Let’s just be honest: Mainstream rap is pretty soulless these days.
On one end of the spectrum, you’ve got the repetitive and humorless murder-rap sound made popular by artists like Migos, Future, and superstar du jour Cardi B (all of whom sound like they’re trying to haunt the shit out of you). On the other end, you’ve got the pandering pluckiness of Macklemore and smirky sleaze of G. Eazy. Like the internet that brought them to us, it’s weird and fragmented and a long way off from the Golden Age monoculture that brought us Outkast, A Tribe Called Quest, and Dr. Dre. Lovers of “real hip-hop” are left reminiscing from the fringes.
Though it’s a rare position, smack dab in the middle is Big K.R.I.T. The Mississippi rapper, 31, made his third Twin Cities appearance last Friday with a Minneapolis gig at the Cabooze that felt far removed from his 2012 Soundset performance.
“This ain’t my first time here, neither,” K.R.I.T. quipped as he took the stage in a wide stance, ready to highlight his musical lineage. “What you know about MJG and 8 Ball, Outkast’s Aquemini and Pimp C? Put your 1’s up for Pimp C! Long live UGK.”
In the same vein as those predecessors, K.R.I.T. raps about life in the urban epicenters of the South, a picture dotted with candy-painted cars, rims, subwoofers, and all the temptations they attract, but he's able to flip on a dime to more introspective material (e.g. “Country Shit” vs. “American Rapstar”). Music is either an escape or a reflection, and K.R.I.T. teeters between both; earlier on in his career via his soulful self-produced 2010 mixtapes, that provided a relatable identity crisis rather than fully realized self-awareness. Only now is K.R.I.T. fully owning and embodying the tension in his music, image, and career. “Mixed Messages” -- which he performed mid-set against a black and white video backdrop themed around social injustice -- highlights this to a brilliant point.
Revolutionary, although I'm free
I got me a lover, but I still wanna cheat
I wanna be saved, but it’s fuck the police
Don't wanna be here, but I'm too scared to leave
The difference, as opposed to top-charting rap today, is that K.R.I.T. paints himself as a human man, not a braggy demigod with infinite power and cash. At the same time, he exudes a different kind of power: This was not the clean-cut K.R.I.T. from five years ago, sporting baggy clothes, a tight fade, and hit-or-miss confidence. This was a gold-toothed, sunglasses-clad, politically outspoken badass who donned all black and gold chains. He was even wearing his own merch, a nylon jacket with lyrics from another confessional track, “The Vent," on the back: “IF IT DON’T TOUCH MY SOUL THEN I CAN’T LISTEN TO IT.”
Lyrics are precisely what link K.R.I.T. to his fans, who showed up Friday across the board. The Cabooze was sweaty and packed with a passionate and diverse crowd, one that wasn't too proud to do the whole “wave your hands from side to side” business that you won’t see at a Cardi show. His energy was unstoppable, as was his ability to hold such emotive, forceful tracks as a one-man act from start to finish.
If K.R.I.T. faltered anywhere, it was in putting bangers like “Big Bank” and “Subenstein” at the front of his set; they could have been much more explosive later, possibly amping up a slight mid-set lull. The show borrowed heavily from his impressive double album, 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time -- no mixtape tracks here, except for a hasty recap of K.R.I.T.'s early career via a DJ megamix. While the superfans might have bemoaned that, it was obvious people came away from the show re-energized about rap. And, perhaps more importantly, fans left reassured about the things that make us imperfect humans, struggling to find the sweet spot between our past and present.
Subenstein (My Sub IV)
Ride Wit Me
Get Up 2 Come Down
King Without a Crown
DJ Megamix of mixtape tunes (Time Machine, Just Touched Down, etc.)
Bury Me in Gold
Keep the Devil Off