Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T on finding happiness and creating his ambitious double-album ‘4eva Is a Mighty Long Time’...

Like it or not, your favourite rapper is a major brand. With hip-hop’s ever expanding popularity, and the introduction of social media, the entrepreneurial hustler’s spirit that we’ve celebrated for years has morphed into full blown capitalism: artists that can best articulate their USP in a snappy elevator pitch are the ones destined for greatness. While this may be a blessing for record label marketing departments everywhere, for consumers it’s watering down the product, making rap stars less real, more two dimensional and unable to truly articulate the complexities of the human condition, for fear of being off-brand.

As a Def Jam signee, Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T. refused to fit his conflicted realities into a neat, marketable box. A three dimensional talent, Justin Scott was signed to Def Jam by then senior president of A&R Sha Money XL in 2010 after the release of his acclaimed mixtape ‘K.R.I.T. Wuz Here’. Despite inking a deal as a high priority act, he soon found himself surrounded by an unrecognisable team of staff following label restructuring, and felt that those left weren’t sure what to do with him.

While he was by no means a flop - his first two albums charted in the top ten on US Billboard 200, and his 2012 single ‘I Got This’ was declared the Miami Heat’s theme song by LeBron James as they won the NBA championship - K.R.I.T. wasn’t the star he should have been under Def Jam’s regime. It seems that this was due to a misunderstanding of K.R.I.T.’s fan base rather than anything on the creative front. For example, while the label chased the digital world, they failed to realise how important physical product remained for K.R.I.T.’s fans. “Physical copies were so important to me in these small cities, in the Best Buys and shit,” he explained on an episode of YouTube talk show ‘Everyday Struggle’, “because that shit still means something, especially in the South. Streaming hit and it was like ‘Oh, there’s really no space for you.’”

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In 2016 K.R.I.T. announced via Twitter that he was parting ways with Def Jam. He’d tell Billboard that this was because of changes in the business, but refused to be too specific. “It’s definitely a longer story,” he said, “but for the most part, it’s no love lost.”

Now, with the benefit of hindsight, he sees the split as a blessing. “I don’t regret what I’ve had to go through,” he assures us, kicking back at home one Friday morning, “because it got me to this point. You can always say ‘I wish I could have...’ but I’m here now. I’ve got to deal with it as it’s been.” Now afforded the freedom to take his career entirely into his own hands, K.R.I.T. has released one of 2017’s best rap albums, ‘4eva Is A Mighty Long Time’, an expansive double LP exploring two sides to his life as an artist; one disc comprises trunk rattling bass primed for the subwoofers, while the other is a jazzy revelation of the Clark Kent behind his Superman.

“I’m human,” he states, simply, of the LP’s intent. “To me it’s always been about trying to show the duality of myself. I think we all go out into the world sometimes with a confidence, we put that face on and turn into superheroes. I think it’s important for me to talk about that, [as well as] what you go through when you’re not feeling the world, you don’t feel up for talking.” On album track ‘Mixed Messages’ he’s open about the double standards “I got a whole lot of mixed messages in my songs, am I wrong to feel this way?” he asks in the hook, before reaping off a list of admissions such as: “I never really liked all the fake shit, but I’m attracted to the fake ass and fake tits.”

K.R.I.T. hopes that the transparency will allow him to connect with other human beings - particularly his cult fanbase - in a deeper way, and that may lead them to be more understanding when he isn’t able to oblige every request for a photo, or answer every message he receives on social media. “I never like letting people down,” he admits. “I think we all want to be liked and loved right?”

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His openness, he says, also allows him to approach interviews without “putting a face on”, and it’s refreshing when he begins enthusiastically divulging elements of his evolving lifestyle that are keeping him motivated. “I love hiking,” he says. “I just like chilling and going outside, watching the birds. I finally started to experience life myself: I wasn’t really enjoying the time around my family and friends because I was on my phone or trying to make sure that I met a deadline. Now I take the time to really enjoy my surrounding and express myself to the people I love.”

K.R.I.T.’s decision to refocus on his personal life and recentre his work-life balance came with the sobering reality of age. After turning 30 last summer he looked around and realised that while he’d been chasing professional accolades, and spending a lot of time in his own head, his peers at home had been building families. His own parents are growing older, asking when they’ll have grandchildren of their own. “That’s real life reminding you, ‘Hey, I know you’re working and you’re goal orientated, but you still want to live some too right?’” he says. After achieving goals he’d been chasing for a lifetime, K.R.I.T. was surprised to find that he still didn’t feel fulfilled. “I was like, ‘Man, I really wish I could share my success with someone. I wish I could just kick it with my folks and my family.”

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They can give me something I wouldn’t have made for myself...

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For years now, K.R.I.T. has aspired to make a double album. He notes that even 2012’s ‘4eva and a Day’ mixtape cover hints at this, but admits that it wasn’t until now that he really had the courage to commit to the concept. It was important that both sides of ‘4eva Is A Mighty Long Time’ were distinct, so around the beginning of the year he began to separate tracks that he’d been making into two categories, Big K.R.I.T. (“This is the superhero side, this is the confident side”) and Justin Scott (“the side where I’m sharing my insecurity as a person, still trying to find happiness and hope.”) When he continued creating new songs for the album, he’d predetermine which category a song would fit from the instrumental.

As a producer himself, K.R.I.T. handled the lion’s share of beat-making on his previous albums. However, this time he commissioned collaborators for half of the tracks, giving himself space to progress as a writer. “Sometimes the fatigue of producing can keep me from the writing capability that I know is possible,” he admits. “Being able to sit down with [other producers] that understand my style; they can give me something I wouldn’t have made for myself.”

This is most apparent on Side A, where K.R.I.T.’s love of booming bass and his Southern roots are reinforced over beats from veterans like Mannie Fresh and Organized Noize. “It’s super sharp, aggressive,” he says. “It still has the lyrical prowess, but it’s not about me being the best rapper alive. I love music so much: I love creating it and I wanted to have a record that was paying homage to the people that inspired me. [Tracks like the Mannie Fresh-produced] ‘Subenstein’ are like when I want to listen to something that’s really loud and rattles the trunk of my car. That comes from missing that sort of feel.”

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If Side A was crafted with the car stereo in mind, then the second disc is undoubtedly for the crib. “It feels like something I play at home while I’m cleaning up and trying to get my mind off things,” he says. And his most introspective work isn’t just designed for home, it’s also created there. “Writing ‘Price Of Fame’ and ‘Drinking Sessions’ I’m at home alone, or I just went through something that I had to get off my chest in therapy. I’m inspired to write about it and then it turns into a song for the album.”

‘Price Of Fame’ is perhaps the most poignant portrayal of the struggles with success that lead him to create this album. “Scared, me as a businessman is like all they see/ Justin Scott trapped as Big K.R.I.T. screaming ‘It’s really me’,” he raps, detailing the superhero perception that’s almost strangled the human being from his soul. On the chorus he described the vices that he’d rely on for escape: “Bottle by the nightstand, that ease the stresses/ Dealin' with depression, pills on the dresser.”

“There’s a point where you start to medicate too much. You’re using your vices way too much, and you’re searching for something,” he explains. “Searching for happiness in places that you probably won’t find it. But being alone causes you to go to the club, because when you’re at home you feel empty.” K.R.I.T. soon learned from first hand experience that success doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. “When you’re well known and negativity comes your way, there’s an expectation for you to be able to deal with it. But when you get home it comes crashing down,” he says. “I got to a point to start talking about these things because a lot of people that are well known, or well off - most of them probably have anxiety and insecurity issues. We’re all human at the end of the day. I decided to talk about that from my perspective.”

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We’re all human at the end of the day.

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Between dealing with major label budgets, being dropped and then grinding to release his most ambitious body of work thus far, K.R.I.T. would go broke, forcing him to learn a life-changing lesson. “That was necessary for me to realise that money doesn’t, and isn’t going to, make me happy,” he explains. “When I was my lowest [financially] that’s when I started to go outside. That’s when I wasn’t medicating. That’s when I was talking about my feelings.” It was this experience, of having everything and then, suddenly, nothing, that offered him the clarification he required for a better life, and to make his best work in the process.

“It’s easy to feel, when you get the car and the clothes, that you’ve made it - but I think that’s when you realise that it isn’t enough,” he says, as our conversation draws to its conclusion. “That’s when you really get to the bottom of what happiness is for you. The freedom comes when you’re not attached to what the world is telling you that you need.”

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Words: Grant Brydon

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