Big K.R.I.T. might be the latest heir to the Southern hip-hop throne. Sure, there are plenty of popular rappers from the South (Atlanta's still a thing, after all), but K.R.I.T. is one of the few who sounds like a true successor to UGK or Outkast. Looking at K.R.I.T.'s extensive list of mixtapes, damn good production, ambitious concept LPs, and his ferocity in fighting for every inch of success he's gained, it's no wonder why Kendrick Lamar name-checked him as a competitor on that notably belligerent "Control" verse. And, even though K.R.I.T.'s impassioned production and daedal wordplay are satisfying on their own, it's the rapper's focus on bringing emotion to the dirty South that puts him on the playlist.
With his 2017 album 4eva is a Mighty Long Time, K.R.I.T. kept all the posturing, bragging, and fun of his prior works, but joined the club of rappers that have written candidly about mental disorders. "After a certain point with the label and dealing with the music, I just really hit this mode of depression, like wondering if I was doing what I was supposed to be doing," says K.R.I.T. "I was always one of those people who never talked about how I felt; I had to really just start expressing myself and expressing what I was going through and how I was feeling."
K.R.I.T.'s struggles with mental health have been one of the most widely publicized aspects of the thematic content behind 4eva is a Mighty Long Time. Music journalists seem surprised at the overt themes of depression and addiction on "Keep the Devil Off" and "Price of Fame."
"I bought a bottle just to soothe my soul/ Still crying over granny, that was some years ago/ I'm a man now, I came up to hold my fam down/ Can't tell them about my depression 'cause most of them fans now," he raps on the latter song. K.R.I.T. pours his heart out so freely and efficiently that it's hard not to ask: Why does a rapper having emotions seem like a revelation to so many news outlets? "Just because of the superhero perspective of being a rapper, or a musician in general," says K.R.I.T. "But, you get to all these things in real life, and we all deal with the same emotional things. We deal with sadness, we all want to be liked or loved."
"When you look at the bottom line of rapping and being aggressive at times and being gangster or very braggadocious, then you get to that record where the artist is like, 'Well, I'm dealing with this' and 'this person in my life passed and they really meant something to me,'" says K.R.I.T. "And I figure that it's necessary that people see both sides, now."
Showing both sides of the coin was the aspiration behind 4eva is a Mighty Long Time's double LP format. Disc one portrays K.R.I.T. as K.R.I.T. He has cooler friends than you (like Bun B and T.I.), can blow out windows with his subwoofer, and his playlist will kick your favorite song's ass. Then he'll "ball all summer just to flex for Christmas" as a victory dance.
But, on disc two, K.R.I.T. writes from the perspective of the man behind the acronym, Justin Scott. He's mildly morose, pensively reflects on his life, and just wants to be a better person. He lays out his, and every rapper's, duality on "Mixed Messages." "Revolutionary, although I'm free/ I got me a lover, but I still want to cheat/ I want to be safe, but it's 'fuck the police'/ Don't want to be here, but I'm too scared to leave."
K.R.I.T. traces modern rappers choosing to show their mental health problems to social networking. "Back in the day, you drop an album, but social networking didn't necessarily exactly exist. You do an album and you live your life how you're living it," he says. "You go tour, you drop your album, and the only footage that came out was the footage that you wanted to come out. But, now we have Instagram, you have Twitter, you have Snapchat. You have so many different aspects where you show your life."
So many of the emotions felt on his 2017 release have been a slow build, thanks to the increasing attention K.R.I.T. has received over the years. Despite his underground king status, thanks to his cherished library of mixtapes, it wasn't until 2012's Live from the Underground that the mainstream started to pay attention, while 2014's stargazing and sci-fi tinged Cadillactica cemented K.R.I.T. as a hip-hop power player. With the latest album and his career, the Southern rapper has portrayed a more rounded picture of himself and rap music.