For most rappers, leaving their record label is a sign of hard times ahead. But for Big K.R.I.T., it was the best thing to ever happen to him. The man born Justin Scott is free, fit, and making the best music of his life — and during his New York City stop for his Heavy Is the Crown Tour with CyHi the Prynce at Irving Plaza on Friday night (March 23), he showed just how happy he was.
After a no frills, bars-heavy opening set by G.O.O.D. Music wordsmith CyHi the Prynce that had the crowd nodding their heads and singing along with mixtape cuts, Big K.R.I.T. took the stage. The opening image on the big screen showed last year’s album teaser trailer of himself burying a corpse of his own dead body. His show took that idea seriously: his entire set, K.R.I.T. only performed songs from his most recent album, 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time.
A double-disc of 22 songs provides plenty of material, but the move is also a show of confidence and freedom. His latest work is his best, and he’s fine with moving on from his past. Old fan favorites like “Mt. Olympus,” “Time Machine” and “Glass House” were all integrated into a brief mix that was used as an intermission while K.R.I.T. reset for the second half of the show — fond memories whose only function was to show a path to new pastures.
The Mississippi rapper/producer has shed a lot of pounds in recent years, and the improved diet has paid off for his live performance. For songs like his eponymous track “Big Bank” and “Subenstein (My Sub IV),” he nimbly jumps up and down and runs around the stage, breathlessly switching between double time flows and hefty, pronounced ones.
While K.R.I.T. has made a point to leave behind some of the old, attendees were still privy to exactly what made them fall in love with him in the first place: showmanship, soulfully production that slaps on loudspeakers, reverence for rap legends like UGK and 8Ball & MJG, adoration for slabs (old school cars) and women, and honest introspection that’s nurtured by nuanced musicality.
4eva Is a Mighty Long Time was split into two discs — one with largely uptempo, club and radio-ready tracks, and the other with personal, understated songs — and Friday’s show was wisely structured the same way. The first half of the concert virtually went through the first disc of the album in sequential order, while the second half took a more contemplative tone.
K.R.I.T. appeared to wipe away tears and break his voice while performing “Mixed Messages” and “Drinking Sessions,” songs that dig into his depression, contention with his old record label Def Jam, and the contradictory themes of his music. He also displayed distinct bits of showmanship: he walked into the crowd for the last verse of his sultry Lloyd-assisted “1999,” and during the breakdown of his sanctified single “Keep the Devil Off,” someone came from backstage to put a church robe on him.
After slipping his arms through each sleeve, he did a holy ghost dance around the stage. It was happiness so genuine that it could only have been the result of emerging out of the rock bottom sadness that preceded it.
“I was at my lowest point while making this album. But the people I see on social media saying, ‘K.R.I.T., we waiting on you. Do you.’ That helped me through all that,” K.R.I.T said before performing “Bury Me in Gold,” an anti-materialism anthem from the record. “I realized through all the accolades, all that shit I was chasing, man, that wasn’t healthy for me. That wasn’t making me happy.”
Thankfully for his fans, and himself, he’s found exactly what does the trick.