Age: 26
Label: Cinematic Music Group/Def Jam
From: Meridian, Mississippi
Active Since: 2005
Latest Release: K.R.I.T. (King Remembered In Time)
Recent Single: "R.E.M."

Ever since releasing the soulful, southern retro-rap of K.R.I.T. Wuz Here in 2010, Justin “Big K.R.I.T.” Scott has been very busy—and on the verge of bigger things. An artist who works both in the booth and behind the boards (trust, his sample flips are nasty), it’s his lyrics that invariably provide rich context for his impassioned demeanor.

Big K.R.I.T. can turn a clever phrase (“Cool 2 Be Southern”), unleash vicious prose (“Country Shit”) and go introspectively deep (“The Vent”) with the best of them. His honesty is also a thing of beauty, with records like “Handwriting,” “Meditate,” and “Children of the World” capturing unadulterated performances that leave a lasting impression. And who can forget his closing verse on "1 Train" (which featured three others on this list)? Krizzle was downright disrespectful with his rhymes, and it revealed what he could accomplish with the right frame of mind.

Few rappers have solidified the type of track record K.R.I.T. has mastered within the mixtape game over the last four years, and in this day and age where an online presence can be a tipping point, the Mississippi representative stays afloat with a keen ear for his fan base. At times, though, he revisits related themes that generate similar content. True, the soundscapes may differ, but the message is perpetually inherent. Case in point: Have you heard “Pull Up”? No need to give “My Trunk” a spin, then.

While the 26-year-old has gained a considerable niche market on the underground rap scene, he’s yet to thrive on a larger scale. As debut albums go, Live from the Underground was a commendable piece of work. However, with a first-week tally of 41,000 sold, it didn’t move the units Def Jam nor K.R.I.T. predicted (“It's not my best, I agree, but I did what I could,” he confessed on the calming cut “Bigger Picture”).

He’s cracked the Billboard singles charts a few times, but that’s been more so due to featured guests and affiliations than his own name on the marquee. Jay-Z didn’t proclaim, “Men lie, women lie, numbers don’t” as a false gesture to measure impact. In that respect, K.R.I.T.’s consistency will be an anchor for support if the numbers don’t eventually come, but he’s got a little ways to go until his importance is truly felt. —Edwin Ortiz