Big K.R.I.T. Explains Why He's Rapping Harder on New Trans-Galactic LP 'Cadillactica'

"There was a lot of negativity that I'd never experienced before in my career," the rapper tells Rolling Stone. "It kind of threw me into an overdrive"

Big K.R.I.T. in New York City on October 1st, 2014. Credit: Brad Barket/Getty

For his second Def Jam album, Cadillactica, Mississippi hip-hop auteur Big K.R.I.T. leaves behind the "dirty dirty third coast muddy water" and blasts right off into the stratosphere. The album, due November 11th, is a 15-song Afro-futurist concept suite taking place on the fictional planet named in the title. To take us there, K.R.I.T. has expanded his sonic palette to boldly go where his dependable country-rap mixtapes have never gone before – rubbery Zapp noises, choirs of Kate Bush-style moans, cinematic marching band drums, cicadas – in addition to his first time ever working with multiple outside producers (including Raphael Saddiq and Jim Jonsin).

On the LP, rhyming is set to stun, building off the energy of 2013's manic "Mount Olympus," a track written one day after Kendrick Lamar's "Control" verse, which name-dropped K.R.I.T. among 10 other rising rappers. We caught up with the Mississippi rapper to try to explore his fantastic planet.

You said that you weren't able to do what you wanted creatively on the last record. Why?
Because, with mixtapes, I was sampling a lot. With [2012's Def Jam debut] Live From the Underground, I went to sampling without any knowledge of or knowing how long it takes to clear a sample. So, a lot of these records I had created with samples embedded in them. Like, the record with B.B. King, "Praying Man," had a sample embedded in it.

Of?
I'm not – nah. Nah. That had a sample. "If I Fall" had a sample. It was records that had samples, and I had to take them away. Live From the Underground theme song had a sample, and I had to take it away. So, you try to replay 'em, but they never match up. So I dealt with that and then also wanted to... For me, it was like trying to prove myself. It went from just naturally trying to prove myself to being angry and proving myself. And I never want to write from that perspective ever again.

So you wrote that record angry?
I wrote that record in a frustration. Because it was a lot going on. I was paying too much attention to intricate things, business-wise. I wasn't accustomed to how the rollout planned worked. Me, I [usually] made a mixtape and dropped it. But [Def Jam] had a rollout plan, I wasn't accustomed to that, and so, it flooded over into my music – and you could tell that. That's why this album is such a relief. I wasn't mad making it. I wasn't under the most pressure. I wasn't concerned with samples because we didn't use 'em.

Are there any expectations from Def Jam for the new record?
No. Because I think we shocked a lot of people with Live From the Underground. It had no radio record. There was no official single. And we dropped it and people supported it because of the content. So I think we shocked a lot of people with that to the point where it's like, they really understand it's best to just kind of let me do me. And, with this album, I took it even further with working with other producers and not sampling so much, but creating songs that sound like samples.

Is that a sample of the Beastie Boys' "Paul Revere" on "My Sub Pt. 3 (Big Bang)"?
I think I know what you're talking about, but that's not them though. But that was me reversing my own hi-hat. Which is not even the same hi-hat. Don't worry.

It's like a vintage Def Jam record. It sounds like Def Jam, 1986.
Where it all started. That kind of song, if you think about the Beastie Boys song, it was so gritty, and it was so stripped down from what most people would use – raw hi-hat, kick drum, 808. I want to do something that feels like that too. But it's also inspired by a lot of other hard, bass-hitting records. You talking about "Freaky Tales" by Too $hort.

This whole idea of exploring space on the new record — this is such a left turn from "Country Shit."
You think? I mentioned Pluto in "Country Shit." All I'm doing is telling you where the Cadillac that that crash landed on Live From the Underground came from. It came from Planet Cadillactica, which is still my creative mind. All this music came from my creative mind – my conscious thoughts. I just decided to make it a planet.

But is it from Outkast and George Clinton and Sun Ra or is it comic books and movies?
I think it's all of them. Like Roy Ayers and all these people. I listen to their music and sonically, even, I think they were experimenting. But if it's like, all right, I want to take you somewhere you never been before, the first place that somebody is gonna be: "I wanna take you to outer space. I wanna take you far from here." Me creating a planet, it gave me the opportunity to express to you all my thoughts. But in a fashion where I can leave it if I decide to. I can do whatever on this planet. I can tell you about my trials and my tribulations, I can have fun, I can do all these things – but it's Cadillactica. Music is just supposed to be that free. I'm supposed to be able to put whatever I want on wax. So I decided to, if I'm-a do that, lemme call it something. But, yeah, of course man. 8 Ball and MJG was Space Age Pimpin', You feel me? Like, I grew up in the idea, man, let's take it farther than where we at, so yeah, I'm trying to take people farther.

Is Cadillactica even in our solar system?
I don't think so. I think it's got its own galaxy of its own. It's kickin' it somewhere else. But, if you go back and listen to my music, "Moon & Stars," you know what I'm saying. I've always been trying to go there, but I think this album gave me the opportunity.

You're singing a little on this record. Do you ever get nervous or self-conscious when you have to sing?

Nah, because I sing out of necessity sometimes. A lot of my hooks, back in the day, I sung because there was nobody to sing the records for me, so I had to sing 'em. And you get onstage and you sing and you find out people don't mind your tone – cause I'm not trying to kill it. I'm not like overly doing it. I'm calm, I'm in my key, my register, and we keep it moving, man. I feel people can see through the fact that I'm not the top singer on the planet and just know that I mean it.

It's evident you stepped it up lyrically on this album. Is this something you consciously did?
I think it was time to go back. You get in the point where people tell you, "Man, you know, people need to be able to rap your songs." And you get caught up in that. So, I wasn't all that caught up in it this time. I was really on some like, "I want you to listen, I pray you get something from it, but I want to tell you something."

This is a headphone listen. This is not a go to the club...
It might not be in the club, but from your house to the club, or maybe when you're leaving the club. You could be leaving the club, going home, you gonna put my album on. If you goin' to work you gonna put my album on. If you happen to be makin' an hour-and-a-half drive, you gonna put my album on, because people spend more time in their car then they do in clubs.

"I can do whatever on this planet. Music is just supposed to be that free."

How do you train for rapping twice as fast?
A lot of records I made before the "Control" verse came out. Then the "Control" thing happened and it was positivity there, because I understand hip-hop is competitive. But there was a lot of negativity that I'd never experienced before in my career. It was people that never even noticed my music and because of that, they prejudged what my music may have been. So with that, it kind of threw me into an overdrive to do a "Mt. Olympus." To start, "Aight, with these records, I'ma go in even harder," because now I know that Cadillactica might be the album that people may first hear from me. So I went back to my house. I went back to just recording in my room. I went back to writing as much as I could and not focusing on metaphors so much, but saying exactly what I meant to say and doing it my way.

So, there's part of you that is out to impress people?
Always. I always wanted to prove myself. I think I naturally can't help but want to do something and push the boundaries. I don't think I'll ever become comfortable with just being here. I always want to take it further.

Have you and Kendrick ever talked about this?
Nah, nah, nah. I totally get where he was comin' from, lyrically. For me, but I haven't had the opportunity to have a conversation with him, but, to me, it ain't no bad blood.

Did you find it inspirational the way Lupe Fiasco or Kid Cudi just said, "Forget it. I'm stepping out of this lane and creating my own lane."
Yeah, because, at the end of the day, I look at Outkast. When you say, "Man, what kind of music does Outkast make?" You be like, "They make Outkast music." What kind of music does N.E.R.D. make? They make N.E.R.D. music. I want to be one of those people, because there's so many layers to the music I create that I don't want people to expect me to do one thing. So with this album I think I was able to start to show 'em like, "Aww, shit."

So if someone calls you a "country rapper" after this record comes out?
I mean, I'll take that amongst all the other things that most people may call me. They might be like, "Damn, K.R.I.T. is a soul singer," and I'll be like, Yeah, you right. And on top of that, I'm a lyricist, and on top of that, I'm also a producer and all these things. Then, at the end of the day, when they comprise all of that, hopefully they'll be like, "Man, K.R.I.T. is K.R.I.T."