The Riff
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The Riff

K.R.I.T. Is Here to Stay — Revisiting K.R.I.T. Wuz Here

Big K.R.I.T.’s sixth mixtape officially arrives on streaming services on May 29.

The worst part about getting a new phone pre-2015 was reorganizing my music. At the time, my library was a hodgepodge of loosely collated tracks — some full length LPs, swaths of album-less singles, and plenty more mixtapes. iTunes was a godsend, equipped with an easy to use metadata editing feature, but the service wasn’t the hub for my music acquisitions.

That honor was reserved for Datpiff.com. According to the site’s tagline and the audio drops stitched before major releases on the platform, Datpiff was (and is) “the mixtape authority”. Following the days of pirating music through Napster, Datpiff was the next easiest sources of free tunes geared towards hip-hop heads. Users needed an account to download some tapes, but the biggest releases earned ranks based on the number of times they were downloaded. With enough downloads, anyone, user or otherwise could cop the tape without logging in.

Datpiff was home to many gems — Mac Miller’s album quality Faces, Wiz Khalifa’s Kush & OJ, Ab-Soul’s Long Term 2. Its lax copyright rules allowed music that wasn’t cleared for sale to fill its digital shelves. Lil Wayne rapped over everyones beats on his Dedication series without a problem, guarded by Datpiff’s protective, if legally questionable veil.

Though it was founded in 2005, 2010 could be seen as a turning point in Datpiff’s history. Wayne’s protégés Drake and Nicki Minaj exploded onto rap’s radar, packaging the product for mainstream audiences geared to a pop-ier sound. But on May 4 of that year, Big K.R.I.T., a then-little known rapper from the Bible Belt counterbalanced the leanings of the time with his sixth mixtape, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here.

Originally from Mississippi, K.R.I.T. was seemingly destined to fail. His previous five tapes, which wore their southern influences on their sleeves, arrived as the south was entering it’s second hip-hop renaissance. Texas’s slowed and throwed style felt a resurgence in the mid-2000s. UGK’s Bun B was serving up master classes in developing posse cuts like “Draped Up”, while newcomers like Mike Jones and Slim Thug dominated airwaves with their lean-laced braggadocio.

Meanwhile, 1,000 miles east of Texas, Atlanta was enjoying ringtone rap — a heavily synthesized, extremely repetitive hip-hop subgenre that profited off of the prominence of cellphones. Crunk Mob, D4L, Dem Franchize Boyz and Soulja Boy Tell ’em, were running up a tab in the music industry and Boost Mobile stores alike.

In Mississippi, K.R.I.T. was nestled somewhere between the two styles and sounded nothing like them. He lauded his “Country King” persona, something of a second coming of Mississippi rapper-producer David Banner. K.R.I.T.’s tapes weren’t easily slotted into the south’s sound. And K.R.I.T. was fine with that.

Though he didn’t manage to pop off through his first five tapes, K.R.I.T. doubled-down on his artistry on K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. Steadied by features from Curren$y, Devin tha Dude, Smoke DZA and more, by the end of 2010, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here earned a spot on Vibe and Datpiff’s top-30 mixtapes on the year. 10 years later, the tape is on its way back to the limelight sans-Datpiff, cleared to play on streaming services on May 29.

K.R.I.T. Wuz Here was special. Unlike the DJ Screw-molded Texas scene, which saw its artists dilute their drawls by slowing the tempo of vocal tracks to match the equally slurred nature of the syrup they were slurping, K.R.I.T. comes through with a clarity of mind and voice that plays closer to the boom bap styles of New York. He doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Instead of limiting himself to a locally curated sound — which would be hard to do given Mississippi’s limited representation in popular hip-hop — K.R.I.T. raps over cuts from a variety of rap traditions.

The intro cut, “Return of 4Eva” flips a funked out sample of Lonnie Liston Smith into a anthem that wouldn’t suggest K.R.I.T. was potentially at his wit’s end with rap. The track is bouncy and cocky, K.R.I.T. encrusted with all manner of jewels, cars and other expensive memorabilia. “Emphasizing my emphasis, don’t sleep on my lyricism/ Glow like the moon and stars, shine like a billion prisms,” K.R.I.T. raps, emphasizing his role — not as another turnup artist, but as a self-proclaimed life coach.

Equally as impressive as his generally consistent message (K.R.I.T. wouldn’t be from the south if he didn’t give at least some attention to all manner of “Pimps, Shawtys, and Cadillacs”) is that the project is entirely self-produced. K.R.I.T. was competing with mixtape messiahs like Wayne and Rick Ross who were rapping over studio quality beats. His penchant for snuffing out samples, like Billy Cobham’s “Heather”, gave K.R.I.T. a leg up on the copy and paste style found on throughout Datpiff’s (and subsequently my) discography.

That’s K.R.I.T.’s M.O., both here and on his future work. He’s acutely aware of the role identity plays in his music. He’ll be the first to compare himself to plenty of the south’s past musical outliers — David Banner, Outkast, 8Ball & MJG — and in the same breath wrestle with his character as a country boy. K.R.I.T. pairs the speaker-knocking “Country Shit”, which earned him a star-studded remix with Ludacris and Bun B with the introspective “No Wheaties”, a cut that champions K.R.I.T.’s self-made persona.

Though the streaming game has cannibalized the recording industry, leaving artists working for fractions of pennies on the dollar, fans have never been in a better position. Artists are unearthing their mixtapes to run on Spotify and Apple Music, creating depth to a once fragmented digital music library.

K.R.I.T. Wuz Here’s arrival to streaming services marks the recognition of one of hip-hops turning points. As the south embraced the burgeoning trap sound — Gucci Mane’s The State Vs. Radric Davis dropped five months before Wuz while Waka Flocka Flame’s murderous and druggy Flockaveli arrived five months after — K.R.I.T. was mixing and matching flavors to craft his own sonic identity.

Datpiff.com, which remains home to the bulk of K.R.I.T.’s mixtape discography, isn’t the player it once was. You can still find big name drops on the service. DaBaby’s latest album is front and center on the service, though rather than a download link Datpiff redirects users to purchase the album via the artist’s website. But gone are the days of waiting until midnight for Datpiff’s page to refresh and unlock the day’s set of tapes, compilations and loosies.

In the modern, streaming era, Big K.R.I.T. kept hope alive for us Datpiff heads. Since K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, he’s dropped seven tapes on the service, four of which have gone platinum according to Datpiff’s standards (250,000 downloads). K.R.I.T. fed mixtape aficionados even after major names — the J. Coles, the Big Sean — moved on from Datpiff and its bubbly text and cartoony artwork. K.R.I.T. Wuz Here is a welcome addition to streaming services, a reminder of rap’s ever-changing meaning of commercialization. Regardless of platform, K.R.I.T. is the image of consistency, even when odds are stacked against him.

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Brandon Johnson

Brandon Johnson

Forever hunting for my new favorite music sample. Founder of tripleot.com & abrandbox.com. 🌴🦩

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