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Artist to Watch: Big K.R.I.T. Continues the Dirty South Legacy

Mississippi rapper mines his upbringing for compelling rhymes

April 20, 2011 4:25 PM ET

Click to listen Big K.R.I.T.'s album "Return Of 4eva"

Who: Justin "Big K.R.I.T." Scott, a somber 24-year-old from Meridian, Mississippi who delivers forceful small-town narratives over self-produced Dirty South beats.

D.I.Y. Project: In the spring of 2010, with the release of K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, K.R.I.T. quickly became a rap blog mainstay. All that hype led him to the attention of Def Jam, which signed him last June. But K.R.I.T. knew that before working on his major-label debut, in order to satiate the fan base he'd just acquired, he needed to drop another free project. "I had to show that K.R.I.T. Wuz Here wasn't a fluke," he says. The result is the (album, not mixtape) Return of 4Eva, released as a free download in March and received with a roar of critical approval even greater than the none-too-shabby one K.R.I.T. Wuz Here garnered. "I don't chill out and wait on the label; nothing's changed because I signed a deal," says K.R.I.T. It's a validation of a D.I.Y. mindset that first bloomed when he was a kid making beats on PlayStation's MTV Music Generator because he couldn't afford production software.

The Come-Up: K.R.I.T. started rapping as a teenager "on the corner with the older heads, freestyling. The first time, they were like, 'Stop — that ain't dope.' After a while, they let me rock out." He moved to Atlanta in 2005, "networking, doing open mics." By 2009, he was in New York, spending time at Dame Dash's multipurpose space DD172. There, he hooked up with video production team Creative Control, and together they made the clip for his Adele-sampling underground hit "Hometown Hero." The source material may have been unexpected, but Scott explains, "I wanted to do a song that reflected what I was going through at the time — trying to follow your dream — and people could really relate. That definitely did a lot as far as building the buzz."

Name Game: It was that early grind that accidentally birthed his stage name. "'K.R.I.T.' was originally 'Kritical,'" he explains. "But when you go to open mics, you have to write your name down, and they always get it wrong. So I shortened it to 'K.R.I.T.' and decided it stood for 'King Remember the Time.'" Pardon? "It's humble way to say I'm gonna be a king in my lane, a king in my time, and it's a name I have to live up to. I can never get comfortable."

What's Next: K.R.I.T. is currently on tour with Freddie Gibbs. But he's already plotting his proper Def Jam debut, playing with concepts and considering samples. "I understand it's an art form to be able to paint different kind of pictures with different genres. I want to be able to work with artists like Al Green, Sharon Jones, Coldplay." And he sees himself as part of a particular hip-hop community: "The artists that I really respect — Smoke DZA, Curren$y, Yelawolf, Kendrick Lamarr — they're lyrical cats making quality music, and they're not egotistical." As he sees it, the future is expansive: "Look at someone like Cee Lo Green – coming from a [strict] hip-hop background, to the artist that he is now? That's inspiring to me. It means I can go farther." But, K.R.I.T. points out, his roots are firm: "It's still country shit. Mississippi, man."

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