DJ’s try to bolster their reputation by building stables of emcees that they helped discover. This does two things, it increases their reputation by putting an important artist on and, it ensures that when they put together a compilation album they have enough people to throw on massive posse tracks with air horn…a lot of air horn. DJ Khaled has Ace Hood, DJ Kay Slay has Papoose, and so on, and so on. In New York City, if your demo gets in the right hands you can find your niche.
That’s not how it works in Mississippi. Even after years of Southern Rap chart domination, most people think of Atlanta and Texas as the major points of interest. Most Southern rap artists end up with no publicity, making music on their own: completely on their own.
Where discovered artists can get an inflated sense of self-worth, a do it yourself MC/producer like Big K.R.I.T (King remembered in time) will get the opportunity to craft his signature sound without outside meddling. If he wants a beat to feel like UGK and Outkast mixed with 8ball and MJG no one is there to question it. When K.R.I.T. Wuz Here came out last year, and hit the top of everyone’s “mixtape of the year” lists, he was signed to a record deal and now he has put together the follow up.
The least interesting part of his rise to prominence is the off- putting comparison some make to T.I. I’ve read this many times, but have never gotten any details, just that he sounds like T.I. and that’s it. The only good guess is that we still deal with a lot of confusion in how to understand these artists. The only other major rap star from Mississippi is David Banner who sounds nothing like K.R.I.T. so the T.I. reach comes from the fact that TIP has always been lyrical and the best example of a “new school” “lyrical” southern rapper. This is incorrect, because they have little in common in subject or sound, and people like me who think too much find strained comparisons like this insulting to an artist who is obviously not being listened to properly for his own music.
Return of 4eva masters a level of contradiction that made albums like Me Against The World so artistically unique. The pimp songs are followed by humble songs about believing in yourself; the baller songs have distinct anti-baller retorts just a few tracks away. It took a while for me to try and figure out what was more impressive the production or the lyrics. I ended up ignoring the question and just enjoying the music. He’s always been a superb MC, and at this point the music is almost as innovative. It takes that UGK, Deep Texas, sneaking prominent bass line and gives it a spotlight behind the most well placed soul samples. The songs have that slow rolling smoker feeling you get from Wiz, Curren$y and the gang, but turned up and stuck in the old Geto Boys south. The anthems jump and smile at you like Outkast, The “Return of 4eva theme” is a great example, especially since an Outkast line from Ms. Jackson is used for the chorus. The song is probably my favorite of the year thus far but not even my favorite on this mixtape if that makes sense.
“Rotation”, “My Sub” and “Time Machine” are dedications to the music he listens to while riding in the vehicle in which he reminisces. “My Sub” is brilliantly catchy and minimalist, with enough bass to live up to its chorus. American Rapster is an affirmation of his character starting the verse “They say that money makes the world go round/you never lost till you lose your crown/ and they don’t love you till your underground…” Lightly chanting voices in the background give way to the beat and become one with it- there is gospel in a lot of the production, it doesn’t just sound like UGK or Outkast: it sounds warm, and soulful, and spiritual, and its intended that way. It makes perfect sense for one of the most personal and engaging MC’s in the world to somehow make Ray Charles Hip-Hop that can brag, boast, and cry with the same breath, in the same bar.
The features go something like this: Bun B never lets you down, Chamillionaire really bites into the concept, David Banner is terrible, and I am almost as tired of Raheem Devaughn as I am of Ludacris and his lyrical decline.
“Songs like Shake It”, “Player’s Ballad”, and “Get Right” are effective and fun but are about fun and the joy of having it. Too much rap about the good life makes a person as invested in his music as K.R.I.T. go the other way. There is a three song point in this mixtape where it can’t be compared against others. There are other mixtapes this year that have made incredibly catchy and fun riding music, but from track 18-20 there is nothing like Return of 4 eva. “Naive Individual Glorifying Greed & Encouraging Racism” is further evidence that K.R.I.T. never overdoes anything. Using sparse and gorgeous pianos and horns alike, he knows the place every sound should begin and end. Lyrically, he’s aggressive “I don’t want to be another nigga trying to sell you something/ don’t know shit but try and tell you something/ Tap dance if you want him too, could have fed the hungry/but he bought those jewels.” It’s not just a song attacking the industry but one of those rare songs that seem to be attacking his own player instincts: his own songs. It’s these layers of earned depth that leave you impressed. “Free my Soul” builds on the piano and lets it predominate, he sings and stops the fun pace of the album dead in its tracks in order to connect with the listener about the difficult balance between spirituality and Hip-Hop as an industry. This song and “The Vent” that comes after it, are songs I don’t want to describe: I want you to hear them. Posting lyrics would not do proper service to how they are delivered, how dense and tender and resilient each second is. I will leave you with a quote that pretty well says it (from Free My Soul) “I don’t rap I spit hymns/ my God’s bigger then them…” When you go 21 tracks deep without a track I have to skip, you win. And when your high points are unmatched you earn a lot of fans. People like me.
You can download Return of 4eva at
http://returnof4eva.com/ (they shoot you a link)