It's only right that Big K.R.I.T. spreads out so much as an MC and producer on his new album Live From The Underground, despite a skit in which someone tells him, "You're in the mainstream! This is A&R-ville!" During his short and busy time in the public ear, the Mississippi native's self-produced tracks and guest spots have revealed a tough but friendly style that can't be neatly pegged as Southern, underground or mainstream.
Ahead of his July 14 show at the Barrymore Theatre, pause to appreciate K.R.I.T.'s flexibility with these four songs on which he features.
If there's one thing I wouldn't mind seeing more of from Big K.R.I.T., it's humor. For now, flowing contentedly atop this addictively mellow Ski Beatz production will do just fine. New Orleans rapper Curren$y shows an instinct for Ski's work throughout 2010's Pilot Talk, yet K.R.I.T. brings a bit more warmth to the picture. He sounds convincingly at ease in contrast to Curren$y and fellow guest Smoke DZA's sneering-in-style edge. Plus, K.R.I.T. gets in these little percussive hits that make Curren$y's verse sound detached by comparison: "I be-be a king, let me sing you the blues" becomes a surprisingly catchy, effective line in the right hands.
The Roots: "Make My"
Anyone who needs proof of how integral and tasteful a guest verse can become need only dive into a Roots album. Here, Big K.R.I.T. has just a short time to fit himself into the story and character of last year's Undun, a concept album about a short life of crime. It takes a certain grace to work with the eerie tenderness of this album's production, and it takes an ear for confusion and contradiction to sound good alongside the mighty Black Thought. In a few short lines, K.R.I.T. spans nagging fear and vainglorious greed: "In a world of night terrors, it's hard to dream / they hollerin' cash rules everything, let's call it cream / 'cause when it rises to the top, you get the finer things."
CunninLynguists: "Murder (Act II)"
The Roots aren't the only ones to challenge Big K.R.I.T. with something somber and conflicted. This track from enormously gifted Southern crew CunninLynguists' 2011 album Oneirology puts him in the character of a despot who bombs with impunity "while me and my friends play croquet / and make bets on which country liable to fold next." He's got less than a minute to squeeze this in, but instead of his rich drawl, what comes across is pointed concision, especially when he ends the verse: "sink the economy with no natural evidence / they complain, but that's a part of being President."
Phonte: "The Life of Kings"
Flexible as he is, how does K.R.I.T. pair with the self-deprecating ache of North Carolina MC and Little Brother member Phonte? Nicely and with a dash of complexity, on this track from Phonte's solo debut Charity Starts At Home. K.R.I.T.'s contribution here is busy with sly internal rhymes: "I'm the type of King you probably see Coretta with / country-bred, country-raised and intelligent / rosebud lifestyle, and yours is petal-less." (Plus something about Thomas Edison I'll admit I can't quite parse.) It captures a gracious side of the MC that's likely to carry him safely through these early years of excitement.