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Big K.R.I.T. breaks through the Southern rap ceiling

Long Live the King

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Ten years ago, Mississippi artist Big. K.R.I.T. emerged onto the rap scene with a sound heretofore unheard of in a region. Before K.R.I.T., Dirty South artists typically failed to write lyrics describing that part of the country in the most positive light. Meanwhile, many rappers also felt that hip-hop was something Southern artists had to learn, as opposed to those on the East and West coasts, where the art form was arguably invented.

Anchoring his 38-city tour on the strength of his No. 1-charting 2014 album Cadillactica, the rapper is entering areas of the country with a new momentum behind his career. And he's finding that markets where he barely made an impression before are becoming valuable stops for his crew in the future.

"We just came back from D.C. and played a show in New York right after," K.R.I.T. explains. "Being able to sell out D.C. and just look out at the crowd and see the growth that's happened since the last time I played there — to be able to play Pittsburgh, which is a place I haven't played in about three years, and see the growth there and in Cleveland — is great."

K.R.I.T. attributes his success to the natural way in which his music has been spread. "People don't necessarily hear my music on the radio all of the time," he says. "These people are actually seeking out my content, and then they come out and support the shows. There has always been an organic growth when it comes to my presence, man. It's kind of better that way, because now I can get on stage and perform for an hour and people know all of my content, because the show isn't just built around one song."

Cadillactica's commercial appeal would finally propel K.R.I.T to be considered one of the best rappers in the game. Multiple mixtapes, as well as his 2012 debut LP Live From the Underground, were runaway critical successes — but it was his latest album that convinced many hip-hop heads to listen up. Even so, the rapper has had to learn to live with the fact that many program directors have failed to embrace him as a mainstream-radio artist — and they may in fact never do so. The artist has made his peace with that.

"Back in the day it was a major concern of mine," K.R.I.T. admits. "As of now, I'm just more into the understanding of my music growing organically in its own way. A lot of people first heard of me based off of the internet and social networking. It's never that I have ever had a major radio presence — it's just that every now and then, one of my songs would blow up online and grab people's attention. For the most part, that's just always been the way it is, and I've learned not to really chase it. If it organically goes to radio, that's cool. And if it doesn't, people still know that I will drop a quality album, and they'll still find ways to support it."

While there have been Southern rappers who have broken through to become superstars of the craft with lyrics that relay serious subjects on top of thumping beats, by and large the area is still considered — on the surface — to be the breeding ground of club rappers mostly concerned with getting their lifestyles across in their music.

"You get put in a box," the rapper explains, "where we all consider ourselves making pretty good hip-hop. But it's always, 'You make pretty good Southern hip-hop.' It's just one of those situations. It's all for the sake of hip-hop."

K.R.I.T. has found it more difficult to be respected as a good lyricist. "It's starting to get, in my opinion, where these barriers are broken down," he says. "A lot of people are starting to produce in a way where you can't tell whether it's a West Coast, East Coast, or Southern beat. It's less about where you are from now and more about how impactful the record is that you are going to do. And that's dope. That is really dope, that it is really a collective effort when it comes to music right now."

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