Published Jun 26, 2011He may only be 24 years old, but Meridian, Mississippi's Justin Scott is making some of the most mature rap music today ― and, so far, all that wisdom is free. Though he's been making some regional noise in the South since 2005, with the release his first mixtape, See Me on Top, it wasn't until last year that Big K.R.I.T. proved he might live up to his acronym: King Remembered In Time. The rapper-producer's back-to-back free-download street opuses, 2010's K.R.I.T. Wuz Here and 2011's Return of 4 Eva, strike an Outkast-like balance between serious issues (both personal and political) and crowd-rousing, 'bow-throwing anthems (try not to bob your head to "Country Shit," I dare you). A major deal with Island Def Jam and a drafting to XXL's 2011 Top Freshman class have cranked up K.R.I.T.'s buzz, and he tours relentlessly in anticipation of his inevitable mainstream push. We caught up with the sweaty MC after he tore through a performance at Toronto's Opera House.
When was the first time you heard rap music?
Ooh, shit, man. The first time that it really caught my eye was "Do the Humpty Hump" ["The Humpty Dance"] by Digital Underground. I was young, and there was this dude [Shock G/Humpty Hump] in an outfit just wildin' out. I was like, "Oh, this shit is crazy!" The visuals and all that shit was crazy to me. But the point where I started taking it serious, you had artists, of course, like 2Pac, Biggie, Outkast, definitely UGK, 8Ball and MJG. DJ Screw: I got onto Screw music back in 1999. From that point on, it got me in touch with being country and rapping about my surroundings.
Were there other people in your neighbourhood rapping?
Oh, hell, yeah. There was mad people rapping. We had Southern Ballers, Joe Montana, Poelo. He was with East End Productions. You had 84 A.C.R.E.S. ― shout out to Jay-O. Big Sant. Top Dollar.
Do you remember your very first rap?
No, I do not. It was probably real morbid.
I dunno, man. Shit. Crunk music and fighting and all kinds of shit was poppin' off. We shouldn't talk about that. Shout out to Three 6 Mafia, too, 'cause "Tear the Club Up" thugs had us going crazy.
How old were you when you first started writing raps?
Probably 11 or 12.
And your topics were morbid.
It was crazy. It was definitely some hit-somebody-in-the-top-of-the-head-with-a-bottle type shit.
Were you freestyling at that point or strictly writing?
Oh, definitely on the corner freestyling, trying to blend in with the older heads. They might let me rock for four bars, then be like, "Alright now. We finna do our thing now."
Tell me a battle story from back in the day.
Damn, it was time me and Big Sant battled, like, 18 people.
It was that many folk ― on real life. There was so many people at this house party. At that time freestyle battles comprised of you actually going off the dome, and they had rehearsed theirs; they had some real verses they was spittin'. We won that shit, though.
What's the most country thing about you?
Dang! What's with these questions? The most country thing about me…. For starters, definitely my accent. People know off the strength. The fact that I can talka and people don't know what the fuck I'm saying. To people in the South, it's perfect English. Actually, my accent ain't as thick as everybody else in the South. Fuck, man. That's a good question. Return of 4 Eva, "Country Shit" ― that's what makes me so damn country. Collard greens. Hot sauce.
Do you get more enjoyment out of producing or rapping?
Producing: I love making music, but an instrumental can only move you so much. Words are extremely powerful. You think about spoken word, just speeches. If I do a song [at a concert] and the beat drops out and it's a cappella, and people are rapping it back to me, and they can feel where I'm coming from, it's way more impactful. It's definitely a moment. So I have to say rapping.
Does the rapping come more naturally to you?
Rapping, yeah. I started rapping before I started making beats. Beats I did because I couldn't afford to pay for beats when I was younger. So I had to learn on my own, and over time I kinda took to it. But rapping is definitely easier for me.
What's the toughest verse you've had to write?
The song "I Gotta Stay" [about the death of my grandmother] was probably the hardest song I've had to write because of the content. But it's one of my favourites.
What's the highest high you've experienced?
I ate some brownies. Jonny Shipes [of Cinematic Music Group] whipped some brownies up, man. I didn't know how extreme a body high is, so I was goin' off some Hennessey. I was like, "Man, this shit ain't workin'." And I went to sleep, and I woke up super high. It was like my hands weren't workin'. I called my pops. I thought I was gonna lose my deal, ain't no female gonna wanna fuck with me. I'm fucked up. I was walking down the street like, it's over for me. My eyes were bloodshot red. I had a meeting with some people that wanted to manage me, and they was talking, asking me questions. And I was just silent, bobbing my head: "Yep, that's what's up." I slept for 24 hours, didn't talk to nobody. Shipes thought I was dead on the couch. That's the last time I got really, really high. I'm a drinker. That ain't for me. Fuck that shit. Shout out to my smokers, though.
What's the biggest challenge that you face right now?
Dealing with the fact that you have traditional radio singles and things of that nature, and making music that relates to me but making PDs [program directors] and people like that believe in the record. It's a task, but for the most part we've been doing really well. We let the consumers latch onto the records they really like, and let it run from there.
Well, thanks for your time. Keep putting out good music.
Man, I can't help it.