"Keep the Devil Off" by Big K.R.I.T., the Mississippi MC and producer, is one of the best rap songs of 2017, a standout from his new LP, 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time. Yet his lyrical allusions to Garden of Eden-esque snakes and coveted riches aren't the only aspect that separate it from the trap hits dominating today's charts — or the trunk rattling road anthems that have become K.R.I.T.'s hallmark, for that matter.
"It's church, man. It's definitely got that vibe," Big K.R.I.T. (born Justin Scott) tells Exclaim! of the raw gospel instrumental of "Keep the Devil Off," not to mention his sermon-style delivery on its chorus. "I wanted to have that breakdown with the organ, but also not be overly preachy. It's still got 808s and snares, but there are no curse words. I wanted to keep it clean and have that warmth and body, as if a choir is singing there with you."
"Keep the Devil Off," appears on the second half of the double album. Those sprawling 22 tracks are divided into one side dedicated to his stage name and alter ego, while the other side is dedicated to his given name. The "Justin Scott," side not only has "Keep the Devil Off," but also the preceding track "Mixed Messages," which begins with a skit where fans demand K.R.I.T. spit party songs and hood anthems. The instrumental kicks in and he begins lyrically lamenting about those mounting pressures.
"Those records could only have been on the 'Justin Scott' side of the album," he says of the LP's half that is more introspective and nuanced than the harder hitting, assertive "Big K.R.I.T." side. Of "Mixed Messages," he explains: "When it comes to music, the minute you decide to do something different, people feel like you've changed up, or you're on some other shit, when really you're just being creative. So this song reflects how conflicted an artist can feel sometimes."
However, he rebukes any naysayers or insecurities on much of the LP's more brazen "Big K.R.I.T." half. The ominous, piano-laden standout and single "Confetti" finds him spitting: "I bought a crib and set the bitch on top of Mt. Olympus / When you living that high up, it's hard to see the tension." On it, he sounds emboldened by success and experience. He applies that same tone during part of our interview, explaining why he worked with other producers like DJ Khalil or Manny Fresh on 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time instead of stubbornly self-producing each track (like he did in the beginning of his career) simply because that's what diehard fans might expect of him.
"It challenges me — after working with these producers, I don't go back to the routine kick and snare when I produce songs of my own later on," he says, adding that such collaborations have inspired him to try new drum patterns and live instrumentation. And those team-ups have also boosted his lyricism, and his overall fulfillment.
"I produced my entire debut, Live from the Underground. As much as it showcased the producer side of me, it also pressured me as a writer — I'd be fatigued by the time I tried to finish the song. But on a lot of these new records, where I'm working with other producers, it's just excitement. I wasn't tired of hearing the beats, I just wanted to write to them and complete the songs. And that's important, to understand I can't do it all by myself."
4eva Is a Mighty Long Time is out now on Multi Alumni/BMG.