Big K.R.I.T.'s individual career moves -- specifically, the trio of full-length, critically acclaimed, uniformly great mixtapes that he released over the two years leading up to his Def Jam debut "Live From The Underground" -- have had their positives and negatives. 2010's "K.R.I.T. Wuz Here," last year's "Return of 4Eva" and this spring's "4Eva and a Day" all helped the Mississippi rapper's fan base swell and hype grow while establishing a unique aesthetic based in a strand of Southern hip-hop that looked forward while honoring its pioneers. On the other hand, the long lead time has made "Live From The Underground" feel… predictable. Since Big K.R.I.T. (real name: Justin Scott) has already unleashed nearly 60 tracks of revealing solo material, "Underground" feels like the return of a well-known friend, despite its positioning as a debut album. One haphazard listening of the album makes the longtime K.R.I.T. fan feel as if they've heard all this before -- a few months ago, even, on "4Eva N a Day."
"Live From The Underground," then, is a dish that must be absorbed in multiple courses. The extent of K.R.I.T.'s achievement on his proper debut can be lost in the consistency of his output, but it is a stirring triumph nonetheless. K.R.I.T. is an old soul that approaches hip-hop from a wide lens; he recognizes the potency of a nonsensical street anthem ("I Got This," "Yeah Dats Me") as well as an introspective dose of reality ("Don't Let Me Down," "Rich Dad, Poor Dad"). His wordplay remains sharp, especially when pitted against guest stars like 8Ball & MJG and Bun B, and his storytelling techniques, while still developing, remain special. Yet as much as K.R.I.T. holds it down on the mic, his work as a producer (he helmed the entirety of "Live From The Underground") is even more dazzling. Swamped in buzzing percussion, rattling synths and measured bass, K.R.I.T.'s arrangements successfully steep the listener within his personal mindset.
If there's one major disappointment to "Live From The Underground," it's that the album feels a little too safe. K.R.I.T. has never been an in-your-face MC, and while his street poetry offers many sumptuous sensations, there's no stone-cold stunner that flips the rapper's pat style on its head, a la Drake's "Marvin's Room" or Kanye West's "Runaway." Still, it's only the debut album, even if it certainly doesn't feel like it. Big K.R.I.T. is a gifted musician with a lot more to say to the underground, the mainstream, and everything in between.
What are the standout tracks on "Live From The Underground"? Check out our track-by-track breakdown of Big K.R.I.T.'s debut.
1. LFU300MA (Intro) - Krizzle offers a few wise words before things get serious. Like Big Boi's "Sir Lucious Left Foot" intro, the track tosses out a buttery groove before abruptly ending and moving on.
2. Live From The Underground - Title track presents K.R.I.T. as a street prophet, confidently spitting game and digging into the grimy details of his origin story. The last 90 seconds is a Southern celebration, harmonica and all.
3. Cool 2 Be Southern - It's no "Rosa Parks," but this brass-based piece of Mississippi pride buries K.R.I.T.'s flow in his own lush production -- but with an arrangement this rich, that's not the worst thing in the world.
4. I Got This - "Fuck these haters and fuck these ho's!" goes the chant. As blissfully bombastic as the beat may be blasting out of car speakers, K.R.I.T.'s conscious flow is unnecessarily sacrificed.
5. Money On The Floor feat. 8Ball & MJG and 2 Chainz - A thrilling union of Mississippi titans, as 8Ball & MJG dutifully scoop up K.R.I.T.'s song and make it their own. 2 Chainz is the delirious rainbow sprinkles on top of this sundae.
6. What U Mean feat. Ludacris - The chest-thumping first third of the album ends here, with a dose of sneering and a taut collection of drums. Ludacris stops by for a strangely out-of-step guest spot.
7. My Sub (Pt. 2: The Jackin') - Another intense offering that climaxes with a flash of violence, this sequel to his "Return of 4Eva" mixtape highlight dutifully connects K.R.I.T.'s past storytelling achievements with his current opus.
8. Don't Let Me Down - "It's hard to celebrate for others when you're dying poor," K.R.I.T. laments on the album's most helpless, shortest non-intro track. The flourishes of electric guitar once again demonstrate K.R.I.T.'s precision as a producer.
9. Porchlight feat. Anthony Hamilton - Hamilton provides the hook, and K.R.I.T. brings a complex tale of sex, love and understanding to the table. The general study of a romance between a blossoming rapper and his woman makes up for a few cloying lyrics.
10. Pull Up feat. Big Sant and Bun B - Another impressive hip-hop summit, with K.R.I.T. holding his own alongside Big Sant before the Trill one Bun B steps to the mic, leans hard on the creeping bass and blows them both away.
11. Yeah Dats Me - Clap along -- or stick a few middle fingers in the air -- as Big K.R.I.T. stomps all over this anthem to getting paper. It's a simplistic but ferocious 3 minutes and 25 seconds, with the MC swiping a claim at the Waka Flocka-style banger and wiping blood from his bottom lip.
12. Hydroplaning feat. Devin the Dude - "Live From The Underground" immediately reverts back to K.R.I.T.'s thoughtful musings on society, his relationship with hip-hop and his own sordid past. A well-timed exhalation.
13. If I Fall feat. Melanie Fiona - Better-than-average emo rap: twinkling piano keys surround K.R.I.T.'s flow without overshadowing his sorrowful tales of sobriety struggles and misbegotten romances.
14. Rich Dad, Poor Dad - K.R.I.T.'s voice wobbles as his reminisces about his childhood ambitions and relationship with his father. The real star here is the pared-down production though, which forgoes the Southern jubilance for gritty realism.
15. Praying Man feat. B.B. King - Look how far Big K.R.I.T. has come since 2010's "K.R.I.T. Wuz Here" mixtape: the MC now has the clout to collaborate with music legend and his personal hero B.B. King on a soulful religious allegory.
16. Live From The Underground (reprise) feat. Ms. Linnie - Who needs rhyming when you've got a silky smooth voice like K.R.I.T.? The rapper forgoes rapping on this inventive, blissed-out reworking of the title track's central concept.