Throughout Big K.R.I.T.’s career, the 31-year-old rapper born Justin Scott has always had to prove himself. Despite his lyrical dexterity and stout resume on the production front, K.R.I.T.’s southern twang and Mississippi background dampened his crossover reach among fans.
Even after notching two favorable albums (2012’s Live From the Underground and 2014’s Cadalillactica) under his tenure with Def Jam, K.R.I.T. was still on the outskirts, hoping to land similar success as his counterparts.
After opting to leave Def Jam in 2016, K.R.I.T. began his journey as an independent MC in search of satisfaction. The MC he knew he needed his next album to surpass its predecessors. Rather than succumb to his frustrations, he jotted down his regrets, fears, and insecurities to curate his new 22-track album, 4Eva Is a Mighty Long Time. “I thought people might have forgotten about me because it’s been two years,” K.R.I.T. tells Billboard. “But man, the music was right on time.”
On his third album, K.R.I.T. meticulously crafts a double album to represent his duality, with one side being Big K.R.I.T. and the other serving as Justin Scott. Instead of having his project serve as an inner tug-of-war effort between two conflicting sides, he provides listeners a clean scope into the good, the bad, and the dangerously ugly of both characters. On tracks like “Big K.R.I.T. Intro” and “Confetti,” K.R.I.T. allows his bravado to take the wheel, as his wordplay anchors the opening side of the “Big K.R.I.T.” portion of the album. On the “Justin Scott” side, K.R.I.T. delves deeply into his vices and explores his wrestling with temptation on “Keep the Devil Off.”
With K.R.I.T. currently holding one of the stronger albums to come out in 2017, it’s safe to say his departure from Def Jam was for the better. Billboard caught up with Big K.R.I.T. to speak on his new album 4Eva Is a Mighty Long Time, his biggest regrets, misconceptions about mental health in the African American community, self worth, and more. Check it out below.
Billboard: Describe your initial feelings once the clock struck midnight when your album 4Eva Is a Mighty Long Time officially dropped, knowing that you don’t have that machine behind you anymore, and there being no Def Jam to back you?
Big K.R.I.T.: I was playing 2K trying not to think about it, right? It was 11 p.m. and my brother is on 2K too, and he’s like, “Bro, your album is out now.” I’m like, “How?” He was like, “Pre-order downloads just went out. I could download the shit.” And I immediately went into semi-panic mode like, “Oh shit, it’s happening.” With social media, I try not to read comments, I try not to pay attention bro, but I couldn’t. You know, when you’re scrolling and waiting on that shit to refresh? Man, seeing all the positivity [was amazing].
You had Twitter going crazy.
CRAZY, bro… Everybody is going through the same thing right now, as far as the face you have to put on when you go to work and how you feel at home and what’s going on in the political climate and society and what you deal with and how you deal with that. It was just right on time, because I’m going through the same thing. Why not talk about it? Not make something that’ll take you away from it, but no, let me talk about how I feel and hope you relate at the same time.
With the project, you split the album into two sides with one being the Big K.R.I.T. side and the other being the Justin Scott side. Which side was more difficult creatively in terms of trying to build.
I wanted to do a double album. I’ve always wanted to do one, but in creating the album, the songs were just coming out that way where it was like, “Yeah, this is definitely for the Justin Scott side. This is Big K.R.I.T. side.” With music, it’s a therapy for me. So whatever I’m dealing with at the time, I talk about it when I rap. “Drinking Sessions,” when I wrote that, I was mashed, and sad about what I was going through. I wrote that and recorded it so that I can play it back to myself as a therapy [session].
Then, I played it for my engineer, Engineer by Wolf, and he was like, “Bro, you gotta make this a real song.” So, that’s what happened. It wasn’t as difficult as you think. I think sequencing was the hardest part and making sure that the album flowed and that you didn’t get tired. You could play the album when you’re going out, or when you’re going about your everyday [thing] and it’s just there. It can be something for you to vibe to, connect to, and go back to what you needed to do.
If you can pick the biggest regret that you’ve made as BIG K.R.I.T. in your career, which one would it be and why?
Well, damn. Man, that’s hard to say because I wouldn’t be able to create what it is without all of the mistakes. [For Big K.R.I.T.], I would have stayed independent from the jump. Problem is though, with that, being signed and with what happening happened, I learned business and I know how to treat artists. I know the workings of that now. So, instead of me being signed and doing something, it’s partnerships from here on out. That’s how I maneuver.
I know the idea of marketing and what that means on a dollar level now, and how you don’t have to spend much to market yourself and how you can build relationships with people with that premium price that normally a label is going to take. You don’t have to spend a million dollars on an album that you produced all on your own. So, these are things that I needed to learn, but that’s what I’d say for both of the albums.
If I could have stayed independent from the jump, then, maybe, things would have been different. Return of 4Eva would have been an album instead of a mixtape. Foreva and a Day would have been an album instead of a mixtape, and it wouldn’t be me fighting to make sure people are still listening, it would just be me creating and putting out music.
What’s the biggest regret you’ve made as Justin Scott — the man — that you wish you can correct?
Everything was a necessary mistake, right? It was necessary to learn and grow. I’ll say this, it’s hiding my emotions when I didn’t feel well, or when I was upset and unhappy. I was hiding it for so long. I think us, especially as black people, we don’t necessarily talk about our feelings enough or talk to someone about our feelings. And so what happened, it came all to a crash. I found myself feeling very much alone, feeling very much depressed, and leaning on my vices too much.
That’s a dark space to be in. I feel like, if I would have been talking and telling people how I felt, and asking for more from my friendships, then I wouldn’t have gotten so depressed. I think that’s one of the biggest mistakes I think I made and I’m talking from 2010 to literally 2016. Bro, I spent a lot of time feeling like and being a robot. Studio, tour, studio, tour. This face, this superhero I’m putting on, bro, that shit almost drove me crazy because you’re like, “Damn. I got all this and I’m not happy.”
You spoke candidly about depression on “Price of Fame.” Why do you think speaking up about depression is frowned upon in the African American community?
Man, I called my dad this morning and I told him “thank you,” right? Bro, his work ethic to me was ridiculous. No matter what was going on, he always went to work. I never saw him show his emotions seriously, like his sadness or his frustrations. It was always, “I gotta make it happen and just do it.” I think, sometimes, as black people and as parents, you don’t see the turmoil. You don’t get to sit down and really have those kinds of conversations.
It’s not like, “Oh, I’m really sad today and this happened.” It’s like, “Get up and go, get up and go.” So, you learn that method, too. We just learn to keep that shit with us, but then it all comes to a point where it comes out one day. I think we need to also start talking more about depression, about our vices, how we medicate and getting help, if you need to, because normally trying to talk to somebody that KNOWS you, you can’t tell them everything.
You can’t be extremely honest with them, because you gotta see them at Thanksgiving and they’re probably gonna tell somebody. You need to sit across somebody that’s invested in the conversation, but they don’t know you. That’s necessary.
On the same record, you addressed your relationship with the church and how you haven’t been there in a long time. How did you regain your faith?
I never lost my faith. The term of that [line] was that you have churches everywhere, and I was taught that God was with you. So I never lost my faith. It was just seeing my grandmother in a casket, that affected me in a way where I never went back [to church]. It just did. It’s just one of those steps in my life that I’ll make when I’m ready. She passed away in 2010, but after that, bro, I just haven’t been in the building since.
On “Everlasting,” you spoke about trying to find a forever kind of love. How have you been able to develop a rock-solid relationship with your significant other, especially with you being in the entertainment industry?
By being aware that it’s real, and not falling into it. Obviously, it’s a thing where you can, but there’s so much stress on that side, I’m good. Like, I need a strong foundation. Even health-wise, having my lady — with what she’s helped me figure out, and having someone to talk to — has been tremendous for me. I don’t wanna mess that up by searching for one situation and one opportunity and that’s not going to be fulfilling either. I just never played into it.
I remember back in the day, you used to stress about being from Mississippi in terms of gaining respect. Despite your album receiving a ton of praise, do you feel like if you were from a New York or Cali, you’d be more appreciated than what you are now?
Appreciated, I wouldn’t say that. I think known. I think the awareness of such, because Metropolitan City is a vacation destination. These kinds of things bring attention to you if you’re an artist. If you can walk down the street and the number one radio station is there, and that’s where you always go when your album pops, that’s major. I had to go two states over and then go to New York. The moving of how to get my music out was just different.
That’s what I meant by “geography”/”lottery” in the intro. “Lottery” meaning you didn’t ask to be where you were born, but it does place a difference in how music is received. I knew about Compton before I ever went there, and I was very much aware through the movies and how it was pushed. With New York, I’d done seen every Law & Order SVU to come out and I was terrified as shit, but I knew about it. You don’t know about Eighth St. That’s the difference. I was already fixated about places that I’d never been. That’s what I’m trying to do with Mississippi. I want people to come there before they judge.
On “The Light” you rap, “It’s hard to sleep, living life in a daze/ when kings wanna be n—-s, I hope it’s a phase.” Do you think the value of self worth has diminished in the African American community?
I mean, we’re desensitized. The amount of violence we see everyday and don’t even pay attention to it and with no remorse, we’ve become so used to that that it doesn’t do anything to us. That’s done something to all of us. We’re grown. We were around when it wasn’t like that, but then, you got these kids who are growing up and it’s almost like, “Who’s going to turn that off? Who’s going to not post that? Who’s going to tell them not to watch this?” Because they’re going to be even more desensitized than we are.
That’s when you get the over-aggression and not being able to show your feelings through talking. It’s like, bro, this is a human. They had a life. They had a mama, a daddy, probably kids, cousins, or somebody that cared about them. As gangsta as they could have been, they had someone who cared about them. That’s what we have to go back to, and that’s turning off some of the negativity that we view everyday.