B.B. King, who passed away Thursday at age 89, influenced generations of musicians – including his fellow Mississippian Big K.R.I.T., who collaborated with his idol on 2012’s “Praying Man.” Here, the rapper shares his earliest memories of King and tell us what it was like to sit in the studio and watch him play.
My grandmother introduced me to B.B. King. She wasn’t someone who had a lot of posters, but there was a big poster of B.B. King on the wall as soon as you walked into her house in Meridian, Mississippi. Even now, hearing “The Thrill Is Gone” or “Midnight Believer” reminds me of her. The music represented soul. There was pain and frustration in it, but there was also the understanding that everything’s going to be better in the end. The grit and passion in the music told me this was someone who really meant what he was saying. It made me proud to be a Mississippian. As I got older, I went digging in the crates and found the work that he did with Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Live in Cook County Jail, where he was playing for the inmates. You could hear how the music affected people. It affected me, too – I wanted to have the same amount of soul and importance in my music that he had in his.
It’s crazy that just a few years later, I was able to actually make a song with him. The first time I talked about it with my team, it seemed so far-fetched. But I sent him my song “Praying Man,” and he said he wanted to be part of it. So I went to Las Vegas – the first and only time I’ve been there. Even being in the studio with him was surreal. I didn’t ask him to play the guitar. He was just supposed to sing on the hook. But then he said, “Hey, man, if you want me to play Lucille, I’ll do that too.” Who’s going to say no to that? He only listened to the track once or twice, then he said, “I’m ready. Press play.” He did three takes, straight through, didn’t mess up a lick. It was flawless. I knew that would have made my grandmother proud.
After it was all over, we were just hanging out, kicking it. He was so down-to-earth, and so eager to tell me the things that he went through being from Mississippi. He told me about the beginning of his career, when a lot of the tour posters didn’t have his face on them, and when he showed up, people wouldn’t want him to perform, because they were white-only clubs. He told me how to push forward and stay positive and, no matter what, stay on the road and keep touring. I can’t get into all the tour stories. He had a lot of jokes, and he didn’t mind telling ’em. Someone who had done so much didn’t have to be that humble. I was about 25, and he was in his eighties. And it was so easy talking to him that it blew my mind.