And they said rap would never last. Thirty-one years after Blondie’s “Rapture” video first appeared on MTV featuring Fab 5 Freddy and Grandmaster Flash, the genre has taken on uncountable incarnations, from “golden era” hip-hop to backpack and gangster rap, flooding international music markets both mainstream and underground. In a world that is now supersaturated with rappers, it takes something special to truly stand out. Just two years after dropping his first mixtape, Big K.R.I.T. (King Remembered In Time) has established himself as a lyricist and producer to watch. His new release, Live from the Underground (released June 5, 2012), reached number five overall on the Billboard top 200, and number one among rap, hip-hop and R&B albums.
Despite his talents, before our brief phone interview I assumed Big K.R.I.T. (real name Justin Scott) was most likely just another Southern rapper pontificating about bling, blunts and how many bitches he has, but he quickly revealed another side that surprised the hell out of me. Beneath the practiced, hardened exterior lies a Southern-bred heart of gold, still beaming with childhood aspirations.
The 25-year-old sudden sensation has been dreaming about making it in the industry for a long, long time. “The goal for me was to just drop a major label album and I’ve had the opportunity to do that. Now, everything that has come after, that is all brand new,” Scott says. “Being able to be number one on Billboard and go into Best Buy and buy the album, man, it’s what I’ve been dreaming about all these years.”
Born in Meridian, Mississippi, Scott’s country-twang stands out right away. The inherent charm and politeness you might stereotypically expect quickly follows, making it very clear K.R.I.T. knows how to be a gentleman. “A lot of people have a certain stereotype about Southern rappers. I want to shed some light on the fact that just because you’re country doesn’t mean you’re not intelligent. I’m proud to be Southern,” he says.
And he should be. Scott is one of the newest additions to a long lineage of powerful Southern rappers such as Outkast, UGK and Killer Mike. He says one of his heroes is Bun B of UGK, who made guest appearances on K.R.I.T.’s 2011 mixtape, Return Of 4Eva, and this year’s debut full-length, Live from the Underground, a dream come true for the young K.R.I.T.
“That was one of those situations where he was just so cool, it was crazy. He brought a lot of knowledge to the table and I was just excited to work with him. I stuck to my guns rapping about what I wanted to rap about and making the kind of music I wanted to make,” he recalls. “Me just being a fan made it super surreal. He is one of the coolest people ever. I hope I have the same kind of longevity and respect.”
With his relentless work ethic firmly intact, and despite the challenges of being both the producer and featured rapper on every single track of the new album, K.R.I.T. is trying to keep up with himself and take the accolades in stride.
“It’s a little difficult, mostly because the beat has to be as solid as I can make it and I have to start on the concept of the record at the same time. Back in the day, it was me legitimately trying to get buzz going and keep people interested in my music. While working on Live trom the Underground, all the pressure to put out the best album I possibly could and compete with myself at the same time was there,” he says. “I knew that people were ultimately going to compare it to all of my previous records. [K.R.I.T. has contributed production to more than 20 releases to date.] Thank god it didn’t come out last September because it gave me the opportunity to sit in the studio a little bit longer and incorporate the songs and live instrumentation I needed [laughs–the album was delayed due to issues clearing samples]. It wasn’t easy, but for me, it makes an album that is more cohesive because it’s all my thoughts and ideas.”
For those still wary of Big K.R.I.T.’s music, the 2011 track “Dreamin’” from Return Of 4Eva brilliantly conveys his genuine goal to infiltrate the rap scene with honesty and integrity, something he does extremely well.
For this interviewer, there was a lot more to K.R.I.T. than expected. “It’s all about making honest music for me. I’m human and I want to think I have a voice. I want to say something positive and inspirational,” he said. “I’m thankful for all the people that went out there and bought the album. Just remember to always dream big.”