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Dean Van Nguyen is the son of the Son of Chico Dusty

When Big K.R.I.T. was putting out music at a prolific rate a couple years back– including at his nominal mixtapes in K.R.I.T. Wuz Here and 4eva N a Day – I was convinced a seat at rap’s head table was waiting. A self-producing machine in the vein of Pimp C, his instrumentals were pure aural candy that veered between neck-snapping bounce-ability and blues-laden heart. As an MC, his relaxed flow was clean, fluid and unmistakably country. And just to complete the package, he had an ear for a chorus, and could purr out a silky hooks with almost no effort.

Picked up by Def Jam on the back of his impressive body of work, things haven’t quite happened for K.R.I.T. His debut album for the label, Live from the Underground, was received by fans and critics just fine, but failed to blast him into the stratosphere of mainstream acceptance. Maybe it was because it just didn’t quite hit the same level of those previously released tapes. Or maybe in the age of ‘Thrift Store’, the man who went head-to-head with Ludacris – an artist with more top 40 hits in the noughties than anybody if guest spots are included – on the ‘Country Shit’ remix just wasn’t box office, even with the ugly attempt to shoehorn 2 Chainz into his first single ‘Money on The Floor’.

In any event, it feels like there’s a lot riding on next month’s sophomore LP, Cadillactica, and in advance of that release, K.R.I.T has dusted some dirt off his shoulder on See Me On Top 4. His first entry into the series since 2008, the tape is a more lo-fi effort that the subwoofer banging orchestration of a couple years back, and tracks constructed with K.R.I.T.’s usually broad style lack the same punch – the amorous horns on ‘What’s Next’, for example. But rather than re-establishing his feel for the familiar, See Me On Top 4. feels much more about inverting what we’ve come to expect from the young Mississippian. Like a soft reboot to reignite some passion after the lay off.

There’s a lot of pent up frustration needing to be released on the tape’s first four tracks. The spoken word intro sees him discussing the importance of not being ‘put in a box’, while previously heard joint ‘Mt Olympus’ lays the rapper’s  frustrations with the system bare. “Thought they wanted trap? Thought the wanted bass? Thought they wanted molly? Thought they wanted drink?” he bemoans, and later “Thought they wanted radio? Bitch make up your mind!” In these moments K.R.I.T sounds like he’s rapping through gritted teeth, that laid back country flow hitting those consonants just a little harder than usual.

But rather than a total clean-out of K.R.I.T’s closet, most of the tape just sees him playing with new ideas. ‘Mind Fuck’, for example, is an attempt at a Too Short-esque X-rated sex jam, while he unexpectedly jumps on Wayne’s ‘Believe Me’ for a quick, punchy verse. In a moment of crazy inspiration, he even tacks a rap onto Alt-J’s ‘Every Other Freckle’, with insanely fluid results.

On the back of ‘Mt Olympus’, there’s a feeling that K.R.I.T. is almost protesting with some of the experimentation, defiantly shouting to the world “I can do mainstream!” when he gets with Rick Ross for a couple of tracks. But he never sounds uncomfortable and I get the feeling that there’s no box that the talented 28-year-old couldn’t tick. But this is 2014 and the gap between the world’s elite rap stars and those who work the rap blog circuit is as pronounced as ever.

Still, K.R.I.T. doesn’t seem to be one for turning. A quick scan of the Cadillactica track list reveals song titles like ‘My Sub Pt. 3 (Big Bang)’, ‘Soul Food’ and ‘King of the South’, suggesting it’s that super fly, dirty dirty, third coast, muddy watered sound we know and love. Personally, I’m delighted. But whether or not we truly see Big K.R.I.T. truly on top may depend on your definition of what “the top” really is.

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