Big K.R.I.T. is carving out a new space for himself again. Early in his career he showed out with quality material devoid of any mixtape inclinations and gave it away for free. In an industry with deepening commercial roots in Atlanta, K.R.I.T. had a different and more specific country charm to him. He’s a deep-South native and almost two decades after Outkast was booed at The Source awards there’s a public cry for the region to be acknowledged in his music. Over the summer, K.R.I.T. lashed out and built momentum with the sentiment on “Mt. Olympus,” forcefully grabbing attention as much as pining for it with verses and a hook that air out his exasperation with not being taken seriously. 

The against-the-industry bend is only part of K.R.I.T. though and while he has legitimate reasons for feeling snubbed, most of Cadillactica invites you in instead of antagonizing. As immediately listenable as his debut album Live from the Underground was, the record was contrived from fresher sounding and more promising mixtape-albums released in succession just a couple years prior. K.R.I.T. earned his fans with a string of those brimming free releases but after the Def Jam debut he has remained in the margins of mainstream notoriety.

There’s a constant nod to artists like Outkast and 8Ball & MJG in K.R.I.T.’s Southern iconography and his music is drenched in the homage. Cadillactica carries the Soul and Funk of that tradition, but there’s also a different angle of approach than before. There’s only three samples on the album, a nearly complete but slowly built departure from K.R.I.T.’s reliance on flipping records. He’s also handed the production over to several guests for the album’s singles (this after a less album-like mixtape produced with help from hitmaker Mike Will Made It). It’s a transition into approachability perhaps and even with K.R.I.T. on the boards for more than half of the album, the featured production is a major artistic shift.

As an overarching concept at least, Cadillactica has been more fleshed out in interviews than it is explicitly in the music. It does serve as a framing device early on but he doesn’t belabor the point. Beyond the beginning tracks that set the record up loosely as a musical planet K.R.I.T. is ushering into life, the album flows mostly free of the abstraction. The sequencing is smart and encourages playing through with an accessibility to the singles being bunched together in the first half of the tracklist. Placing the project’s most radio friendly single directly after “Soul Food,” a track that laments the lack of community and substance in the current generation, seems like a show of agility for K.R.I.T. and that he’s comfortable in either place. Like much of the album, both songs are grounded in Soulfulness but the electronic atmosphere of “Pay Attention” is current R&B while the Raphael Saadiq number is warm and analog. The tracks are completely apart but work in succession, a trick K.R.I.T. leans on throughout.

The album’s big bang parallel is “My Sub Pt. 3,” an origin story for himself as much as for the galactic concept he fits it into; the track’s seismic bass breaks into country silence, crickets chirping in the background. “This is how it all started way back / First the boomin’ voice then the bass crack, 808,” he raps. The bass-obsessed, country proud theme is a K.R.I.T. hallmark by now and the sound can’t be separated from the subwoofers it’s supposed to knock around. Later in the album K.R.I.T. holds onto the sentiment while venturing into new territory. “Cadillactica” is the centerpiece, a DJ Dahi synth-driven beat pings around futuristically as K.R.I.T. steers his car thematics into a new age. There’s a pitter-patter flow to his rapping that together with his deep accent makes him hard to imitate when he’s charged up and spitting quickly like he does on the latest single. The album is a highpoint for K.R.I.T.’s lyricism and he’s obviously placed emphasis on this half of his craft here. “Standby” is an interlude but finds K.R.I.T. at his most poetic over a mellow and Jazzy backdrop: “It’s feeling like one of those days / Dodging the sun, watching for shade / Playing the game, catching the fade / Doing what it takes to find a hole in this maze,” he raps. 

Except with his music’s bottom-end, K.R.I.T. has never tried to shake the South. He’s stayed true while turning over little pieces of sonic self-discovery on this release, sounding newly and more like himself by the end. Cadillactica is the first time K.R.I.T. has tried something obviously original while under the scrutiny being a major label artist brings. Without leaning back he’s smartly pushing against himself by enlisting Dahi and Raphael Saadiq and Terrace Martin. There’s a conscious move into original music and instrumentation here that hints at where K.R.I.T. is heading, as well. With Cadillactica he’s found his stride by taking new steps. K.R.I.T. isn’t slept on, but he’s proven again that he should have a bigger bandwagon by now. Once he does he’ll throw some fifteens in the back and keep it moving.