Big K.R.I.T. is getting some traction, and this fourth album from the Mississippi rapper has attained some measure of commercial success. Promoted by four singles of varying quality, it’s been marketed as a “sequel” to his 2010 mixtape K.R.I.T. WUZ HERE. If you’re reading this, you’ll likely know enough about rap to realise that the word “sequel” doesn’t mean all that much artistically. K.R.I.T. IZ HERE is just another loose collection of tracks designed to break the rapper through commercially.
Things start off inspired – “K.R.I.T. HERE” is a classic squeaky soul-sampling bit of Kanye West homage – perhaps the single biggest influence on K.R.I.T.’s music – with trumpets to spice things up and a classic “put ‘em up, put em up, put em up” chorus rapped with breakneck bravado. But things settle down into sluggish quite quickly in a song ironically enough about waiting: “I Been Waitin” sounds much more contemporary than the opening track’s 2005-era West throwback, an icy trap beat-keyed track which could’ve been put out by Migos or Future or anybody without anyone batting an eyelid. It doesn’t sound distinctive enough, it doesn’t sound weird enough. The West comparisons fade away.
Too inconsistent, Big K.R.I.T. hasn’t sustained a front-to-back classic yet along the lines of The College Dropout or Late Registration, and it’s seeming increasingly unlikely that he has it in him. He’s talented, yes. Beatwise, sure. But is he creative enough, bizarre enough, wild enough to get you jumping out of your headphones in excitement? Not yet.
It tells that one of the best tracks features Lil Wayne, who achieved such a level of creative brilliance during his peak in the mid to late 2000s. Wayne’s verse is nothing special, but his very presence, not to mention that of young upstart Saweetie, on “Addiction” seems to drive K.R.I.T. to jump outside himself and deliver a track of sustained groove and power. Yes, with a squeaky-voiced soul sample to help it catch in your brain.
“Energy” keeps up the energy. But “Obvious”, featuring Rico Nasty, makes like its title and channels an obvious Drake vibe to sap the fun out of proceedings. Because K.R.I.T. is a better rapper than Drake, he peps it up some in the verses, but the chorus is too dreary for words – which is perhaps a relief, because the words aren’t worth paying much attention to anyway.
Things dip further into the mediocre from then onwards, with only rare bursts of inspiration like the urgent beat and jazz inflections – double bass and a horn section, both sounding mighty fun – on “M.I.S.S.I.S.S.I.P.P.I.” commanding your full attention. To my ears, that’s the best track, and the best lyrics which are about Southern country boy pride. But it’s tucked away at the end.
Like many rap albums, this is too long, it has too many guest spots and dumbass interludes (why) – it do with some editing. Tracks blur into each other in the memory – not enough of them are distinctive, manage to create their own memorable worlds, or chase (let alone catch) any interesting musical ideas. And then, in its nadir, it’s deeply creepy: “Blue Flame Ballet” is about a stripper who’s so good K.R.I.T. imagines she should be in the Olympics, or a ballerina, or something high-class like that. Told entirely from his perspective, it doesn’t work as a tribute to her “art”, much less her personal attributes as a human being (K.R.I.T. chooses to focus on a tattooed flower on her body instead). It’s just a voyeuristic piece of fetishism. K.R.I.T. says he’d give her a 10, but you’d give this track a 2 at best.
As a whole, K.R.I.T. IZ HERE is merely competent. It flows nicely but not dramatically, like a shallow stream rather than a river. You yearn for K.R.I.T. to shoot higher, as he’s clearly talented enough. His rhymes are frequently amusing or clever – my favourite couplet is from “Believe”, which declares “I need this here for the inner city/I need Wakanda in Mississippi”. But generally, to listen to the album is to frustratingly will K.R.I.T. to do better.
I wish he would study more of the masters he imitates: the spasmodic bursts of humour and emotion in West’s best lyrics, the jaw-dropping wordplay in Wayne’s. And the ambitious musical range of both. Then K.R.I.T. might start to demonstrate he’s got the stuff to drop an album that can be remembered further on than an hour after it’s heard.
All of which is to say that, despite the album’s title, you’ll hope that K.R.I.T. isn’t “here” yet, if “here” means his fullest potential. He’s got some harder work to do to arrive at the top league of modern rappers. By all evidence a very decent guy, I have my fingers crossed he can make it.