Nice guys finish last, as they say, and Big K.R.I.T. wants to win. Since 2010, the understated Mississippi rapper-producer, 28, quietly produced three excellent mixtapes and a solid debut album, 2012’s Live From the Underground, but failed to produce a hit record to match his critical acclaim. For his sophomore major label album, Cadillactica (released Nov. 10 on Def Jam Recordings), K.R.I.T. not only stepped up his production with A-listers like Alex Da Kid, Jim Jonsin, Rafael Saadiq and Rico Love, he stepped up his confidence: One of the album’s standouts is brashly titled “King of the South.”
You produced your debut album and your many mixtapes, but recruited outsiders for much of Cadillactica. Why?
Producing it all myself, doing all the mixing, writing all the records — it was stressful. It gets difficult to just go write because you’re so concerned with making sure the mix is right and the production end is taken care of. I also wanted Cadillactica to show growth musically, and there’s certain things that I’m not capable of doing because I’m not classically trained. I reached out to people that are already creating a soulful sound like mine, beats that sound like they have samples but they don’t.
Why didn’t you want to sample? Was it a creative decision, or was it because of the financial and legal hassles?
Both. But it was more about being able to finish the album and not have to take anything away from it. Some of the songs on Live from the Underground originally had samples and I had to take them away, and that changed the dynamic of the songs. If you listen to a song for eight months straight and it sounds a certain way, and then in that ninth month you have to take a part of it away in order to be able to use it, you’re going to hear that record totally differently. I didn’t want to go through that again — it’s like you’re battling yourself.
You churned out a series of excellent mixtapes leading up to your debut album, but only released two since then. Why?
I think dropping [2012 mixtape] 4Eva N a Day so close to Live from the Underground showed me that I could oversaturate. My mixtape could compete with my major label album, not only sonically but just creatively. I was burnt out and tired, because I put in almost as much work on the mixtape as I did on my album. I didn’t want to do that ever again.
On “King of the South,” you proclaim yourself to be just that. The last person to prominently claim that title was T.I., and it led to a bitter beef with Lil’ Flip. Did you have any concerns about releasing this song?
It’s about being confident in my music and what I do. I’ve always wanted to prove myself. I don’t think anybody should feel differently about themselves.
You and T.I. have worked together before. Have you talked to him about the song?
No, I didn’t, because I’m gonna be honest with you —the creation of this song came three days before I had to turn this album in, and I just went with it. It’s really no disrespect. I’m sure there’s going to come a time where we probably will [talk], but at the end of the day I hope there’s no ill will because obviously hip hop is competitive. But I’ll stand by what I say.
Despite its title, “Saturdays = Celebration,” a collaboration with British rock-soul singer Jamie N Commons and producer Alex Da Kid (Imagine Dragons, Eminem), might be the emotional centerpiece of the album. What is it about?
It’s the idea of losing somebody, having to bury that person and ultimately having to let them go. I promised myself I’d do a song for my grandmother — I lost her in 2010 — on every album, and I have thus far. This was me coming to a point where I’m healing myself with the idea of letting her go. I might not have this person in my life that would hold me down, but learning how to cope with things on my own. I think about all the things she told me and tell myself them over and over again until I’m good.