Big K.R.I.T. on country rap, dream cars, and playing Soundset

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From the jump, Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T is full of interesting paradoxes. He represents dirty-south rap with endless country swag that juxtaposes hip-hop's decidedly urban mores against down-home pride. At one turn, he'll hit the listener with traditional rapper braggery -- verses about conquering the game, his fleet of candy painted cars, the ladies at the club, and so forth -- but at another, he'll humbly let you in to his mind where he's dealing with real-life struggles, loss, and the fears that come with a public life.

Beyond that, he's a self-taught producer who makes fantastic beats drenched in throwback soul samples that give his sound a deliciously rich texture and contrast.

K.R.I.T.  (which stands for King Remembered In Time) released three widely acclaimed free mixtapes over the last year, a triad of projects that ultimately resulted in not only the growth of his own fan base but a Def Jam record contract: His first studio album, Live From the Underground, is out June 5.  Having collaborated with major hip-hop heavyweights like David Banner, Curren$y, Yelawolf and T.I., K.R.I.T. is is the natural successor to southern rap standards like Outkast and UGK -- touting both as major influences -- and now finds himself one of hip-hop's most celebrated artists. 

It makes sense then that K.R.I.T. appears on the Soundset bill this year as one if the standouts of the Midwest's best hip-hop festival, now in its 5th year. After a cancelled gig last October that disappointed many of his local fans, the Soundset gig marks his first performance in Minnesota. Anxious to learn more, we chatted with him before the show about his new album, the duality behind his persona, his dream cars, and what he expects from the festival. In all, if you haven't been listening to Big K.R.I.T., you're missing out on the rise of the new King Of The South.

You definitely rep Mississippi in your music. What about your home state informs your sound?

Being from where I'm from, you always want to have a voice and as far as music, it's hard to get it out there because there's never really been a light shined on Mississippi. Whenever I do interviews I want to represent because I want them to understand there's a hip-hop culture there. You just have to go out and find it. It's important that I take you there because people have a certain idea what Mississippi is like, and I want to be one of those positive forces and have a positive message about it.

I can hear a lot of Outkast and UGK in there. Is there anyone in your region who's really inspired you?

Oh, definitely -- I'm talking about David Banner, UGK, MGK, Scarface -- these are people who really made me proud to be where I'm from. From beats to lyrical content, they really stood up for hip-hop. They know what it is to be country. A lot of people haven't been to my hometown, but a lot of people hadn't been to Port Arthur (Texas) until UGK started rapping about it. They took you down the streets there and through the music, I can understand what it's like there. I want to do the same where my city is concerned.

Trunk music

How did you learn to make your own beats and is it important to you to have that kind of control over your music?

It's a good way to keep control. I produced it all and it worked. I switched it up for my major label album but as far as production, it was a situation where I couldn't afford my own beats. I was using MTV Music Generator first, and went from that to Fruity Loops -- I saw what 9th Wonder was able to do with that -- and it really inspired me to realize I don't need a gang of machinery. I don't need a lot of hardware in order to make beats. From there I went with Reason and Pro Tools, and I had people around me that taught me Pro Tools and helped me with recycling and chopping up samples. Eventually I found my style and became comfortable in it.

Your mixtapes are so well done they could easily be considered studio albums. Why give them away free, and is that something now with success you wish you could take back?

No, I'm happy with that decision. I still haven't dropped my major label album, but I'm talking to you, I'm on the Soundset stage, I've done Rock The Bells, I've been tour, and this is all based off a free project. It worked out. From KRIT Wuz Here to signing the deal with Def Jam, all of those projects got me to where I could get Bun B. on my album and have a song with BB King. I don't regret it at all. I built my fan base from the ground up and they know I'm always going to try to be consistent and grow where music is concerned, Lord willing. I hope they'll support and go out and buy the album.

Will you be upset if Live From The Underground makes its rounds on free download sites?

That's just part of the game. People who truly want to buy the music and support are going to buy it regardless. There's still something about going into the store and having the cover and picking up the CD -- having the physical copy is something a download can never really give you. Everyone's just become comfortable with albums leaking out a week before they're due, it just happens now.

How will Live From The Underground differentiate from your mixtapes?

I think it's going to stand out solely based on some of the features and the artists I worked on in this project. I did my best working with live instrumentation and with other musicians -- I love being able to have BB King actually play Lucille on my record. There's a lot more going on than just your usual 808 kick drum and snare, and I am so ready for this record to come out.

In your lyrics you flip back and forth between being humble and rap bragging... which is the real K.R.I.T.?

(Laughs) All of it is me. You know when you get a fresh outfit and a new pair of shoes and you go outside and you're like, "Yo, I'm killin' these people!" We all have that side. But we have the side where we reflect on our lives and ask, Am I on the right path? Am I doing what I'm supposed to be done? And then you've got the financial side: How can I achieve more? I need to make moves and get money. There's also a spiritual aspect. All of these are emotions we all go through and I feel like I have to be the kind of artist who talks about all these things because I'm going through them. I like the clubs, but I also have a little sister. I'll be like, "Aahhh, I have to chill out." We go through the good and the bad. If you look at the Forever N A Day cover, it's me telling the world I'm not perfect, I'm torn between my life and what I'm really supposed to be doing. It's about trying to overcome that. You can't have one without the other.

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