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Here’s the short of it. It took Big K.R.I.T. six tries to make an amazing first impression. Depending on who you hear the story from, K.R.I.T. could have languished in the Mississippi underground forever had K.R.I.T. Wuz Here not become the initial piece of inertia for his career in 2010. Especially for a rapper/producer from the South a year after another rapper/producer broke through with his own critically acclaimed mixtape.
KWH arrived within a four-month period in which landmark tapes from Curren$y (Smokee Robinson), Wiz Khalifa (Kush and Orange Juice), and Dom Kennedy (From the Westside, With Love) all showed up on our doorsteps. K.R.I.T.’s surprised me the most, maybe because I wasn’t expecting it; unlike KWH, the other mixtapes came with all the fanfare and buzz from bloggers and music journos. Dom had car music in the summer on lock with “1997,” and Wiz and Spitta could do that sub-genre that isn’t really a genre, “cloud rap,” better than anybody. What many others and I got from KWH was a similar feeling of struggle in the face of pending success, a man of the people sick and tired of going unheard by the masses.
Weeks before its May 3, 2010, release date, K.R.I.T. had appeared on “Glass House,” a fast-paced collab with Curren$y and Wiz Khalifa where he ran in the anchor verse from the Kush and Orange Juice track. If you hadn’t done any homework on the Meridian, Miss., native and ignored the music he released beginning in 2005 with the See Me on Top series, hearing a third voice next to Wiz and Spitta, when they were arguably rap’s favorite stoner duo of the moment, was a bit of a shock, a reach even.
“Glass House” reappeared on KWH, but it instead flowed with the rest of the tape, 19 tracks in full of burly, opinionated Southern bravado tucked in between soul samples and hard-hitting 808 drums. It landed as the 37th best mixtape of all-time when we ranked them back in 2013. His sound has evolved somewhat since, with the lyrics getting even more to the point, the soul samples a bit more identifiable and syrupy.
The opening lines of “Viktorious” signified that K.R.I.T. was rapping with a point to prove. He was going to be labeled slow, with people not caring if he made beats or had been rapping his ass off since 2005. He summarized all of it as knowing his time would eventually come. He and Big SANT knocked around UGK-like isms on “Return of 4eva,” continuing a path set by the sounds of Suave House, Pimp C, 8Ball & MJG, and more. “Country Shit” eventually became his first single, and Bun B and Ludacris showed up on the remix. Didn’t matter if Def Jam was cutting the check—the South felt like we had another underdog to root for.
Listening to KWH over time made me realize that whatever muses drove K.R.I.T. pushed him hard as hell. Nobody writes lyrics like “I never really knew how much I loved her till she dipped/And decided she ain't scared of lions, tigers, and bears/But she scared to be in love with me” from “Good Enough” without feeling something. The album felt like a parallel to my own life, to a lot of people questioning a ton of personal shit at the time. Each topic that existed in the KWH universe played a larger role going forward. Women (“Something”), his grandmother and growing up in Mississippi (“Neva Go Back”), self-doubt (“I Gotta Stay”), inequality and distrust (“Children of the World,” “They Got Us”), or even pimp platitudes (“Moon and Stars”) ride throughout KWH and beyond in subsequent projects.
Didn’t matter if Def Jam was cutting the check—the South felt like we had another underdog to root for.
David Banner may have cracked the door open for Mississippi, but K.R.I.T. soon followed and to a lesser extent Big SANT and Tito Lo. Rae Sremmurd, the Tupelo brothers who have forged their own sound with Mike WiLL Made-It, are the closest thing the state has to commercial rap stars. Then there’s K.R.I.T., proud some years later with a sophomore album that came with the fire and intensity similar to that which preceded it. He’s still shooting for that respect, even if he may be that much closer to achieving it.
There’s a theory that persists in human interaction called the ripple effect, where one action offsets a chain of secondary actions, all of which can be pointed back to the initial action. Without KWH, maybe there isn’t a giant sense of appreciation for K.R.I.T., the adulation and praise of being “the next” Pimp C, or a proper understudy of UGK. K.R.I.T. made a magnum opus five years ago, one just as muddy and infectious now as it was then.
Brandon Caldwell is a writer living in Houston. Follow him @_brandoc.