It’s been over two years since Meridian, Mississippi’s own, Big K.R.I.T. released his major label debut album, Live From The Underground, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been busy. Last year he dropped the well-received mixtape, King Remembered In Time and he’s been hitting the road with the likes of Macklemore and Talib Kweli. The fourth installment of his See Me On Top series just hit the internet last week and his new album, Cadillactica is slated for release this November. Although he’s currently gearing up for his Pay Attention tour with Two-9, Young Krizzle to the time to talk with us about life in Meridian, musical influences and artistic growth, among other things.
You are a very soulful artist. It comes out in your music. Who were some of your early influences and who introduced you to that kind of music?
I would say that my father was the first person to play Geto Boys and NWA around me. He had tapes and I remember he was really into electronics. He had a lot of old cassette players and things of that nature and he was the first to really introduce me to that. I didn’t find out about Outkast until I was riding around with one of my first cousins. I would attribute my grandmother to putting me onto the blues and soul music. Like James Brown, B.B. King and people of that nature. So growing up, I had a wide range of things I could pick from. When I got to an age where I could start buying my own CDs and turn the radio onto what I wanted to hear, that’s when I started discovering Willie Hutch, Bobby Womack, Curtis Mayfield, UGK, Three 6 Mafia and Eightball & MJG. That was the beginning of me listening to music in a way where not only was I entertained by it and influenced as a person, but I wanted to know how it was created in that manner.
That’s kind of how I was. When I was 15 or so, I started listening to the oldies station on AM radio and hearing songs that had been sampled for the rap I was listening to on the FM stations. I’ve been hooked ever since.
It’s so many jewels and things you just pick up on a random radio station. A lot of obscure samples came from only having one vinyl record pressed up, maybe one single. The songs that never really, really blew up…sometimes have some of the most amazing melodies and backgrounds and riffs.
I have family in West Alabama, right on the border and anytime I’m there, we go the Bonita Lakes Mall in Meridian. I’m familiar with the area and years ago when someone told me that a cat from Meridian was spitting rhymes, I had to check it out.
Most people have to ride through Meridian to get to Jackson or Biloxi, so they probably have rode through Meridian and didn’t even know it.
What was life like in Meridian coming up?
It was very humbling. I had the opportunity to be raised by a lot of elders. It was the “It takes a village to raise a child” mentality. Both of my parents were very active in my life, even though they weren’t together. They always wanted me to follow my dreams. My grandmother was very passionate about me following my dreams and doing what I wanted to do. Ultimately, she was scared about me venturing into the music industry just because of stories she had heard growing up, but she played a big part in how I am as an individual and a man. She was born in 1923 and she instilled a lot of morals in me that carried over into how I am now. Not only as a musician, but as a human being. I think people can hear that in my music and in the music I actually like to sample. Meridian is one of those places that reminds you how the small and simple things in life can be enough. To me, the days go by slower than in some major cities and I had the opportunity to kinda enjoy my childhood in a certain way. There was a lot of time to sit back and reflect on what you wanted and how you planned on getting it and I’m blessed to have been in a situation to actually have that kind of upbringing.
The video for “I Got This” was shot entirely in Meridian?
That was definitely Meridian. For me it was important to show people that my city was a city and that it wasn’t horseback and dirt roads. I know people hear that I’m from Mississippi and they have some sort of idea of what kind of city it is and that’s not even really the case. I just wanted to show that I’m from a city and we’re thriving.
I know one of your biggest musical influences was Bobby Womack. Did you ever have the chance to meet him before he passed?
Man I didn’t, brother. And I was so sad about it. It was mind blowing. With me wanting to work with him so bad and being so influenced and sampling his music and actually doing my research on what he had been through and what he had been able to accomplish musically, to not be able to work with him was disappointing.
And he was still very active.
Yeah! So it’s one of those things where all I can do is if I do sample him, I have to do his music justice and pay homage. When people ask me about the music I sampled and what did I listen to growing up, it’s important that they know he had a large part in what kind of music I make and the amount of passion I put in my music. He was a true soul man at the end of the day.
Looking back at “REM,” you had a line in that song that says you feel as if you failed your fans with Live From The Underground. As more time has passed, do you feel the same way and what do you think you could’ve done better?
To me, it was one of things where I dealt with so much. I went from doing mixtapes and having that freedom of just throwing music out…but when you’re signed and working on a major label album, it’s a little bit more organized. It’s a lot that goes into it when you’re sampling. It’s a lot that goes into it when you’re creating a song. You have to deal with the business aspects as well. I wasn’t 100% prepared to do what I normally do with a project and deal with the business end. I think it bled over into my music. It bled over into how I felt about having to work under those circumstances. Dealing with sample clearances was one of those things that I never had to deal with before and it was mind blowing. I would hear a song that I would want to sample and then second-guess myself. I’d shoot down an idea or possible record before I’ve even created it. I had to get over that. Also, most of the time I’m competing with myself. People would say “Alright, your last project was 4evaNaDay” and a lot of people loved that and felt that it was better than Live From The Underground.
There was a freedom with 4evaNaDay that I didn’t have with Live From The Underground — which was the sampling, which was the unexpectedness. No one expected 4evaNaDay. I dealt with a lot of that. Looking back on it now, I’m proud of Live From The Underground because I stuck to my roots as much as possible. It’s one of those things when people go back now and listen to it, they’ll be like “Damn, that shit was super jammin’.” I think it was on top of me dropping a mixtape like 4evaNaDay — all original, themed out and a crazy cover, a month before I dropped my album. Also, I had been promoting my album Live From The Underground since 2011. We had the “Country Shit” video with Luda and Bun B in March. Then “Money On The Floor” came out in September of 2011 and my album didn’t come out until June of 2012. So there was a large gap and anticipation and I’m just blessed that the fans still believe in me enough to go out, purchase, represent and ultimately pay attention. I think I learned a valuable lesson in timing and getting things done early business wise. That way, I can solely focus on the music and I can get all the ideas that I want ironed out and let that be that and then roll it out properly. I think that’s what we’re doing right now with Cadillactica. I think it’ll work. We’ve got the amazing single with Rico Love, “Pay Attention” and I’m just excited for people to hear this full body of music — and I only used three samples.
The thing is, you’re not going to know what is a sample and what’s not. That was even more exciting, because I was able to create the kind of music where you would still think it was a sample.
The last time I saw you perform live was in 2011 during the Return of 4Eva tour. Is there anything you’ve learned about touring between now and then?
Oh yeah. Resting, but not going to sleep an hour before your show. Not eating a heavy meal before your show. Not indulging in too much alcohol before your show. Crowd participation and engaging with the people more. Just having fun. I used to be really critical of my stage presence at these shows. I was giving my all, but it was still supposed to be fun at the end of the day. I think the Return of 4Eva tour was the first time where I started to understand that people could have fun. I could have a message and rap my ass off at the same time. From there, the Live From The Underground tour was the beginning of me really having fun, enjoying myself and enjoying hip-hop. At this point, now it’s just about performing the new content, bringing the people out that have always supported me and then bringing new people out while enjoying this thing called hip-hop. I’m spreading the message of following your dreams, putting God first and getting money.
Even back then it seemed like you had good stage presence.
Oh yeah. I’ve learned from some of the best. David Banner was a great, great performer for me to watch and just be like “Oh shit.” So when it comes to me being on stage, it don’t even matter. We’re jumping off the stage. We’re crowd surfing. We’re throwing water. We’re having fun. I gotta look at it like it’s my last performance, because if this is it, I wanna be remembered for having the kind of performance that’s hard to forget.
You mentioned being on various tours. I know you’ve been on tour with Macklemore and others as the supporting act and also on your own tours where you’re the headliner. I would think being the headliner is the bigger thrill but do prefer performing in the more intimate smaller venues or larger arenas?
It doesn’t matter. It could be five people there, it could be five thousand people there. Again, I’m going to put on my show like it’s the last show and it’s fully packed in that thang because I remember back when there was NOBODY that cared to see me perform or there were no shows at all. I try to keep that in mind. I always love to go on tour as the headliner and see the people that are always going to jam your music, but there’s an excitement of going to perform in front of people who don’t because you gain new fans. I’ve toured with J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa, like you said, Macklemore and Currensy and you always gain new fans. You’ll be out and about and people come up to you after the fact and are like “I wasn’t much of a fan of your music and this was my first time seeing you perform, but I’m glad I did and I know now.” That helps and keeps me motivated too.
Tell me about “Pay Attention”. How did that come about?
I had the opportunity to go down to Miami and work with Jim Jonsin and his team of producers, Zac and Finatik. Also, at the same time I wanted to be able to get in with Rico Wade and work because Jim Jonsin and Rico have this musical relationship where it’s cohesive and they work in a way that’s organic and it was a blessing to be able to go down there and get in the studio with both of them and create a song of that nature. For me, it was about getting out of my comfort zone. This album is a lot about that too. I was used to producing my own records and singing my own hooks and it was out of necessity at first in my career because I couldn’t afford to pay for beats and I didn’t have anybody to sing on the hooks. At this point of my career, I want to create and write in a manner where I can always take it to the next level. It was dope to get in with Rico because he has a gift for writing hooks that are relatable for everybody. It doesn’t matter where you’re from and it doesn’t matter who you are, you can relate to these hooks. When he sent that to me, I was like “I got it” as far as the verses and it was just dope to be able to add a little bit of my edge and my southern twang to it. I can still be myself, but make a record as big as “Pay Attention” and showcase my growth as I’m getting older. I want to put that in my music. I’m not K.R.I.T. from 2010.
It has that “grown and sexy” vibe to it.
Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
Is that going to be the vibe for Cadillactica as a whole?
I wouldn’t say that. Cadillactica is a free-floating album in a way where I felt like I was able to talk about whatever I wanted because I created a planet to do so. Cadillactica is a planet that I created, which in reality is my conscious mind. It’s where all my creative thoughts come from. It’s where all my ideas come from. All of my pain. All my passions. All of my struggles. All of my pain. It all comes from Cadillactica. Everything is a little obscure and a little different because in your mind, it IS like that. Your mind is abstract, your ideas are abstract and I wanted to make my music seem a little abstract. I wanted the skits to be a little abstract. I wanted some of the instrumentation and singing to be abstract. I wanted the content and the topics to be abstract. I think I was able to accomplish that on this planet called Cadillactica.
A theme I’ve always noticed with your projects is the sequencing. It always starts with the crunk trunk-rattlers and as things move forward, you get into the deeper content. So with this new project, are things going to be all over the place in an abstract way?
I think every song still has purpose on this project. I think it still flows in a way and I like to think of it as flowing in a way that’s like growing up. When you’re a young adolescent, things intrigue you. You’re energetic. You’re ready. You’re like “I wanna see this, I wanna do that, I wanna be a part of this.” Then when you start slowing down, other things start to become more important. Time becomes more relevant and you’re like “Man, am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing? Am I a part of what I’m supposed to be a part of? Is this all going to be enough? There’s not enough time in the day.” Then when you get older and reflect on it all, that’s when you’re like “I think I did enough. I hope God’s proud of me. I want to leave something behind.” Normally, I think of my sequencing that way. It’s like the buildup, then the climax and then you just kinda let go and then you fade out. I think of life in that manner and I like to think of music in the same way.
The album’s coming 11.11, you’re about to hit the road and your name is being mentioned more frequently as one of the top artists in the industry today. I remember hearing a song of yours in a Crown Royal commercial a little while back, do you feel like things are finally coming together for you or is there still that chip on your shoulder?
I think that this is my journey. Some people’s success comes faster, some people’s success takes time. It takes years. It takes development. I think of it like this: I’m still building my foundation. There’s still bricks being laid but once it’s right, this building won’t ever come down. My timing is different and it all makes sense, just being from where I’m from. It’s a different place. It’s a different environment. The population is different. I have to make people want to go to where I’m from. It’s almost like sometimes I’m fighting more than just comment boxes and stuff like that, but history itself because I want to shine some positive light on my state. I don’t want to tell somebody “I’m from Mississippi” and they always have negative thoughts about it. I want to showcase it differently. That follows the suit amongst a [person like] David Banner, who was able to not only be a positive role model in hip-hop…but in life. It’s important that people understand that just because I’m country, that does not mean that I’m not intelligent. I’m intelligent. I still believe in saying something that matters. There’s a lot of people where I’m from that feel the same, but you’d have to go there to know it. I think I’m gonna pull my weight and do whatever I can to make people open their minds and visit and come check it out and look at all this history and learn about where I’m from as well as these other places.
It might be a bit too early to ask, but what’s the agenda after the tour and the rollout of Cadillactica? Or Are you just focused squarely on the album at this point?
The album is the focus point right now, but obviously [there’s the] branding of the artist. Branding Big Sant. I’m excited about what he’s going to do. His voice is crazy. The music he writes is amazing. For him, it’s the same thing with building his foundation. I think that’s going to be the next thing for me as well. Helping him with his platform. Branding Multi Alumni as much as possible. Getting into scoring movies. Producing for other artists — not just rap artists, but also soul singers and jazz musicians. Ultimately, writing and composing music in different formats.
Are you and Big Sant ever going to do an entire album together?
I’m sure that’ ll happen. I can’t tell you when or how, but it’s going to happen.
Last question, is there going to be a “My Sub 3?”
Wooo! You gotta find out for yourself. That’s all I’m going to say. I can’t speak on it too much. You just have to find out for yourself.