Live Review: Big K.R.I.T + Milwaukee Banks + Preacha - Oxford Art Factory (27.09.15)

"A lot of people, when they come to my shows they get a good understanding of how much I believe in my own music...", Big K.R.I.T told me on the phone a few days prior to starting his debut Australian tour. The Mississippi emcee was to headline Outside In festival and also play a few solo shows around the country, and while he let me know what to expect, I still wasn't prepared for just how much energy and passion he brought to the stage. While I unfortunately missed him at Outside In, I made sure to catch him at Oxford Art Factory the following day, where he was given some great support from Aussie duo Milwaukee Banks and local DJ Preacha.

Milwaukee Banks are a reference for the current trend in hip hop; sparse, hazy beats with an obvious Houston influence mixed up with a heavy focus on melody and dreamy, textured raps (the fact that they have a track called "Faded" comes to no surprise at all). There are plenty of acts around the world now who attempt such a style - clearly aiming for fans of Drake - but few really nail the sound. Milwaukee Banks are in that few; undeniably talented while lyricist Dyl Thomas displays a great sense of showmanship, strutting around stage and really putting himself into his lyrics while Melbourne-based producer Edo chops away on his various equipment. They didn't waste any time getting the crow on their side, and I heard quite a few people occasionally ask the person next to them "wait, who are these guys? They are actually good!".

While Preacha didn't have to do much but curate an appropriate string of tracks for the night, he left a huge impression on me. Australia doesn't see much actual southern hip hop live, but very rarely do DJs deliver a selection completely in-line with the act they are supporting. DJ sets are usually all over the place when supporting international hip hop acts, reaching to the east, then the west, then the south, then the west again; not this one, Preacha stayed entirely in the south, banging out classics from UGK, 8Ball & MJG, , Pastor Troy, and Three Six Mafia. Southern hip hop was definitely in the building, and it set the tone perfectly for Krit, even though he was around 30 minutes late.

Krit came out swinging, jumping straight into the set with his fired-up verse from "Country Shit (Remix)", zoning in on a high level of energy which he maintained with mixtape cuts "Somethin' Right" and "Talking About Nothing", both tracks with impressive verses but simple enough hooks that the crowd could chant along to.

One of the things I find most striking about Krit's music on record is how well he balances that complexity and level of depth he is respected for, against a very accessible, commercial appeal; cleverly crafting his songs so that his music appeals to all. I would say he is the ultimate southern emcee; bridging the old school and the new school in a way no one is doing right now in hip hop; there's that jazz in his voice that reminds you of Pimp C, that impeccable sense of timing that recalls 8Ball, and that energetic, all-out style of Three Six Mafia. When he spits "I embody the south/the swang, the grain/the trunk with the bang, the gold in their mouth" (from "King of the South") he actually means it.

The above all comes across just as clearly on stage, Krit riding smoothly over the productions, never missing a beat and using the backing tracks not as a kickstand to excuse laziness, but his own hype man, along with the very capable DJ Dibia$e who controls the flow of the set.

I wasn't sure how Krit was going to be received at the show down here; he is unmistakably on the level of Kendrick Lamar and J Cole, but he hasn't really had that big commercial push down here. None of that mattered though; the crowd gave Krit as much energy as he could have possibly hoped for, staying in sync with the intensity he never let fade until the very end of his set.

The set only got better with tracks like "Cadillactica" and the aforementioned "King of the South", all of which were performed with conviction and clarity, with Krit actually showcasing each song rather than overusing the medley style so often employed by hip hop artists.

"Money on the Floor" and "Temptation" were vintage south; "Pay Attention" and "I Got This" showed Krit's penchant for mainstream appeal without lacking credibility; and the show-stealing "86" (the first time he has performed it anymore) proved that the emcee is only getting better as he continues to gain the worldwide recognition he so deserves.

Smartly deciding to tone the pace down a bit, Krit took his time strutting towards the finish line for the Raphael Saadiq assisted "Soul Food", again spitting through his verses with such clarity and sharpness not often seen with rappers to concerned with appealing to the "turn up" generation. But the real set closer, "Mt Olympus" was things really kicked up in terms of Krit's mind-bending lyricism, the beat cutting off for that breatheless second verse so we could hear the frustration, anger, and confidence that made the 2014 mixtape cut one of hardest hitting tracks of his career.

After that performance, just about everyone in the venue waited patiently to meet with Krit, who took his time on stage to shake hands with everyone and sign autographs. To me, it confirmed Krit as one of the most gifted and necessary emcees to emerge in the 21st century. This easily ranks as one of the best hip hop gigs I've ever been to, sitting right up there with the likes of Lupe, Jay, Nas, Cypress Hill, OutKast, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, Kanye, and Clipse.

Hopefully this opens the gates for more authentic Southern hip hop acts to tour Australia. If the crowd was anything to go by; the demand is definitely there.

Set List:

Country Shit (Remix)
Somethin' Right
Talking About Nothing
New Agenda
Lac Lac
King of the South
My Sub, Part 3 (Big Bang)
Money on the Floor
Pay Attention

I Got This
Soul Food
My Olympus