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    Next Big Things 2011: Big K.R.I.T.

    Home sweet home: Meridian, MississippiExpect: Self-made, self-produced, next-gen Southern rapperMust hear: Return of 4Eva (Cinematic Music), out March 22 When MC-producer Big K.R.I.T.'s independently released debut album, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, exploded last June, the Mississippi native staked his claim as rightful heir to the legacies of Goodie Mob and UGK, thanks to tracks like "Hometown Hero" and "Children of the World." Def Jam took note -- particularly 50 Cent/G-Unit mastermind and newly minted VP of A&R Sha Money XL, who quickly signed the 24-year-old. But while K.R.I.T.'s debut for the label won't be out before summer, the imminent free-download album Return of 4Eva is intended to silence naysayers who view his rapid ascent as a fluke. Channeling T.I. and Pimp C in his lyrical delivery, K.R.I.T.

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    Is Sampling Dying?

    Simple beats and Auto-Tuned vocals form the foundation of 808s & Heartbreak, Kanye West's latest release. As the title implies, it's a breakup album. But perhaps the split is deeper than even West realizes. His new sound is a bold departure from his previous efforts, but also a challenge to the parameters of what many listeners would consider hip-hop. 808s & Heartbreak doesn't rely on an element once pervasive in the genre: samples. The album doesn't contain any prominent samples, while West's previous release, Graduation, featured them on 10 of its 13 tracks. He is not alone in this change: Young Jeezy's last album, The Recession, boasts just three samples, and T.I.'s latest, Paper Trail, features only four. The staple of hip-hop's beatmakers for nearly 30 years, sample-based production has slowly eroded over the past decade, due to rising costs and rampant litigation.

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    The Inquisition: Girl Talk

    It's a stifling July day in Pittsburgh, and Gregg Gillis, a.k.a. Girl Talk, is dressed accordingly: soccer shorts, white T-shirt, and a bandanna around his forehead. After releasing 2006's Night Ripper, the pop-savvy cut-and-paster quit his biomedical engineer job and went from playing tiny underground venues to chaotic dance parties around the globe. With this summer's pay-what-you-want online release of Feed the Animals (Illegal Art) -- an album composed of more than 300 unauthorized samples -- Gillis, 26, has made another bold, potentially litigious artistic statement. But he remains humble: "If I have a long-term career in music, it'll be a surprise to me." After the success of Night Ripper and the positive critical response to Feed the Animals, have any major labels come calling?

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