Mississippi gets minimal respect—in general, and much less so within hip-hop. Atlanta and Houston are the twin capitals; New Orleans, Memphis, and Nashville the imperial outposts. And where is Meridian, exactly? Teen duo Rae Sremmurd may be the hottest thing popping out of Tupelo, a town that I've still yet to identify on this here Google Map, but Big K.R.I.T. is the homestate hero whose trilogy of Southern autobiography is Mississippi's modest claim to hip-hop's longer haul.
Beyond the South, however, Big K.R.I.T. has been the career underdog vs. the rest of the "Control" class, so anointed last year by Kendrick Lamar, who may have done K.R.I.T. a double-edged favor, in terms of mass-market expectations. K.R.I.T. is A Rapper's Rapper, and a gentleman, at that. His true kinship with Compton's Kendrick Lamar isn't via "Control," but rather via Kendrick's "i," the barrio sunshine ditty that recently won Kendrick kudos and eye-rolls alike. Such critical resistance to such proud, explicit sentimentality is K.R.I.T.'s patented struggle at this point, in this year of trap superstars: "A Rapper's Rapper" reads like homework.
Cadillactica is, almost inevitably, a statement record. (Cadillactica's first single and K.R.I.T.'s current tour are both titled "Pay Attention," and of course the album, in something of a regional tradition, features a standout "King of the South" declaration.) Overall the album isn't as backhanded as "Mt. Olympus," nor as passive-aggressive as "Cool 2 Be Southern" from K.R.I.T.'s previous official release, Live From the Underground. Like Boosie's similarly gutsy, group therapeutic Life After Deathrow, K.R.I.T.'s Cadillactica is a Southerner's tape for Southerners born of Cadillac interiors.
More instrument-driven (if not louder) than its predecessor, Cadillactica is bounce, blues, and the blackest jazz. "Saturdays=Celebration" is the Reaper's piano and shotgun drums, the most forceful cut of K.R.I.T.'s galactic stampede toward salvation: Battle with drinking so please don't pour me no liquor/Out on the curb, fight the urge to go retaliate/Carry on, just be strong enough to walk away. While Aquemini is Cadillactica's obvious genre predecessor in terms of production and vibe, K.R.I.T.'s clenched forcefulness as a rapper stages him dead center between Andre 3000's vivid soul-surfing and the clever, full-throated brutality of T.I.
Cadillactica is bounce, blues, and the blackest jazz.
As careful a songwriter as he may be, K.R.I.T. isn't categorically opposed to trap. "King of the South" is Cadillactica's most contemporary, conventional trap record, with a sparse twinkle-and-boom formula that yet preserves lightning-round power-rapping as K.R.I.T.'s forte, nimble enough to suit the Migos flow. ("Go find a cliff and jump off that bitch if you don't think that I'm king," he raps.) The slap of "Mind Control" and "Mo Better Cool" is downright West Coastal, complete with a verse from E-40 and a funkified alien hook: Cooley High, sonic booming sign, knocking gutters down/Crack the curb, like my ship emerged, from the underground.
While Cadillactica is, overall, K.R.I.T.'s modest trump of Live From the Underground, the album's Grade A cuts ("My Sub Pt. 3," "Saturdays=Celebration") are hardly a match for the last album's highest-highs ("I Got This," "Porchlight"). Cadillactica's slowest, lowest-energy songs sound like brief identity crises for sake of elusive mass market appeal, with K.R.I.T. and Rico Love both sounding like the OVO Soundcloud on "Pay Attention," and K.R.I.T. overestimating his R&B chops on "Do You Love Me." Meanwhile, it's a shame that K.R.I.T.'s standout collaboration with A$AP Ferg, "Lac Lac," only made the deluxe edition, 17 tracks deep. Likewise, the (ex-)backpacker's vengeance of "Mt. Olympus" is demoted bonus track status, with Lupe Fiasco repurposing K.R.I.T.'s own frustrations with the music industry on the standard edition's closer, "Lost Generation."
As neatly traced as the line may be from OutKast's Aquemini to K.R.I.T.'s Cadillactica, two space age sagas in O.G. minor, K.R.I.T.'s a modernist and always was one; he comes bearing trunk booms and slick talk, the popular essentials of a Down South project, whether your patron saint is Andre or Gucci. Elsewhere, the grand trap coup resumes; yet 'tis also the season in which Atlanta's Killer Mike, Baton Rouge's Boosie, and Mississippi's own K.R.I.T. have drafted a blueprint for radical Down South musicality that's no less introspective and compassionate for it's also knocking loud as cast-iron pans to the dome.