The simple repetition of “Cadillac lac lac lac, Cadillac lac lac lac” is exactly the kind of hook critics have bashed K.R.I.T. for making in the past and it’s exactly the kind of hook this song needed. There is so much energy behind “Cadillactica”, with K.R.I.T. slaughtering the beat in a similar fashion as he did to “Mt. Olympus”.
As he continues to evolve as an artist, K.R.I.T. continues to provide us with timeless material. It’s hard to name another hip-hop artist with a six-album stretch as good as the one K.R.I.T. has going right now. No one can tell if commercial success will ever come K.R.I.T.’s way, but so long as he is putting out music it would seem he can do no wrong. Like watching Michael Jordan dazzle on the basketball court, sometimes all you can do is sit back and watch in awe. K.R.I.T. has a special talent and he has put it to use in making a number of masterpieces. Cadillactica stands on its own as a deviation in sound but a continuation of greatness. An intriguing concept, exceptional production, and captivating lyricism ensure that a trip to Cadillactica is one that will stick with you for life.