Meridian, Mississippi artist Big K.R.I.T. has his big raucous choruses, but his delivery is acutely measured and refined. Sometimes he raps just above a whisper, on a solemn account his career (“Dreamin’”) or an admonition about the thorns of success (“Lions and Lambs”). ReturnOf4Eva, released for free online in March, has a consistently rich vintage sound thanks to K.R.I.T.’s defiant sample-based production. Even though he signed to Def Jam last year, he hasn’t shown any sign of mainstream pandering.
As a producer, he sounds like a dedicated student of Organized Noize, so it was surprising to hear him fawn over the different ways J Dilla and 9th Wonder flipped Billy Paul’s “Let the Dollar Circulate” in our interview. He also picks out his favorite classic records, breaks down his creative process, and states his ambitions for his debut album.
ML: Why release an album quality mixtape for free?
K.R.I.T.: Mainly because I felt like I needed to do another solid project before I dropped an album. We dropped K.R.I.T. Wuz Here last year, but we dropped ReturnOf4Eva, and it’s to prove to people that K.R.I.T. Wuz Here wasn’t a fluke, that I could put together another solid body of music, all-produced again, and to be able to work with other artists, I thought was more important. Kind of building up the confidence for the consumer to actually go to the store and buy my album. So I didn’t really mind. It did definitely help at the end of the day to just build a buzz up more and build up people’s faith in my music and that I’m not going to change just because I’m signed. But for the most part, we really don’t be trying to call them mixtapes anymore just because they’re all original.
ML: Southern rap is focused on Lex Luger and trap music right now. How does that affect you as a Southern producer?
K.R.I.T.: I don’t really think it’s primarily just focused on trap music. Lex Luger definitely, as a producer, is working with a lot of artists aside from being what would be considered trap music. It really don’t affect me per se because I make music based off how I feel and as far as my life is concerned and I think everybody respects that, but I respect every art form of music. Everybody paints the pictures that they see and write about the environment that they’re around, so I just do what I can as far as hip-hop is concerned.
ML: So you don’t feel sidelined at all?
K.R.I.T.: No, not at all. I managed to put my music out, build my fan base organically. Obviously, everybody’s not going to like your music. My music, I make for a certain kind of people, I guess or just everybody in general I’m shooting for, to Lord willing be able to put music out and globally, everybody listen to and take something from it. But for the most part, it’s growth. In the beginning, everybody might not get it, but as long as I stay focused and keep putting out quality music, in time, my fan base will grow and it really won’t matter. Even now, it kind of doesn’t matter. It takes time. A lot of people just came out last year. I’ve been around since 2005, so I understand that it’s not overnight and I’m not really in a crazy rush. I take my time and just put out good music.
ML: Which are more natural for you, bangers like “Country Shit” or more humble songs like “Dreamin’”?
K.R.I.T.: It’s really an emotional thing, like how I feel that day. Normally, it takes from me maybe being stupid excited about a situation and finding a sample that really draws to me. Like, I was chilling and drinking earlier with my folk and just like, ‘Man, I’m finna go make something that we just ride around bumping in the whip with the sub up.’ Or I might have a down day or I’m dealing with a personal experience or something may have happened and I really want to get it off my chest. I really try to treat music as more therapy, if anything, nowadays.
ML: Where does your creative process start, with the beat or with the rhymes?
K.R.I.T.: Normally with the beat. Then I kind of go from beat to topic and then from topic to kind of trying to figure out how I’ma format the hook. And then the hook and then the verses, because I feel that it’s important that it all be cohesive.
ML: How do you start a beat?
K.R.I.T.: Normally with a instrument or maybe a drum kit or something of that nature. I’m really into sampling and digging in the crates, so for the most part maybe something on the radio that I may have heard that really struck me a little bit and I’m like ‘I’m finna sample that.’ Or I get the opportunity to actually go through some of the vinyl I got, or just on iTunes, listening to oldies. It really starts from there.
ML: What’s your favorite soul or funk album?
K.R.I.T.: Wow. My favorite soul or funk album would definitely have to- The Mack soundtrack by Willie Hutch would definitely be in my top five. Curtis Mayfield Superfly is definitely an amazing album. Let me think, let me think, let me think, what else? Damn, that’s a dope question, I haven’t had anybody ask me that. I’m trying to think Bobby Womack with the album that had “Across 110th Street” on it, I just can’t mentally picture it right now. Definitely whatever album that was on. Definitely those three are my favorite. New Birth! For those who don’t know who New Birth is, they’re an amazing group. I can’t think of the name of that one either, but it’s the album that got “let the rain fall down,” which is called “Wild Flower.” “Dream Merchant.” I can’t think of the name of that album either, but those are probably the vinyl records that I got that I play a lot.
ML: So you’re more into the heavy 60s, 70s soul like Willie Hutch, Curtis Mayfield, and Isaac Hayes-
ML: -than like the Motown stuff.
K.R.I.T.: Yeah, I go back, but it’s like the swing of the music. The 60s and 70s came, they were still doing more 4/4 time measurements and if you think about more in the 50s, early 60s, they were still doing 2/4, which is a kind of different swing, it’s kind of hard to sample the music, because of just how the tempos were.
ML: Are there any soul or R&B artists that you like now?
K.R.I.T.: Adele is amazing. Sharon Jones is amazing. Those are primarily the newer soul singers that I actually would listen to. Anytime Jill Scott drops something, I definitely go listen to it. I actually went back and picked up the old Floetry albums, which were dope.
ML: What about Raphael Saadiq?
K.R.I.T.: Oh yeah. Oh man, I totally forgot. Raphael Saadiq Vintage, Tony! Toni! Toné! Definitely.
ML: On the Yours Truly compilation where you talk about the K.R.I.T. Wuz Here samples, I was surprised to hear you mention J Dilla.
K.R.I.T.: Yeah, no doubt. Amazing man, producer. When you’re talking about production and people that understood and knew how to sample and chop up samples to the point where you didn’t know where it came from – J Dilla, 9th Wonder, DJ Premier, and Pete Rock are definitely the type of producers that I really paid attention to and definitely listened to when it comes to music. I’m really just trying to be a part of those type of producers where when I sample something– all these songs, the samples are out here to recreate, but I wanted mine to be different. I think J Dilla did a “Dollar Circulate” remake and so did 9th Wonder, but they’re two totally different renditions of the song. I kind of want to be that kind of producer that if I got a sample and Just Blaze or somebody actually did it, when I sampled it, that I could chop it up in a totally different way.
ML: Do you think vintage music has a limited appeal?
K.R.I.T.: Nah, not really. I think it gives longevity to the artist because you starting at a point that’s it just raw, it’s not cleaned up, it’s not pristine, the 808 may be a little too loud, the snare may be a little too low. Hip-hop, in the very beginning, wasn’t – the computers weren’t so involved. You didn’t have so many different presets and things of that nature. It was kind of like just off ear. Just, ‘Man, this feels right.’ That’s where I’m trying look, like, I’m just going to try to turn this sub up to the point where that feels right to me, not necessarily on a frequency level or whether it’s compressed properly. At the end of the day, I want you to feel the music, so I’m just doing it off my ear and how I feel it should sound. And then it’ll give me a chance to grow more as a musician, as a producer, to the point where I’m working with orchestras and things of that nature instead of starting right with the more professional aspect and then where do you go from there?
ML: Do you have a concept for your album yet?
K.R.I.T.: Nah, not per se. Just really gonna keep it country, organic, pretty much produce it all. But I really want to incorporate more live instrumentation, choirs if I can, R&B singers, really just take it there as if it’s my last album.
ML: Where do you go when you’re in NY?
K.R.I.T.: If I’m not chilling out with Shipes, I’m chilling out with Smoke DZA, but I definitely dig Flight Club. I go to Prohibit. I go to Coat of Arms, they sell mad vintage shit, I dig they clothing line. I get a fresh cut. Other than that I’m just chilling. There was this restaurant that I dug at one point called Half King. And Carmine’s is dope on some Italian food.
ML: Where’s the best food in Meridian, Mississippi?
K.R.I.T.: At my momma’s house. Literally at my mom’s house. They got some soul food spots, but I don’t really have to go to them because ma dukes take care of all that.
ML: What was the last thing you bought?
K.R.I.T.: Dominoes. I got one of them Italian subs and I got me a deep dish pizza, banana peppers pepperoni, and that was it.
Big K.R.I.T. Return Of 4eva Tour