Big K.R.I.T. Delivers Best Work With 'Cadillactica': Track-by-Track Review

Before Big K.R.I.T. releases an album, he puts his music through the car test. That is, once his project is complete, the 28-year old rapper/producer cues up his recorded compilation of songs and takes a four-hour drive from his Atlanta home and recording base back to his hometown of Meridian, Mississippi. He listens for sequencing and overall acoustics, a preemptive strike against the skip button. "I like to make the kind of songs that I don't hear on the radio and EQ them in a way where they might be obnoxiously loud to some people," the rapper/producer tells Billboard. "But this is exactly how I wanted it to sound."
Enter Cadillactica (Nov 10), Big K.R.I.T.'s loosely conceptual sophomore Def Jam Recordings effort. The title shares its name with the album's setting, a pretend planet that represents his subconscious—the underlying thoughts of a countrified king. Even more, the opus symbolizes the overlooked MC’s show-and-prove moment: his chance to shake the perception that he can't deliver on both big-game and freebie scrimmage releases. His 2012 debut studio LP Live From The Underground underwhelmed; it was handicapped by sample-clearance hangups and a bungled rollout that led to a No. 5 peak spot on the Billboard 200. Ironically, K.R.I.T. had to create his own planet to prove he's one of the most gifted rappers living on this wretched ball of blue called Earth.

The nicks in Cadillactica's candy paint are rare. Save for incongruous lead single "Pay Attention," and a few dense extraterrestrial moments, the record shines like a supernova. "King of the South" is an eyebrow-raising declaration that K.R.I.T. can back up, as he makes intentions clear: "I don't do it for the Blogspot comment box, I do it for the OGs." He relinquished some of the production duties to soul men like DJ Dahi, Terrace Martin and Raphael Saadiq for a fresher sound. Samples are fewer. Instrumentation is grander. Soulfulness intact. And wordplay remains grade A. "Sometimes you just need that new energy," K.R.I.T. says. The diversity and focus has paid off, as Cadillactica is K.R.I.T.'s best and most cohesive work to date.

Read on for Billboard's track-by-track review of Big K.R.I.T.'s Cadillactica.

"Kreation (Intro)": As we enter Cadillactica, K.R.I.T. is having a conversation with his subconscious: a woman's voice that's way sexier than Siri's. "Let's create now," the mysterious voice demands. The song that follows introduces the album's concept, paralleling the gestation of a child with the formation of a planet home to K.R.I.T.'s unconscious and probably the galaxy's largest Escalade lot. "Allow me to use the hues of lunar cools to paint a canvas," he rhymes. Stick around, things get less abstract.

"Life": Our protagonist cruises through deep space as tribal drums play the background. "It gets hard when you searching in the dark/ For that one and only spark," he confesses, dodging comets and sun rays before marveling at the beauty of life—his own inner musings—on planet Cadillactica.

"My Sub, Pt. 3 (Big Bang)": The third chapter of the "My Sub" series—K.R.I.T.'s ode to his deafening subwoofers—compares the knock of his boomin' system to the creation of the universe and evolution. Perfect record to crank the volume and ride out—but only if your car speakers deliver 808s and earaches.

"Cadillactica": Emerging further from the cryptic backstory, the title track helps bridge Cadillactica culture to the Deep South. Rapid-fire internal rhymes about strip clubs, tricked-out rides and concealed firearms bring you into K.R.I.T.'s world, soundtracked by spacey synths.

"Soul Food (feat. Raphael Saadiq)": Things finally chill out, thanks to Raphael Saadiq's funky strings, kicks and snares that are richer than Jiffy cornbread. Big K.R.I.T. uses homestyle cooking as a metaphor for the familial Southern traditions on which he was raised, lamenting the loss of family closeness as its members move on to monetary pursuits, legal and otherwise. "Most people don't make love no more, they just fuck and they fight/ What happened to the stay-togethers?/ Die with you, and that means forever/ Grandparents had that kind of bond, but now we on some other shit," he raps. It's hearty food for thought.

"Pay Attention" (feat. Rico Love): At first listen, Rico Love's regretful falsetto serenades a neglected lover. But pay attention as K.R.I.T. paints the scene—"Wish I seen from the door that you the best of the best/Make a broke motherfucker thumb through a check"—and you realize he's acknowledging the baddest stripper in the shake joint, wishing he'd blown his stack of Washingtons on her. Jim Jonsin's bubbly, synthesized soundscape, albeit out of place, is tailor-made for pole tricks.

"King of the South": This is no troll to T.I. Over his own bouncy instrumental, K.R.I.T. campaigns for new crown rocker of the Dirty Dirty with all the aggression and rowdiness of Cadillactica's warm-up record, "Mt. Olympus." "I embody the South—the swang, the bang, the soul and the paint and the blues," Krizzle asserts, throwing an elbow shot at Def Jam and threatening to guillotine your favorite rapper in the process. (More of this, please.)

"Mind Control (feat. E-40 & Wiz Khalifa)": K.R.I.T. is a pickup artist without a pickup truck, steering his lowrider in search of some cut. It's refreshing to hear voices from beyond the Third Coast on this smooth track. E-40 provides his signature pimp talk, boasting that he can "get in the female's head like a Tylenol." Unfortunately, Wiz's off-topic stream-of-consciousness raps about seafood and his pet bulldog, Vincent, fall short of the bar.

"Standby (Interlude) (feat. Kenneth Whalum III)": Equipped with only Kenneth Whalum III's warm saxophone, K.R.I.T. raps hook-free about the hard knock plight of a childhood love. It's spoken word-esque. "You think she wanna fuck? What if she really thirsty?" he wonders, evoking the tragic tales of Suzy Skrew and Sasha Thumper from OutKast's "Da Art Of Storytellin' (Pt. 1)."

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"Do You Love Me For Real (feat. Mara Hruby)": Big K.R.I.T.'s vehicular fetish takes a literal turn on this seductive characterization of a whip as a woman. Atop intergalactic synths and a pulsating bassline, things get pervy as he drops auto innuendos about "crushed linen insides" and giving her "thump," while real-life (human) girlfriend Mara Hruby's gorgeous vocals grace the hook. And your friends thought you were weird for naming your car Keisha.

"Third Eye": Continuing to explore Cadillactica's lover landscape, K.R.I.T. shows his smitten side on the thirsty "Third Eye," kicking game to a chick at the club. "I know I barely know you, but I think you're so amazing," he gushes over a tranquil organ-and-percussion mix, imagining their suburban home and future daughter, Grace. Not creepy at all.

"Mo Better Cool (feat. Bun B, Devin The Dude & Big Sant)": That old Mike Jones narrative—"Back then they didn't want me/ now I'm hot and they all on me"—lives on. With a soulful Southern rap vibe, the four rap forces toast to their respective comeups.

"Angels": On this dreamy, brass-powered ponder session, K.R.I.T. dwells on how storms -- literal (Hurricane Katrina) and figurative -- threaten to drown out his faith. He makes observations about forces from above with a stoner's strange clarity, yet remains poetic and optimistic: "The prayers will get us past/ The rumbling and the thundering never last."

"Saturday's a Celebration (feat. Jamie N Commons)": Over dancing piano keys and urgent drums, K.R.I.T. contemplates his own demise without fear, empowered by his steadfast belief in God's plan. He raps: "Battle with drinking, so please don't pour me no liquor/ out on the curb, fight the urge to go retaliate/ Carry on, just be strong enough to walk away." UK singer Jamie N Commons' deep croons provide a flawless blues flourish.

"Lost Generation" (feat. Lupe Fiasco): Big K.R.I.T. and Lupe Fiasco play shoulder angel and devil, respectively, on this lyrical square-off and album closer. The former impressively apes André 3000's gem-encrusted delivery, dropping an illuminating inquiry: "What good is flashin’ or livin' the fastest/if you in a casket?"

Meanwhile, the Chicago MC steals the show, representing the portion of K.R.I.T.'s—and many rapper's—mind that treasures self-gain over uplifting his listeners. "We can get rich, ni--a, fuck showing love/ They ain't listening to us/ They ain't playing this bitch in the club," Lupe insists, tongue embedded in cheek. "So let's get paid, turn these motherfuckers into slaves/ School is for lames, man, these ni--as join gangs/ Fuck Martin Luther King, ni--a, fuck change/ Fuck peace, I want chains."

The record represents Cadillactica's conceptual and lyrical pinnacle, as well as the planet's destruction. Fittingly, it goes out with a big bang.