For Big K.R.I.T., the June 7 release of his "R4: The Prequel" through Island Def Jam was a proud moment. It's the first bar code offering from the Meridian, Miss., rapper/producer, and though the five-song set, available exclusively as a digital EP, is a collection packaged from material that can already be found online, to K.R.I.T., the release is still a sign of success.
"I'm happy to put it on a scale where it's in retail," says K.R.I.T., whose stage name is an acronym for a King Remembered in Time. "Regardless of if I already gave it away or it's not all brand-new, it's a milestone in my career. I produced it all, and it's available to buy now."
But while this may be new ground for K.R.I.T., it's quickly becoming well-worn territory for IDJ. Fabolous' recent "There Is No Competition 2: The Grieving Music EP" began as a popular grass-roots release before the label repackaged it for retail, and Frank Ocean's revamp of his "Nostalgia, Ultra," which was released on Tumblr earlier this spring and has already spawned the buzzing single "Novacane," is set to follow.
"R4: The Prequel" pulls from K.R.I.T.'s two independent releases, "K.R.I.T. Wuz Here" (May 2010) and "Returnof4eva" (April 2011), and allows him and his manager, Jonny Shipes of Cinematic Music Group, to meet IDJ in a kind of middle: The rapper had a single that he released for free getting radio airplay ("Country Sh*t"), and the label can put its muscle behind its budding new star (he inked with IDJ last year) while having something available at retail before the upstart's official debut due later this year.
"You wait until the time is right and the temperature is perfect for you to sell something," Shipes says. "But with the single out, particularly the remix, the EP lets us have something out there in the meantime. He's doing more records that we'll combine [with "R4"] and that will be the first real album that comes out."
The move also gives K.R.I.T. time to finish his debut album. "I like to take as much as time possible to make music for the masses, so I'm still going to spend the most time I can, organically," he says. "I don't like refurbishing. I'd like to create all over again but being on tour and running around . . . you have to block off three or four months and do work."
And although IDJ is in transition as new IDJ/Universal Motown Republic Group chairman/CEO Barry Weiss settles in, Shipes says IDJ is a "strong company" and that it's behind K.R.I.T. as a priority. That's good news for the rapper, who has been working "Country Sh*t" first as a part of "K.R.I.T. Wuz Here" and then "Returnof4eva," the latter including the aforementioned remix featuring Bun B. and Ludacris.
"Back in the day, they used to push a single forever," K.R.I.T. says. "We dropped 'Country Sh*t' in May , and to just be hitting the radio now, it gives you a good idea that you should never give up on a song. Everything is so digital today that it's easy to drop a record and five days later, no one is messing with it. That doesn't mean it's not a hit. You just have to give it a chance to grow--like with any seed."