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
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.