Big K.R.I.T. has quite the imagination. We’re in a black Suburban zipping through tight southbound traffic on Manhattan’s 9th Avenue, yet the 28-year-old rapper/producer is seeing something completely different than speeding yellow cabs and intrepid bikers. K.R.I.T. is visualizing his mind’s eye, his own consciousness: a planet he’s dubbed Cadillactica, which shares its name with his sophomore album (out November 11).
“It would be clean, candy-paint grass, you feel me?,” says the lanky MC, slightly reclined in the SUV’s middle row, a denim shirt buttoned to his Adam’s apple. “Spaceships would have subs on the sides of them. Codeine-purple trees. Everything would be delivered by Cadillacs.”
After dropping a string of outstanding freebie projects (and one overlooked major-label debut), the Meridian, Mississippi native has literally created his own world for Cadillactica. And musically, the stakes have never been higher, especially after touring with Macklemore and (rightfully) being included in top-class company on Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” hit list last year. So for once K.R.I.T. delegates production duties this time—Jim Jonsin laces the Rico Love-featured lead single “Pay Attention”—for a fresh update to his sound, which makes complete sense—someone’s gotta pilot this rocket ship’s wood-grain steering wheel.
EBONY: It’s been two years since you dropped your Def Jam debut Live from the Underground. What change do you think listeners will hear on Cadillactica?
Big K.R.I.T.: People will see the growth. They’re going to understand that sonically I can take it further than they expect. I don’t think people know what to expect, but that’s good. Now that I’m working with other musicians, I’m learning more. It showed me an easier way to step out of my comfort zone. I’m growing not only as an artist but as a producer, and still rapping about content that’s relatable to my life. But I found a way to make it sonically sound bigger.
EBONY: You’ve spoken about how your last album could’ve been better for various reasons, but there are bright spots on Live from the Underground. You had B.B. King on a record, “Praying Man.” What aspects did you carry over from that project to this new album?
Big K.R.I.T.: As far as being able to execute creatively exactly what I wanted, I think I did that right. Because I was still able to be myself. On top of that, it was learning that sample clearance takes time. Not sampling as much was extremely important. The reason I knew Live from the Underground could’ve been better is that I sampled a lot of records that I couldn’t use, so I had to take the samples out. There were a lot of records that I had to scratch.
EBONY: How’d you achieve your soulful aesthetic on Cadillactica without sampling?
Big K.R.I.T.: Sing[ing] a lot. A lot of background vocals, oohs and ahhs, live instrumentation. I love synths, and even though this is a spaced-out, vibey album, there are a lot of warm instruments. That’s the backbone of soul music. Synths have cold sounds, sometimes it’s hard to hear the warmth in that. I’m such a strong believer in bass line because I played the tuba, so I understand that even if the record has no instrumentation or it’s lightly sprinkled with instrumentation, I can make the song move with just bass.
EBONY: The themes of your two studio albums both deal with outer space. Where does that influence come from?
Big K.R.I.T.: It’s taking from a lot of old-school artists like Roy Ayers, George Clinton. Space in general is so mysterious. A lot of the creative ideas that we have as musicians, you want to take it far beyond what people expect. So when you start talking about outer space and those elements, there’s still some mystery. It’s exciting.
Cadillactica, the whole idea came from trying to express where my conscious mind is, where these creative thoughts come from, the introspective songs, turn-up songs, ride-out songs. I’ma call my mind “Cadillactica.” And I’ma tell the story of this planet—this planet is a bit obscure, just like every human being’s mind. Some things that go on in your mind you might never say out loud. So with Cadillactica, I wanted to share how obscure I can be, take you to this place you’ve never been. I think I was able to accomplish that.
EBONY: You’ve had some help along the way. Tell us about your collaboration with Raphael Saadiq, “Soul Food.”
Big K.R.I.T.: Yeah, he produced the record, too. It’s a take on thinking about the things that you grew up enjoying. Things that made your family come around and that kind of happiness, then getting older and thinking back on why you don’t see that excitement anymore. Why you don’t see people indulging in activities with their families anymore, those family interactions. You don’t realize how that knowledge that your elders passed down would affect you later on in life. That’s really what I drew for that song, using metaphors about food on the table, but it being bigger than that. It’s something that nourishes not only your mind, but body and soul.
EBONY: There’s a fire and aggression from you on “Mt. Olympus.” Where does that come from?
Big K.R.I.T.: Man, years of sitting back and thinking about where I’m at musically and becoming frustrated. Feeling like I’m being overlooked. Trying to prove myself over and over again, but still hitting a brick wall based off probably where I’m from. I don’t really toot my horn, so when people heard me in that manner, they knew I meant it. It’s not about me trying to be a superhero or be malicious, but it’s facts that you really have to think about.
Like, oh sh*t, why couldn’t André 3000 be the king of hip-hop? Why would I be singled out as far as my hooks being simple when most hooks are simple? I been lyrical. At some point, people started judging me off one record, off what they heard on [Kendrick Lamar’s] “Control” verse and not even knowing about the 200 songs that I’ve dropped. I have a catalog. So this is my opportunity to show them I’m not a new artist.
EBONY: Why’d you want a brighter sound for Cadillactica?
Big K.R.I.T.: I didn’t want this album to be dark, because you’re mostly in the pursuit of happiness in life. And so it’s sprinkled throughout. There’s a little confusion in there, excitement, youthful thinking, some sadness, some love and wanting more. I’m not sad; I’m definitely not as down as I was on K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. But I’m also starting to look at life and wanting to experience things that my friends and homeboys have experienced, which is getting married and having kids. Being conflicted because you tour and stay gone, you don’t have any clue of how to even start something of that nature. It deserves just as much of your time as music does. We’re chasing these dreams that involve us being very selfish.
EBONY: Speaking of being selfish, you must be sitting on some hot leftover beats since you outsourced some of Cadillactica’s production. Any plans to pitch your scrapped instrumentals to other artists?
Big K.R.I.T.: I got a couple of records that would be perfect for OutKast. That goes to say where I’m at with my creativity. I definitely wanted to get OutKast on the album, but I think it’s just timing. I’m always making records that I know 8Ball & MJG or Bun B could murder. And trying to do some soul and jazz records. Hopefully I can land a record with Adele, Esperanza Spalding, Coldplay. You never know.
John Kennedy is a writer, editor and tortured Knicks fan who represents Queens, but stays out in Brooklyn. He’s written for Vibe, Billboard and XXL. Tweet him at @youngJFK. (Nas slander will get you blocked.)