AU ABROAD

the AU interview: Big K.R.I.T (Mississippi) on Australian tour, B.B King, southern hip hop, and more

If Kendrick Lamar is running things on the west, and J Cole is defining the east for a new generation, then the third coast is most definitely held down by Big K.R.I.T. The Meridian, Mississippi emcee took a bit longer than the aforementioned to really make a dent in the mainstream hip hop scene, but once he did he had more than just the utmost respect from his peers, he quickly received the adoration of millions of discerning hip hop fans around the world based off of his strong, thoughtful lyricism and varied style which saw him creating trunk-rattling dirty south hits right alongside poetic tracks like "The Vent" and "Red Eye" across numerous acclaimed mixtapes and two very strong studio albums.

Ahead of his debut Australian tour, based around his headline slot at OutsideIn in Sydney this weekend, I caught up with Krit to find out what we can expect from him, his career so far as both a rapper and a producer, the influence of the great B.B King (Krit is one of two rappers to ever work with the blues legend), the legacy of southern hip hop, and more.

"I'm a sole believer of getting on stage and giving my all", Krit tells me of what to expect from his first ever live shows in Australia, "it's a lot of energy; a lot of passion".

I can certainly hear the conviction in Krit's voice, not only in his music, but when he speaks to me about how important it is to give people who come to your shows a good understanding of how much you believe in your own music. He tells me that he is excited to keep doing what he always does and seeing what kind of response it gets him down here.

And those shows should definitely cause quite a stir when he kicks of his Australian tour tomorrow in Perth; Krit may not have the same profile down here as someone like Kendrick Lamar, but he is unequivocally in the same class as the adored Compton artist and will surely be delivering one of the best - if not the best - hip hop sets the country will see this year.

It's taken awhile for Krit to get to this point though, where the demand all over the world is finally matching up with the demand that has been brewing in the U.S for half a decade now. But Krit doesn't regret slowly building his portfolio. "[It's a] blessing because I've been able to build a structural foundation, and now I have a certain kind of respect where people respect my ear and my opinion on music. So I'd rather it have been this way rather than just blow up overnight and have people chasing me for my next single.

He also cites being from Mississippi and making the kind of music he makes - heavily influenced by a state not many people hear from in hip hop - as putting him on a "road less traveled". Krit never really made music designed for the radio, he just wanted to represent for his city and make the music that he wanted - "for me it was just about putting the music out and just being heard. When you take that direction it just takes a little bit longer".

I really wanted to talk to him about Mississippi since context means so much in hip hop, in a way unique to the culture and style of music. It's always been clear that a lyricist's reality is as much an integral part of their music as their own talent for capturing that reality and channeling it; Big K.R.I.T is impeccable at that. When we discuss how Mississippi has specifically shaped his music, Krit states: "For me, I had to challenge myself and put myself in a position where I wanted people to know what Mississippi is like; I wanted to shine a positive light on the area and put all that in my music at the same time; that's why I still have the same hunger in myself that I had around 15 years ago when I first started."

And you can't really talk about Mississippi without talking about the rich blues scene of the deep south, perfected and cemented in legendary status by the late, great B.B King. Big K.R.I.T was one of the last musicians - definitely the last rapper - to work with the blues icon so I had to ask him what it was like to step into the studio with King.

"Amazing. It was very much amazing to actually be in the studio with him; to hear him sing lyrics that I wrote; his energy and how positive he was, getting excited about music and being creative...I never thought I'd ever have the opportunity to experience anything of that nature. I really set out to do it because my grandmother was the first person to really put me onto B.B King's music...she was such a huge fan. So it was for her and I wanted to make the kind of song that I felt blended what he did and what I did and didn't sound forced or anything of that nature. And he was so cool man! I definitely was blessed to be able to work with him."

You can read the full transcript of the interview below, where he also discusses his career as a producer and the approach he takes to his sound, the legacy of southern rap that is undeniable in his music, the possibility of his hearing new material from him really soon, and more.

Thanks for taking the time out to speak to me today Krit!

No doubt, no doubt.

So the Australian tour is only a week away now and you're headlining a festival down here as well. What can we expect from you in terms of both set list and structure?

Aw man, energy. I'm a sole believer of getting on stage and giving my all. A lot of people, when they come to my shows they get a good understanding of how much I believe in my own music as well. Just getting on stage and walking back and forth isn't what people should expect from my shows; it's a lot of energy, a lot of passion. That's what I always bring to my shows man, so I'm excited to be able to take what I do and come out there to see what kind of response I get.

So it's over a decade making music for you and it seems like that big commercial push hasn't really happened for you until the last few years. Why do you think it's taken so long for the world to stand up and take notice of the depth and quality of your output?

I would say because of the road I'm supposed to take man. It's definitely the road less traveled. Being from Meridian, being from Mississippi and creating the kind of music that I create. I never wanted or was trying to get radio stardom, for me it was just about putting the music out and just being heard. When you take that direction it just takes a little bit longer. But what I've done is I've been able to create such a large body of music and a catalogue to the point where I don't get on stage and just got one song and then just perform that one song and after that do stuff no one has ever heard.

It's like I can get on stage for an hour, hour and thirty minutes, then walk out and know people are familiar with music that I did from 2010 up until now. So it's then a blessing because I've been able to build a structural foundation, and now I have a certain kind of respect where people respect my ear and my opinion on music. So I'd rather it have been this way rather than just blow up overnight and have people chasing my next single.

Now I'm in a position where people love me for the albums that I create, or the body of music that I've created, so just having the content there makes it easier for me to be myself and perform the kind of songs I want to perform on stage.

Speaking of Mississippi, I wanted to talk about it because I feel like in the 2000's there has only really been you and David Banner to make a big impact on the commercial state of hip hop from that area. You're both very similar in the sense that you're both very thoughtful, powerful lyricists that can capture your reality with such soul and relatability. How has growing up in Mississippi specifically shaped the content and sound of your music.

In every way man. Being from a small place and understanding how to be happy with what you have, and then understanding that you have to leave your comfort zone in order to tell people what you know of and put people onto your music; it makes you a strong individual in your career and just in life. And it put my in a position where I wanted to tell people about how Mississippi was because a lot of people have never been there before; they had a misconception of what it was so I wanted to get in the circle and express that, not just through my music but in my person, my character.

All I ever really wanted was a voice; you grow up and you watch television and you were always seeing people from the metropolitan shows who make it like it's the butt of a joke being from Mississipi, or you can't relate 100% to whatever they talkin' about because you don't see it when you walk outside everyday. For me, I had to challenge myself and put myself in a position where I wanted people to know what Mississippi is like; I wanted to shine a positive light on the area and put all that in my music at the same time; that's why I still have the same hunger in myself that I had around 15 years ago when I first started.

I can hear the influence of B.B King in your music, and with Banner with songs like "Cadillac on 22's". Has B.B King become the defining influence in Mississippi?

I would definitely say so; yes. I would say so because he's just a straight up legend. You could hear the certain spirit and hunger, passion and soul in his music, and it made it cool to have that kind of sound. I wanted to put that in my music too. Like with hip hop you definitely want to rock the crowd, you want that energy in your music. But when the lights are off and everyone's home, I want people to play my music there too; in that environment where they want to relax and think about whatever is going on in society. And I think BB touched on a lot of those topics and at the same time he was very vulnerable with a lot of his music and what he was talking about. So I feel like it was important that I do the same thing in my music, and I really took a piece of it; if you're going to follow anyone's career who is a legend, then why not follow BB King? He toured pretty much his entire life, he probably won every award you can possibly win, and his music will live on forever. So I would definitely say B.B King is the leading person to look at from Mississippi and say like "yes, that is how you do it"

What was it like to be one of the last people to work with him?

Amazing. It was very much amazing to actually be in the studio with him; to hear him sing lyrics that I wrote; his energy and how positive he was, getting excited about music and being creative...I never thought I'd ever have the opportunity to experience anything of that nature. I really set out to do it because my grandmother was the first person to really put me onto B.B King's music...she was such a huge fan. So it was for her and I wanted to make the kind of song that I felt blended what he did and what I did and didn't sound forced or anything of that nature. And he was so cool man! I definitely was blessed to be able to work with him.

Let's talk a bit about your career as a producer. You're also incredibly talented behind the boards; you produced all of "Live from the Underground" with Sha Money and you also gave T.I one of the best beats of his career amongst other things. What was the decision behind stepping back a bit for Cadillactica and letting some other producers come on board?

I would say to get out of my comfort zone. It definitely is a different kind of workload you put on yourself when you decide to produce a whole album. So coming out from Live from the Underground, coming out of the mixtape I did King Remembered in Time, I knew I wanted Cadillactica to sound a certain way, but it was going to also take a certain amount of energy out of me from a writing perspective. So then I sought out to work with the kind of producers that understood my sound, ones I looked up to, but that weren't going to give me something that I would just make for myself.

So working with DJ Dahi, Terrance Martin, Raphael Saadiq, Jim Jonsin...these people, they definitely gave me the kind of music I wouldn't have made myself, but they inspired me as a producer as well. So if you go and listen to all the records that I did produce on the album, sonically I feel like I grew. I changed a little bit. I wasn't using the same instruments, the same drum patterns, you know I was doing things a little more organic and a bit obscure. Especially for Cadillatica because I wanted it to sound different from all my other projects.

And Cadillatica was so very well received - congratulations on that by the way - did anything kind of change for you psychologically in your approach to recording the album as opposed to recording Live from the Underground and previous mixtapes?

Yeah definitely. I wasn't stressed as much while doing Cadillatica. I knew that what I was creating no one would expect from me because it was so different - the storyline and how I was going to tie it all together. And at the same time I remember how stressed I was doing Live from the Underground because I was learning the business as I was creating the album. With Cadillatica I kind of backed up and removed myself from any day-to-day. I didn't record the album in Atlanta, I actually went to L.A to record it, Miami to record it; and I sat in with the producers that I worked with, and it created a certain vibe and a certain energy that was a bit different; normally I'd produce beats and write to them and then record; but this was a little different, I threw myself out of my comfort zone and it showed me that I have to experience things, and travel more just so I can get the right sound, the right production, and the right verse at the end of the day.

One of the things I find most striking about your sound is how encompassing your music is; how much of the legacy of southern rap you capture. There's moments when I hear like Scarface or 8Ball & MJG, or UGK - especially I hear Pimp C a lot in your style - and then Goodie Mob and OutKast, right alongside your very own unique style. That kind of all-encompassing approach, is it purposeful?

For me I think it is just remembering what I grew up listening to so unconsciously I just create these songs. When you're talking about something like 'Kast you're talking about certain instruments, certain keys you play something in. Me, I listen to that music so much that I know the difference between the 808 and a kick and a snare that Three 6 Mafia would you use, [as opposed to] what Organized Noise would use. You know, and I create a vibe that I feel like, even if I wasn't creating the music this is something I would want to ride around and listen to. And so I think that's why it's so easy to tap into those vibes sometimes because I'm making music to listen to that I can't hear on the radio.

When it comes to all these people, I was so influenced by them that this is what I do, that's how I feel, especially with a lot of the samples and how I watch out for samples...I remember listening to Three 6 Mafia and "Stay Fly" and how they was flipping these samples. I felt like it was so amazing how they were able to take a totally different song - most of these songs were super soulful - and turn up on these records by the way they would chop them up. I'm definitely steered by what they all did, definitely.

You've got tracks like "The Vent", "Red Eye", and "Soul Food" which have so much depth and they are so powerful, and then there's tracks like "My Sub" and "Money on the Floor" which are powerful as well but in a whole 'nother way, like trunk rattlers and all that. How important is it to you to have this kind of range?

I mean I'm human man, so I feel I'm supposed to tell both sides of the spectrum. Like I enjoy things that I probably shouldn't do, probably aren't good for me but it takes me to a place where I can also make the songs where I tell you what happens when we indulge to much.

The honesty I think is why a lot of people like my music and relate to it. I don't mind telling you about my actual surroundings; I mention people that are really my family in my songs 'coz this is really my family; my grandmother was featured on Live from the Underground - that's her actual voice because I was able to find a tape where she was singing, that she recorded back in the 90s. And so for me it's like I want people to get a good understanding of who I am as a person. And so they understanding that I'm not fabricating or making it all up, I'm actually drawing on things I experienced.

Something completely different by the way; rumours of another Def Jam biopic surfaced a few days ago. If it tracked the timeline all the way up to today in a sort of similar fashion to Straight Outta Compton. Do you feel like you'd be in the film and do you feel you'd play yourself or would you want someone else handling that?

Man that'd be dope if I was in the film! If they gon' track it all the way up to now and it'll come out in the next year or so I don't see why I wouldn't play myself! I'm pretty sure I'd still look the same and you'd be pretty hard-pressed to find someone that look like me and got the beard and all that [laughs].

Just to wrap up - we've already heard "86", can we expect some new music before the Kritically Acclaimed tour begins in the U.S?

Oh yes, I ain't gon' tell you when but definitely I've got something for the people. I'm exciting about it too man. You know me, it's always quality over quantity with product so I want to put out something that reflects where I am now and have it still have the same quality like an album would; always.

Big K.R.I.T Australian Tour

Tuesday September 22nd - Villa, Perth
Thursday September 24th - Max Watts, Melbourne
Friday September 25th - Zoo, Brisbane
Saturday September 26th - OutsideIn @ Manning House, Sydney
Sunday September 27th - Oxford Art Factory, Sydney

Tickets available from HERE