The most important rapper of the decade & Big K.R.I.T. the Last King

This Big K.R.I.T. tape has become one of my favorite mixtapes in awhile. There’s a huge space in rap right now, and a lot of places for audiences to go, so it’s like a sort of arms race while folks figure out who they’re backing while rappers who came up in the late 90s & early 00s hit the ends of their creative arcs. And of course having Gucci, T.I., Wayne & Boosie all in jail at the same time is like imagining that BIG, Pac, Snoop & Scarface were all incarcerated at the same time in ’96. There’s a huge space for up-and-coming artists to fill, especially now that dudes like Gucci and, to a lesser extent, Gotti have moved on to the upper tiers of rap stardom.

But, if you could even determine such a thing, which rapper was the most important in this decade? Lil Wayne’s shit, as great as it could be, is so creatively disconnected from the actual functional craft rappers partake in, so loosely based around working as a rapper, that his influence is one-dimensional. To sound like Lil Wayne, you just … sound like Lil Wayne (Drake anyone? Please). Or take a whole bunch of drugs. Jeezy is a great rap artist with some classic LPs, but as rappers go he’s only solid. Gucci rose too late and too gradually to have any impact this decade. Boosie broke too late as well, his peak impact hitting probably around the time of that ’07 Trill Ent. compilation, plus now he’s doing four years. Z-Ro? An incredible rapper no doubt, both soul-baring artist & skilled craftsman, but his lack of interest — on a musical level at least — of even coming within a stone’s throw of pop charts means its hard to make a case for a dude satisfied with rapping to the choir. I’m not sure who NY dudes would like to push for this decade (hmm… Jadakiss? haaa!). Jay-Z’s probably Tip’s only real competition, a rapper with truly national influence. But his biggest accomplishments as a rapper occurred in the late ’90s; once the new decade hit he still had some shit to say (for two years anyway) but had ceased to develop much as a stylist. His voice had already made its impact. For all the worshipful attention his more intricate Reasonable Doubt verses have gotten, it was Jay’s slowed, pop-friendly Life and Times of S. Carter style that Lil Wayne built on. Of course, Jay’s impact definitely carried over, but spitting on the “Ha” remix & getting UGK on “Big Pimpin” was a baton pass to the south, whether he realized it or not. Plus, WE DONT BUMP THE BLUEPRINT THREE.

I’m gonna go ahead and say that T.I. is the most important rapper of the 00s, bar none. The guy basically reinvented gangster rap for the decade, down to the label; Trap Muzik was the blueprint for how rapping developed, thematically and stylistically. T.I. moved away from New York’s staid & stiff enunciated style & shifted towards the smooth, drawl-inflected southern flow. He retained the kind of Tupac & Scarface-derived thematic focus on real talk, bringing moral & ethical lessons learned on the streets to the forefront, writing as a multi-dimensional human being who bares his soul on record. And T.I. was, at the same time, a lyricist, a guy who wrote raps in great detail & with all that structural nerd-rap shit we love, internal rhymes & double-time flows and nimble tongue-twister shit he probably got from T-Rock. Then, drawing on these separate strains, he made great songs that hit on a breadth of subject matter and showed exactly how to be a major street rapper with popular success, without sacrificing what made your work great. He also did it his own way, with his own producers — a harsh lesson learned from the under-performance of his debut record no doubt. Even when King hit, he ducked when they expected him to weave, hitting his popular stride while dropping a record with technically-proficient raps over Just Blaze beats. (Of course, there were guys earlier than him drawing on all these influences with similar styles — I think an argument — a less solid one — could be made for Juvenile as well. But T.I.’s career success was perfectly positioned, which gave him a chance to fill a void when crunk was coming up for a lyrical rapper; Juve the Great is an incredible, underrated LP, but his popular impact & rapping innovations had already passed).

Back to Big K.R.I.T.: I don’t think he’s the next T.I., the next anything really — at this point, he’s early in a career, as far as the world is concerned, an unproven developing talent who just released a really fucking strong mixtape. T.I. is an obvious influence on dude’s style, and — unlike the influence of Lil Wayne — I think that provides a really good springboard for showcasing who dude is in a real way. He’s got a great ability to switch up through a variety of flows, spits over a diverse bunch of instrumentals and has the right kind of thematic breadth for a rapper you should be feeling in 2009 2010.

His ferocity on “Don’t Lose Count” makes it sound like he slept with “ASAP.mp3” on loop for most of ’05. One of the weirder moments was realizing he was rapping over the “Can’t Stop the Prophet” Jeru sample on his incredible “I Ain’t Gon Play Witem” freestyle. That track is virtuosic, although in parts it sounds like he’s too concerned with enunciating (a Gucci fan would say that right??) to let his flow just roll off like it should. One of T.I.’s serious drawbacks, though, were pimping raps — he was always too genuine, too much of a ladies man kinda rapper. K.R.I.T.’s innovation is to draw on Pimp’s style in those situations; he does a great Pimp C-style verse on “Get Up Off Me”: “black on black lac, batmobile /wrist out the window chrome lips on wheels / tell her pucker up, buckle up, yeah we goin places / to the telly with a yella-belly, swappin fuck faces.” That Pimp C influence also shows up on a reversion of “Take it Off.” Then you’ve got tracks like “Like Rhonda,” where he almost seems to balance it all, & sounds simply like himself.

Best of all, this tape is perfectly sequenced; the shit kicks off with a huge amount of momentum, barreling through beats and switching up styles before you could possibly get bored, trading off with Big Sant (from K.R.I.T.’s group Alumni) intermittently to spice it up. Then for the final section of the record, things start to space out a bit, more mid-tempo and introspective raps, like the incredible “Players Ball” freestyle (Youtube’d below).

Despite all this talk of influence, what makes this all work is that K.R.I.T. sounds like he’s actually begun to transcend them. It’s a tape that succeeds as much because you’re watching a rapper develop as it is about how great he could one day be. There’s no critical injustice that he’s not well known yet, no forgotten dropped-from-his-label drama narrative to hang on to, no over-reliance on gangster styles of the past. Instead I get the feeling that he’s channeling his favorite rappers to become one of mine.

Now you 808 heartbroken, goin crazy
confused about yo life cuz you ain’t felt the same lately
as you did when you did it for the love
recordin in the closet, play it back for yo cuz
writin about the truth and the way that it is,
to be a n**** from the minors on the way to the bigs.

Did I mention he also makes beats??

Download this shit now thru Traps N Trunks.

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16 responses to “The most important rapper of the decade & Big K.R.I.T. the Last King

  1. Bun B was drawling before TIP, and don’t forget 8 Ball & MJG. I love Tip but Noz made a pretty good point a few months ago concerning how surprisingly little influence he’s had on the game in terms of a style to emulate. I think it’s because he doesn’t have much of a style at all, Jay-Z might actually be an ideal point of comparison because it’s pretty much consistently great lyricism delivered in a Southern Fried conversational flow. He also has a GREAT sense of rhythm and is nearly unparalleled when it comes to beat riding, something you can’t bite or teach.

    If I had to choose I think it pretty obviously goes between Wayne or Kanye. Probably Wayne. You say there’s no way to bite Wayne without sounding like him, but for me without Wayne you wouldn’t have Gucci going off with the bizarre wordplay mixed with Project Pat’s cadence games that have made him what he is. More than just a style Wayne is a philosophy, weirdness and individuality is something to be embraced, rap can be strange and exploratory, and unlike Del or Keith he made it cool. But the tape sounds hot, DLing it right now.

  2. Well argued re TI, and why others don’t make the cut. However, I think that it is too early to judge “most important” from influence, as these sorts of things take years to play out. I don’t know that Wayne’s influence won’t be more explicit with time. Beyond the persona of “Wayne”, little stuff has been plucked from his repertoire — like beat selection (most blatant example being everybody’s search for the next A Milli, the closest/best approximation being Rich Boy’s Drop), obscure sports references, rapper in third person as animal, etc. Last thought on Wayne, though others have done it, the work ethic Wayne exhibited between his Carter releases has brought that approach to the forefront of rap and now that is commonplace (ie, frequent mixtape releases). That may have been the biggest game-changing event of the decade. As for TI as most important rapper of the decade, if one were to go that route, Bun should also enter the conversation…

    Look forward to checking out KRIT…

  3. If all these 2000s emergences of young southern rappers are going to make up the list… UGK is clearly the forerunner to quite possibly 90% of what the do.

  4. Yeah I mean I don’t disagree with that at all.

    But I think in order to even have this discussion u have to acknowledge that entire notion of “most important rapper of the decade” is b.s., really — there’s no quantifiable way of measuring “influence,” & “influence” isnt a straight arrow anyway, a lot of times you have dudes being ‘influenced’ by doing the opposite of what bigger, more important artists did.

    so why do it at all? i think its useful as a way of centering discussion around rappers, more than it is about historically measuring the biggest richter scale reading of ‘influence.’

    & yeah, of course T.I. wasn’t even close to the first rapper to slur his words, but that’s not really what I meant to imply — its almost never a matter of doing it first, i would argue that the greatest artists are synthesizing different styles & archetypes in order to create new ones. I mean ball & G and UGK are definitely the fathers for a whole bunch of southern rappers’ styles. But its also a matter of timing — I’m putting T.I. up for this decade because UGK & ball & G really started hitting dudes in the 90s & their styles were already established at that point. Yeah they kept going & expanded their influence in the 00s

    @Abe — as for T.I. not having stylistic influence, I see where yr coming from but I disagree. First off you can’t deny that for example Ray Cash or K.R.I.T. here on “Dont Lose Count” are spitting with distinctively T.I.-style cadences. But I think you are right that his influence isn’t smacking you in the face with it, but that’s kind of my point. T.I. had a really broad set of styles, approaches to writing & different styles of songs. He was at once a big pop star & an uncompromising trap rapper & an uncompromising rap nerd interested in the craft of rapping. The reason I think he’s the “most important” is because that’s such a great template to model a career out of, that if K.R.I.T. shows a T.I. influence it’s not a bad thing because it allows him to try tons of different styles & keep his shit diverse enough that his own style is refined and developed. I mean you listen to T.I. on his first album and its a pretty messy & all over the place record — but when you hear “Dope Boys,” or “Still aint Forgave Myself,” knowing what you do about his later career, u see exactly why approaching the game like that — instead of just following your own drug-addled weirdo instincts — is what made T.I. such an incredible & significant artist later on.

    • I think the arc of Jay-Z’s music (from inspired performances early in the decade to conquering the mainstream to complacency to creative bankruptcy and craven pop moves) better epitomizes the last decade of rap than T.I.’s does, unfortunately.

  5. No I agree, I was just pointing that out since UGK often gets marginalized as only influencing southern rappers, which retarded people often believe is irrelevant. When southern rappers are the most influential ones of the decade, its clear that we lost a lot more than a rapper/producer on December 4th two years ago.

    And chalk up Rich Boy & P Dukes on the list with Krit and Ray Cash.

    Also, anyone who doesn’t have Trap Musik in a top ten RAP albums list of the decade is an idiot.

  6. I don’t like Kanye much, but he did make it possible for people like Drake or Cudi or Charles Hamilton, or to a lesser extent Lupe, to have careers. So, you know, a pretty strong, though mostly unfortunate, influence right there. Then there’s Cam, who I guess you could at least argue opened the door to Wayne and by extension Gucci. Whereas who did T.I. really influence? The way you put it he does sound awfully significant, but when you get down to who he influenced and you bring up people like Ray Cash… it’s also really something that 50 doesn’t even enter this discussion. Another name I’d throw out is Fabolous – if you look at what’s actually on the radio a ton of it is the sort of women-targeted pop-rap he – well I won’t say pioneered because obviously you could go back really far with that, but there’s a lot that builds on the ‘Into You’/’Can’t Let You Go’ template.

  7. I think you’re confusing style with strategy. The bet hedging you credit Cliff with being so influential for on an album like King was rendered by Jay-Z on his mainstream manifestos like Volume 2 and mastered by, yes, 50 on Get Rich or Die Trying. Tip is closer to Jay in his ability to make these approaches work cohesively, they aren’t quite as jarring as moving from “Many Men” to “21 Questions” but this still is nothing we can credit T.I. for exclusively. If you’re talking acumen, as much as I loathe to admit it, Jay designed the blueprint.

  8. Yo, so glad you wrote about this tape. I downloaded it completely on a whim before bed, shit kept me up an extra 45 minutes. I think he samples the 90s alt-rock sound more tastefully than most other rappers doing it now (including G-Side, yes).

  9. This is one of the greatest and most deeply affecting mixtapes (I keep having to remind myself that its not an album) I have ever heard. It has the high energy songs and the downtempo ones and everything in between. How is dude still slept on?

  10. Pingback: Big K.R.I.T. – Money on the Floor ft. 8ball, MJG and 2 Chainz video | we eat so many shrimp

  11. Pingback: David’s Best Rap Traxx 2011 | we eat so many shrimp

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