Big K.R.I.T. On The Evolution of a Rapper/Producer
From Playstation to “Mount Olympus”
Last week we published our hotly debated list of the 25 Best Rapper Producers of All Time. It was great to get the feedback, from the positive—“The write up on Quik was spot on. The most underrated. So muthafukkin hated. Anything he did in music was never celebrated”—to the negative—“Where the fuck was Shock G?” (Shout out to the whole Digital Underground!) We appreciate the passion. Remember we do this for the culture. While we were in the final stages of putting this list together, we had a visit from one of the greatest double threats in hip hop: the Free Agent himself, Mississippi’s own Big K.R.I.T. You may have heard about his forthcoming double album, or peeped his new video, “Keep the Devil Off” (below). After hearing a few amazing cuts from the project, we took some time to get his perspective about his own evolution on the mic and behind the boards, and which rapper/producers inspired him on his journey from the deep South to “Mount Olympus.” Here comes the knowledge.
Diamond D said he’s the nicest producer on the mic, which sparked a conversation in the office. We said we’ve gotta put together a list of the greatest.
Bet bet bet.
And that opens up another conversation about “what is a producer?” because you have people who are co-producers, people who say what they want a song to sound like and other people execute that. But you are a producer. You dig in the crates, you chop samples…
So what came first for you—beats or rhymes?
I would say what came first for me was rhymes, man. I started making beats out of necessity, cause I couldn’t afford to pay for ’em. And then, you know, you do freestyles over other people’s beats, but it’s not as original. For me, it was like, “Alright I’ma start making my own beats.” And it started on MTV Music Generator. That was like, the first thing I started making beats on—Playstation.
Yeah, Playstation was the beginning of it. And from there is when I got to Fruity Loops, and to Reason.
How did the Playstation program work?
It was wild, bro. It was like… Well first, you could only sample four or five seconds on a memory card. The memory card only holds like, maybe 12 megabytes. So you had limited amount of space to sample anything. And it was like BuildaBlocks. They gave you a little piano and you’d have to put blocks here and there—sideways. I’m telling you, if you could make something remotely jamming on that, then you’d be good as a producer. Cause it wasn’t the craziest beats. It sounded cheesy now that I think back on it. But it was just the beginning of showing me that I can pretty much work on any console and make a beat out of it.
Did any of those Playstation joints make it out there?
You never let any of them go?
No. Definitely not. Nah, nah, nah. Shout out to my pops. He was very honest with me early on and he was like “Yeah, man, that’s wack, J.” You know I’m sayin.’ [Laughs] And I was cool with that. And what it did was it just built up that confidence where I could keep pushin’ and when I got to Frooty Loops, that’s when it started getting better. But rappin’ definitely started first.
I know when I write stories and I also build posts on the website it’s like two different parts of your brain, kind of. Is it that way with your art as well?
I would say so. Cause sometimes the beat and you know, the production comes a little easier than the rhymes do. But normally all it takes for me as a writer or as an artist is to come up with a concept. And then when I get in front of the keyboard it’s just a whole ’nother world that opens up. Where musically I understand “Well, this would sound better with a piano or this would sound better with a heavy synth or maybe I should start with the baseline first.” And you just build from there and then I add the words later, normally. So it’s all more cohesive. And the hook is normally the very first piece that I come up with and then I write from that point on.
Do you prefer producing yourself to getting a beat from somebody else?
Definitely. It’s a different kind of challenge, ’cause not only do you wanna write something jammin’ when you get a beat from someone else, but you also wanna make sure that they actually think it’s jammin’ too. And that’s the difference. You could totally feel like you spot-on with the content, but if somebody else produce it, they might have a totally different idea for it. And they be like, “Yeah but you shoulda went this way.” When I produce it, I know off the bat what I want it to sound like, how I want the feel, the aggression. And normally it’s spot on from that point. So yeah, I’d rather rap on my own beats sometime, yo.
When you were just getting started, who were some of the other cats that you think are really good at both?
Man, David Banner. David Banner was one of the first people that I could point at—obviously being from Mississippi as well—that produced and rapped. And all of his beats—you know, it wasn’t like they all sounded the same. They had different vibes and different feels. And it looked like gave his the opportunity to sound different on records. “Like A Pimp” sounds nothing like “Cadillac on 22s.” Right?
And it was working, cause either he would be rhyming on a record or he just produced it.
Pimp C was another person that produced and people didn’t know and was also rhyming and singing on these records, that I could relate to as well. And so I think, yeah these were the first two people I was like, “Aw yeah. I wanna do that. I wanna be like that.”
It’s interesting that you mention Pimp…
Yeeeah man. [Laughs] Definitely.
Cause a lot of people don’t think about him….
In that space. But he was definitely behind the boards with that organ and just some of the concepts behind those beats.
Are there any tracks that you’re especially proud of the way thereat and the rhymes meshed together?
Aw—“Mount Olympus” would be one of those tracks where I’m definitely proud of that. And I think I set out not only as a rapper to prove a point, but as a producer as well—to be able to make something that is also extremely melodic in its own way, but very aggressive.
“Country Shit” is one I’m really proud of because of just the warmth and its feel and trying to really capture what I think the South is and how it feels, and bounce and then have a soul sample at the same time.
“The Vent” is one cause it sounds totally different than the last two I just called, but it just moves and it has its amount of soul and emotion to it.
So I’m definitely proud of those. I can keep going. [Laughs]
What is it about those songs? Just the way the rhymes fit?
Yeah, the way the rhymes… It made so much sense, and it fit. Sometimes you can do a song and either people really like the beat or they really like the lyrics. Sometimes it meshes well, sometimes it doesn’t. But in this particular case, these records actually form fit, and they did exactly what they did and they sounded exactly how they needed to sound.
4EVA is a Mighty Long Time is due out on October 27