Big K.R.I.T.’s 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time Is Your Best Rap Album Of 2017. K.R.I.T. Speaks

Throughout the 2010s, Big K.R.I.T. branded himself as a voice from the underground. He represented the “third coast” of Mississippi and proudly brandished his Southern Rap name and dialect. However, K.R.I.T. showed and proved that he was an anomaly. Throughout his career, he’s rapped about family, faith, and police profiling, then killing, Black people, in the same catalog as songs about table-dances, thumping sub-woofers, and plenty of “country sh*t.” From the grassroots clamor following KritWuzHere to 2016’s “Free Agent” declaration, Justin Scott has stayed the course as Rap’s Everyman.

Big K.R.I.T. has always had the air of a DIY artist. However, in 2017 he took his independence to a new level. Going out on his own, K.R.I.T. launched the Multi Alumni imprint. He put his savings on the line to make 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time over the course of the last two years. While going for broke, Krizzle did as influences including UGK and 8Ball had done in the past. He released a conceptual double album. With self-confidence in the driver’s seat, Big K.R.I.T. buckled up, bringing new meaning to “glass house” in commandeering his most vulnerable and courageous album to date. Listeners responded, especially readers of Ambrosia For Heads, who voted it the Best Rap Album of 2017, in a Sweet 16 tournament. In the championship round, Big K.R.I.T.’s third album proved its might. In response, yesterday (January 3), AFH spoke to Big K.R.I.T. about this album, its creation, and why this effort marks a new peak in elevation for an artist that has already accomplished so much.

Ambrosia For Heads: You literally put your all into this album-emotionally, financially and spiritually—for more than two years. How does it feel to have 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time recognized by the listeners as the Best Rap Album of 2017?

Big K.R.I.T.: Brother, it’s amazing. It’s a blessing. It’s one of those things where spending so much time making music once again, I just went back to that [mind-state] of just wanting people to hear it. I really shed a lot of the competitiveness, and a lot the frustration and bitterness that I had on previous albums. This one was just all about doing exactly what I wanted to do. Either you love it or hate it. [I was] not trying to be neutral, and not really focusing on the sound of the music at the time. I was just doing what I felt, and I’m glad it paid off. It took two years to create the project. But that time was so necessary, ‘cause I was living life. I think it shows in the music. People can hear that hunger that I used to have, back on my previous works. It just shows through. I had a certain kind of freedom that I’ve never had before. It’s just a blessing to see the way that people respond to the music. It exceeded all my expectations, brother, trust me. All of them.

AFH: You’ve made mixtapes and had that freedom in the past. How different was it to make a full album independently with all that comes with it—sample clearances, guest artists, clearances, and administrative matters?

Big K.R.I.T.: It was interesting, man. Pretty much all of the features were swaps. Because over the years of working with some of these people—we’re talking about Bun [B and] T.I.—and then being on the radar of someone like Jill Scott, or CeeLo, or Sleepy Brown…I’ve worked with Joi before, worked with Bilal, and Kenneth Whalum, and these people…so it gets to a point [where it is] comradery. When you talk about music, people just want to see you win, and then they know at the same time, that you’re gonna be there when their project comes out, if you continue to build and work. So a lot of the features were swaps, brother. It’s just love to get in the studio.

[We created] music that sounds like samples, and it’s not. [“Justin Scott”] is not a sample. DJ Khalil produced that one, he produced “Aux Cord,” that’s not a sample. DJ Khalil produced “Bury Me In Gold,” that’s not a sample. So we was able to trim a lot of those things off. Most of the stuff that stayed a sample was stuff that I produced. You go through the proper channels to get ‘em cleared. It was just easier this time, ‘cause I spent so much time working on the album. The preparation for getting everything together was a little bit easier than getting a deadline from a label [like] “We need the album now. This is when we’re gonna put the single out…” You find yourself rushing to get stuff cleared, and some of these things take time. It was a blessing to be independent and to really go through the process in the proper way…there was just so much freedom. It’s crazy that so many of the features that I got, it was easier to get them [as an] independent than it probably would have been on a label.

AFH: Because they want to stick you up ‘cause they know that the label’s got that bag?

Big K.R.I.T.: Either that, or you run into the narrative of how the label may feel about the features you’re actually trying to use. It’s so many different perspectives. “Yes, a song is jammin’, but do you really want to go with that person?” It’s one of those things. You find yourself tailor-making your music to make it important to the label, so they promote it—instead of doing it the way you want to do it.

AFH: So they’re pushing you to get a hit artist instead of an artist who may sound and fit better with the record.

Big K.R.I.T.: I mean, whether they’re pushing you or not, it feels like the mentality of wanting to appease the label so you get support. So you might find yourself putting an artist on the album because they’re hot at the time. That’s not necessarily the person you initially [envisioned] on the song in the first place. It’s just the nature of the game sometimes. If you’re dealing with A&Rs and however that works, I stick to my guns and I always feature the people that I want to feature on the album, whether people are familiar with them on radio or not. It’s just who I sonically hear on a song and run with it. Everybody fit perfectly on the album, the songs that they were on, the sequencing of the records, the sonics of the album. That’s just the way it’s supposed to be.

AFH: Joi, she’s a real deep artist when you go deep into that Atlanta scene back in the D.A.R.P. days and all that. What made you decide to go with her, because that’s a very interesting choice.

Big K.R.I.T.: Man! Joi’s range is amazing. It’s crazy. And Joi showed me love early in my career on Return Of 4eva. There’s a record called “Shake It,” and she’s going crazy on that. And then she was on Cadillactica, singing on “Mind Control.” So that relationship has always been there. But this time [on “Miss Georgia”], it was just her power alone on the hook, in bringing it all home. There’s a grit to it, an honesty, and a passion to it and an emotion. It’s very necessary, and she’s so seasoned at what she does that it’s not really like you have to say much or [direct her].

AFH: I don’t know if you know, but way back in the day, like 2012, we published an article saying “Is Big K.R.I.T. The New OutKast?” It’s beyond the obvious comparisons like the lyrical [music] from the South. It’s really kind of the deep Soul that really infuses your music. So what was it like to have a really official Dungeon Family collabo with CeeLo and Sleepy Brown?

Big K.R.I.T.: It’s one of them surreal moments, to a degree. Even though I’m the one producing the record, I know how I’m feeling when I’m making that record. And I know what inspired that sound, as far as “Get Up 2 Come Down.” So it’s about paying homage too. “You know what? I need to see if I can get Sleepy [Brown] to sing on this.” And then Sleepy’s down, and Sleepy falls through the studio. Then I’m like, “Man, let me see if I can get CeeLo to [appear].” I didn’t even say “rap,” I just said, “Let me see if I can get CeeLo to jump on this.” I ain’t know what CeeLo was gonna do on the record. It was just asking. Then CeeLo was like, “I got you. Send it through. I’ma send it back.” Sho’ enough, when he sends the record back, he’s rapping.

AFH: You got a verse.

I got a verse. I’m talking about a talking-that-sh*t verse, oh my God. That’s one of the reasons why I [decided not to] bring the hook back. I’m just like, “Yo, CeeLo’s rapping on a song of mine and I got Sleepy Brown on the hook. And the vibe is just so right and so perfect. And yeah, it’s inspired by that Dungeon Family, OutKast, Organized Noize feel.

I grew up listening to that music and very much being inspired by it…people get it though. And even if they were too young to know where it came from, hopefully they learn about the people that I’ve featured on the album, and hopefully get a better understanding of what inspired me to do that.

AFH: And it continues the lineage. It shows this is all a continuum.

Big K.R.I.T.: Exactly, man. That’s before I was a rapper. That’s when I was just simply a fan. ‘Cause I wasn’t part of it then. I was just watching all of this jammin’ music and watching all these artists be proud of where they’re from. The game was different back then, and I still hang onto that as a small amount of inspiration, any time that I feel overwhelmed with how the game is now.

AFH: So why did you decide to make it a double album?

Big K.R.I.T.: Aw man, I had to tell the duality of myself. I think we all have two sides that we play in life—the superhero that goes to work and deals with things. The negativity that comes your way…the frustration when you’re out and about in the world, you have to put that cape on and have to build up that wall to deal with it. Then, when you get back home, and you settle down, and you take that cape off, and you’re not that superhero anymore, then you have to deal with everything that happened throughout the day. So for me, it was important that people got to understand what I deal with, when they don’t see me on stage, when I’m not at the radio station, when I’m not Big K.R.I.T., when I’m Justin Scott. [What Justin Scott deals with] is the competitive nature that can get in the way, the frustration, the anxiety, the insecurity, the depression, and different things that go on in my mind and dealing with my vices: the drinking and getting older and all this stuff, and talking about that. ‘Cause music has always been my therapy and it’s always been a way for me to vent and get out my problems and get out what I’ve been dealing with. I just used to always have to put all that stuff on one album. And it made it really difficult for sequencing purposes and getting a message across sometimes. With 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time, I was able to really give you two different sides of myself in a way where it was easily digestible, sequenced in a way where it wasn’t such a roller-coaster.

AFH: You’re able to make songs like that, that are deeply personal. Also, you can make the turn-up flex songs like “Confetti” and a “Mt. Olympus.” How different is your recording process for those songs? How do you approach making an aggressive record versus the more vulnerable records?

Big K.R.I.T.: Aw, man. It’s weird, because there are days when I’m sad and I’ve wrote something energetic. I think sometimes it lives within the beat and the music more than it is how I’m feeling emotionally. The music sometimes speaks to me more. It can really jolt me out of whatever I’m dealing with, emotionally. Even a record like “Confetti”…on the reverse side of that, you’re dealing with me being finally confident with what I do, and okay with the fact that I might not have won a particular battle, but know that I was the better person, or the better artist, or the better nominee or whatever. Being confident with it doesn’t matter. I’m gonna keep doing what I’m doing. So that’s me starting to change the narrative of even the records that have been boastful and aggressive. Instead of it coming off as a bitter, angry rapper, it’s me staking my claim—showing people, “Hold on, I do this too, and I do it very well.” “Mt. Olympus” was definitely a great record, and I’m blessed to have been able to write that in the time period. People take to it so much. But that was a different style of aggression that I had [compared to] now—especially towards peers and especially towards the way music is made. I wanted to get to a point where I wasn’t writing from an angry place anymore, per se. Because it wasn’t helping me. It just kept going. You write something like that and you want to keep goin’. I think it takes away from the music sometimes; you can lose who you are and your message [by] just being angry all the time in songs. So a “Confetti” happens, but it’s written from the perspective of everybody should feel like they still won, in that “it don’t matter” kind of vibe. Even “The Getaway,” coming up with these aspects of not just trying to make it from my specific idea of winning, but make it more from an overall idea of winning. It don’t matter what you doing, if somebody throw confetti at you and you go harder, then that’s okay.

AFH: I’ve never heard you make a record like “Keep The Devil Off” before. I’ve heard things that allude to religion, “Soul Food,” and obviously you’ve made Blues records, like “Praying Man” with B.B. King. This has everything combined. Where did that come from?

Big K.R.I.T.: Ooh. Aw, man. That’s the oldest record, as far as the album is concerned. That was the first record that happened, when you talk about both sides [of me]. That record took the longest to figure out, organ-wise. That record took the longest as far as adding the other aspects of instrumentation, which is horns, getting the guitar together, adding the choir aspect, doing the breakdowns and all that. Shout out to my engineer that worked on that, Micah “EngineeredByWOLF” Wyatt, ‘cause he spent a large amount of time trying to get that record to do that and sound like that as well. Andrew Dawson was part of the mixing on that record too. But look, man, that record is an adieu to my grandmother. I’m from Mississippi, the Bible belt, and she was very much into the church. [I thought about how church] music made people feel in the church, and [tried] to create something that hopefully people will translate past just being a Rap song. It’d just be about keeping the negativity off of you, keeping the devils off of you, in a time period where I feel like people need to hear that the most. From a political aspect, the violence, the brutality, what’s goin’ on in the world, socially, what you see on TV, everything, negativity is just easier to gravitate to sometimes. Even when you don’t like something, sometimes you gravitate to it. I just wanted to try to create something sonically that could tell people “Naw. You gotta keep that away from you, keep it off of you.” I didn’t really care whether it fit into the realm of Hip-Hop or not, or whether people got it. It was important for me and my soul to make something of that nature.

AFH: How much do you think being in full control of your own creative destiny played a part in allowing you to make a work of art that connected so strongly with the people?

Big K.R.I.T.: Being in full control meant everything. It meant everything. ‘Cause I had full creative control even when I was with Def Jam. It takes me to get to this point to realize, yeah, I went through some hard times trying to prove to them that I had a sound that people wanted to listen to. It needed to sound this way, and it needed to feel this way. Going back and forth with them and it ultimately not working out, sticking to my guns was the best thing goin’. Because now, more than ever, people get to see the growth. They get to see the elevation to this point in my music, and they know that throughout all of the different waves and trends that music has went through since 2010 that I never switched up. All I wanted to do is keep elevating myself and creating the kind of music, sonically, that represented who I was. I think it resonated now more than ever. It wasn’t like I had to play the album in a boardroom and hope that people got it. It was, “This is the album. This is what I have.”

It’s still hard to believe sometimes that it played out like this, ‘cause I think us as artists start off trying to be patient, waiting your turn, you go get your run. Fast-forward, we’re talking about six-and-a-half-years of being signed and putting out albums to being, at this point, where people finally get it. I’ve carved a space for myself where they know that I’m always gonna be about quality. It’s beautiful, man. It’s definitely a road less traveled, but it was so worth it.

Introduction by Jake Paine