Big K.R.I.T. is feeling free. In 2017, the proud Mississippi native returned to his independent roots and dropped the double album 4Eva Is A Mighty Long Time through his Multi Alumni imprint. Now, he’s fresh off the release of his follow-up K.R.I.T. Iz Here, which is all about him having fun.
The biggest change for the King Remembered In Time was giving up some responsibility in the creative process. After handling the bulk of production on his projects for his entire career, he let others handle the workload and only produced one song on K.R.I.T. Iz Here. In doing so, he allowed himself to strictly focus on the MC side of his artistry.
HipHopDX recently caught up with K.R.I.T. to discuss his new album and this stage of his career.
During Part 1 of our conversation, the southern rhymer detailed the difficulty of giving up production duties for his latest release and described what it was like to be a lifelong UGK fan working on Bun B’s Return Of The Trill LP.
HipHopDX: Now that you’re back to being independent, what is independent life like now as opposed to before Def Jam?
Big K.R.I.T: Aw, man … before Def Jam, it’s like you’re just trying to get heard as much as possible, right? When K.R.I.T Wuz Here came out, it was almost like I was doing this album — and it was a project or a mixtape in a way — but I was kind of like, “If this doesn’t work, I’m just going to back to Meridian, Mississippi.”
So, if you listen to K.R.I.T Wuz Here, you hear me on East Coast beats, West Coast beats. I’m singing! It’s this collage of music that I created. It was like all the best songs that I had at the time and putting it on the album. And being independent, I can do this. It can be 22 records, I don’t care. I just want you to hear what I have to say.
To resurface again and be independent now — next year is the 10-year anniversary of K.R.I.T Wuz Here — and to be able to cap everything off now with K.R.I.T Iz Here is almost me showing people that I belong in this arena of Hip Hop. I’ve always been lyrical. I had subject matter, I had the videos, the visuals, the artwork. [I’m] just kind of reminding and bringing it back to the surface, but it’s my way. It’s freedom, it’s independence, it’s confidence that I didn’t necessarily have when I was young or back in 2010.
HipHopDX: Makes sense. Now, this is your second independent release after leaving Def Jam. What lessons did you learn from 4Eva Is a Mighty Long Time that you took into this one?
Big K.R.I.T: It was a matter of time with this whole thing. I had the option to do a double album. Originally, I wanted Cadillactica to be a double album, but it couldn’t happen and that was still being with a label. But once you get off that, I’m independent. I’ve got distribution, shout out to BMG. It’s one of them situations where we can actually do a double album. Well, let’s do it! And I did it and I was able to showcase both sides of myself musically: this is the Justin Scott side and the Big K.R.I.T. side.
I think with this new album, it’s more of a collective effort. It wasn’t me just being in my room chipping away at the instrumentals that I have. I only produced one record on this album. I end up recording probably like 80 records. We broke that down to 50 and then we listened to that over and over again until we got to 18 and down to 15.
I worked with amazing producers with this album. Talking about Danja, DJ Camper, Wallis Lane, Muzik Major, Khalil. WOLFE de MÇHLS produced three records on the album. Tae Beast, Doncorleonie, and then even the features are things that people didn’t expect me to work with these artists. But I have seen them and I notice all the people that were around and was like, “Man, what about working with them? Maybe you should try this.”
It was just amazing to get out of my comfort zone and see how exciting it was for me, as well as to be able to kick it to different cadences on every beat. Every track, I’m kicking a different cadence. Every track really surprises people too because most people are used to me being in my comfort zone on an album. But naw, it’s different this time.
HipHopDX: On your double LP, you really got a lot of things off your chest. But listening to K.R.I.T. Iz Here, it seems like you’re more relaxed and having fun. Did you feel like there was some pressure off your back?
Big K.R.I.T: Yes! It’s amazing to finally be able to have fun, just doing what I love to do. It kind of reminded me of being in my grandmother’s house and I was just whipping up a beat; I got a sample and I’m just jamming it all day long. It didn’t matter whether anybody heard or not, but I knew what it was. I feel like this album in itself is me just having fun.
This is also the first release that we’ve done in the summer since Live From the Underground. So, it’s like it’s hot outside and I just wanted to create music that lives in this time. You can ride to your job or when you’re going to the barbecue or you’re going to the club, you can play my music while you’re getting there. And then they’ll be playing my music while you’re in there. [Laughs]
HipHopDX: As you mentioned, you only produced one song on this. As somebody who is so hands-on and always been involved in the production, what’s it like for you to step back from that? Is it difficult? Is it freeing?
Big K.R.I.T: It was difficult, bro. It was difficult in the beginning, primarily because if I make a beat, I know exactly what I want to say on it. I know the tempo, I’m going to get the tempo and it’s boom boom boom. So normally, I can curate and create everything around.
So, you go in and you’re working with these amazing producers. It almost puts me in the perspective of, “Yeah, I wrote the whole song, I’m ready to record it.” Then in the back of your mind, you’re like, “I hope you like it.” [Laughs] I hope this is what you heard being said over what you spent hours on as well.
It was difficult in the beginning, but then it became this challenge that I needed. Because all the producers I worked with are the kind of people that were like, “You’re killing it. You’re snapping, but I kind of heard something different. Maybe you should have approached this different. Think about this, think about that. Maybe it’s a poolside, summertime, a place you’ve never been before. How would you approach that?”
And then the fact that I didn’t make the beat, I wasn’t as fatigued as far as listening to the record. So, I could shift those verses out and start over. Let me create again. And it’s amazing because Rico Love and my manager Dutch coordinated this album together. Having them in the groove telling me, “You can do this different” or “You can go harder on that.” It’d be 1 or 2 a.m. and everybody’s tired. People are sleeping and I’m like, “I got to finish the song because this is what I do.” I love what I do, so I got to do this. And I think you could hear the hunger in the album, in the resurgence, in the refreshing aspect. I been in the game for a minute, man, but I’m still out here trying to challenge myself.
HipHopDX: Last year, you were releasing some EPs and ended up compiling them as the TDT project. What made you include “Energy” and “Learned From Texas” on the album after you already put those songs out on the EPs?
Big K.R.I.T: The crazy thing is the “Energy” video came out after the EP had really been out already. And then “Energy,” it started to grow again almost as if we hadn’t dropped it. And then “Learned From Texas,” I show love to Texas. It’s just a part of me because they were the first … especially UGK, this was the first group that I saw from a small town like I was from, and they were unapologetically country.
For me, I just want to pay my due and let people know what I was inspired by growing up musically. Production like Pimp [C], producing a lot of records and singing on them, and it just made sense to put “Learned From Texas” on the album. And “Energy” is almost like a whole new record in itself, so I just wanted to add those on.
You know how streaming is. Streaming isn’t like having actual records out. What you think is old to somebody else, it’s a brand new song they never heard before.
HipHopDX: Gotcha. I’m a Baton Rouge native, and I don’t think people outside of the Gulf Coast quite understand just how much UGK means to people in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. How special was it for you to be involved as an executive producer on Bun B’s Return Of The Trill album?
Big K.R.I.T: It was a blessing. It was crazy too ’cause it was surreal. Some days we’d go in there, and he’d be giving me life advice and talking about experiences in his life. And then he’s writing a verse at the same time. I’d prepare beats like, “We going to do this, we going to do that.” Just to be in that room, I was listening to “Murder” on repeat! “Hi-Life” got me through so much in my life. To be in there [with Bun] is amazing. I was just honored brother, to be honest with you.
He’s got the hunger to still give you quality verses to work. ‘Cause after he’d record a song, it wasn’t like, “Well, we good.” He’s like, “Bet, play another record!” I’m like, “OK, I got another beat!” Before you know it, we done ran through five songs. And then now you’re talking about Gumball or shows he did back in the day. It was an amazing experience. And I co-executive produced it along with [Bun’s wife] Queenie, so I didn’t executive produce the whole album. Queenie was there too. She also played a huge part in that, not just me. So, yeah, can’t forget that.
HipHopDX: Back on your album, I thought one producer who really shined was DJ Camper with his work on the intro and “Make It Easy.” What do you enjoy about his production and what makes him click so well with you?
Big K.R.I.T: I met Camper years ago, and Camper expressed to me how great he was and how great he was going to be. I’m like “Man, you got it. I fuck with your energy, your confidence.” And what he did was he went out and proved it. He went hard, so every time I get in the studio with him, that’s family.
He’s so talented, not only as a producer but as a singer, as a writer. There are so many different variations to him. I know he’s going to give me something that’s going to be soulful, it’s going to knock in the trunk. Whatever we can do, we’re gonna do it. If we’re going to do live [instruments], we going to do horns, we going to do strings. And then we’re going to dial back if that might not fit. But we’re gonna exhaust all the ideas to make sure this record is as jamming as possible.
The particular song “Make It Easy,” I had been listening to that sample for about eight, nine years. I never could figure out how I wanted to approach it, flip it, whatever. Play the song, 30 seconds in, [Camper’s] like, “This it! Let’s do this.” And then you have what you have now, which is “Make It Easy.”
And then he was like, “I’m going to do some drums on this too.” And the same thing he did with “K.R.I.T. Here.” We were at Danja’s studio in Miami. He in there just drumming away. The excitement he has to make music is infectious. And then you have the finished product, which is a record that you’re proud of. And you listening to it like you didn’t even make it.
HipHopDX: That’s great. “Make It Easy” is my favorite joint on the album.
Big K.R.I.T: Thank you, man. I got off on that second verse!
Look out for Part 2 of DX’s interview with K.R.I.T. coming soon.