Big K.R.I.T. – Live From the Underground

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This is where Big K.R.I.T.’s devoted fanbase – really his only fanbase; he was always too old school and too soulful for the new generation – turned his back on him.

But this is the most underrated hip-hop album of 2012, and it’s certainly better than the stopgap release 4eva N a Day and probably better than the frontheavy coming out party, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here; second in his discography only to ReturnOf4Eva.

Not to say that the general criticisms about the album are unfounded. The mainstream pandering throughout Big K.R.I.T.’s first album to feature a price tag instead of a download button are decent at best (“Money on the Floor”) to downright embarrassing: Ludacris’ verse on “What U Mean” will make a pacifist dream about committing homicide (it starts “She had a lisp so I asked her could she deepthroat / She said she never done it, she said she never tried / She sittin’ there tellin’ a motherfuckin lie” and goes on with “And you’ll keep a nigga harder than some government cheese / I say all women are freaks they just need an excuse / Pretendin’ they all tight when these bitches is loose”); “Yeah Dats Me” has unfortunate choruses, even though the brief pockets of vocal sample almost save them. The skit at the end of the title track has K.R.I.T. finding out that “he’s in the mainstream!” and cute, but nowhere fucking near.

(And yeah, typical K.R.I.T. criticisms: his choruses are mostly the same hook repeated ad nauseum, and his flow is simple and takes no chances.)

But consider an artist who’s had to rely on samples and his own singing to suddenly be thrown into a position where the former is much harder because of clearance issues and the latter is no longer necessary because he can pay others, and consider how K.R.I.T. has managed to successfully create an album that sonically sounds similar to his previous releases. Personally, the live instrumentation has only helped K.R.I.T.: check out the bass bubbles throughout “LFU300MA (Intro)”, the string melody and harmonica at the end of the title track, the triumphant horns elevating “Cool 2 Be Southern” from singalong to full-blown anthem (nice piano lines too) – and that’s just the first three songs! Meanwhile, a sample of “Theme of Foxy Brown” drives “I Got This,” and the guitar throughout “Hydroplaning” is really the only good thing about it.

Then there’s the impressive three song stretch from “If I Fall” through to “Praying Man” which remains the greatest stretch of tracks in K.R.I.T.’s discography. Melanie Fiona steals “If I Fall” with a gorgeous melody, while K.R.I.T. adds backing “ooh”’s throughout that add another emotional weight in addition to the lyrics. The humming and thin string line taking over the melody during the choruses of “Rich Dad Poor Dad” reinforces what I said earlier about the live instrumentation, while K.R.I.T. drops some of the best lines on the album, “When they settling for settlements … The media graffiti us with relishments.” K.R.I.T.’s strengths aren’t when he’s pretending to be a playboy or the next mainstream rapper, it’s when he’s telling autobiographical stories, and “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” is one such example. And “Praying Man” is K.R.I.T.’s most ambitious track both lyrically (tackling slavery) and sonically (by hiring B.B. King to play guitar and sing the choruses).

After this, he made his worst mixtape in King Remembered in Time and made a follow-up album that dropped all the introspective tracks and lost what made him unique. Here’s hoping he finds it again.

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