Interviews \

Q&A: Big K.R.I.T.’s Metaphorical Cadillac Is Bigger Than Yours

The Mississippi MC pops the trunk on his new LP, 'Cadillactica'

Big K.R.I.T. has spent the last decade making his name as a consistently solid mixtape rapper (and producer) with such acclaimed works as 2011’s Return of 4Eva, as well as outside productions for Wiz Khalifa and Smoke DZA. In 2012, he released his proper debut album, 2012’s Def Jam-sanctioned Live From the Underground, which featured plenty of dusty productions and molasses-voiced rapping. But this week, the 28-year-old Mississippi rapper follows it up with Cadillactica, a synth-heavy departure from his usual bluesy style. SPIN recently caught up with K.R.I.T. over the phone to discuss the album’s ambitious concept (featuring a Cadillac spaceship that functions as sort of a dirty-south version of ZZ Top’s Ford coupe) and on what planet he considers himself to be “King of the South.”

You’ve mentioned that on Cadillactica you’re explaining the significance of the Cadillac from Live from the Underground. Can you talk about the story behind that?
With Underground, the Cadillac crash-landing on Planet Earth was symbolic of me crash-landing in mainstream music. After being underground for so long and dropping so many projects, I am now signed to a major label, so it was kind of like bringing the sound I’ve been known to do on mixtapes to a mainstream platform. After Underground and dealing with some people who did not feel like it lived up to KRIT Wuz Here or Return of 4Eva, for me, it was about staying true to my roots. I had produced all of my mixtapes. I had always worked with the people that were featured on my mixtapes, and when it came time for Cadillactica, it gave me the opportunity to be creative in a different space.

There also seems to be a life-cycle theme.
Definitely. From the creation of the planet, and then life being found on the planet, and then the whole idea of this planet being the first sound ever heard: the “Big Bang” or the 808. The content of the music changes [throughout the album]: being young, and then getting older. The album really sequenced itself. Maybe it’s because it took me a year to make it but after getting to the end of it, it just felt that way.

You were called out by name in Kendrick Lamar’s “Control” verse. Has the effect of that been positive or negative for you?
It’s been great. I dropped “Mt. Olympus” and people were like “Oh!” The people that did know me knew what I was capable of. But after “Control” and doing Week of KRIT, “Mt. Olympus,” A King Remembered in Time, [people] learned and they stuck with it because they realized my music is genuine. I never had been about a large radio push. It was more word of mouth, and then people learn about the music and support it. I kinda would rather it be that way. They know I do it for the love, not for credit or fame.

The production on this album was definitely different. What were you experimenting with this time?
Working with other producers, because I got to be creative as a writer and watch how they produce. Raphael Saadiq [helped] with understanding space in the record and not overproducing. Same thing with DJ Dahi, Jim Jonsin, and Terrace Martin. It made me want to dive deeper into finding other instruments: distorting the drums, trying a different 808, different melodies. Then I’d reach out to somebody that plays the piano or the guitar instead of me sampling it, to make this record sound as big as possible. I got the opportunity to co-produce with Alex Da Kid and he made sure the drawls were cracking, sonically still having those elements of the South — that KRIT, that soul. But I wanted to do it a little different this time.

You worked with outside producers on King Remembered in Time as well.
I was used to coming up with the hook, producing myself, recording, and mixing the record. With [producer] 9th Wonder, I wasn’t tired by the time the beat was done. I knew if I wanted to be as creative as possible, I needed to work with people that not only inspired me, but understood the kind of music that I was trying to go for. [Saadiq, Dahi, and the rest] don’t sample, but they make records that feel like samples. It was just amazing to know that it’s nothing like my other projects and I can go somewhere [new] after this, musically.

So there are barely any samples on this album?
There are only three samples on the album. I wanted to create the kind of music that other people would want to sample. When I would sample, there was always this part of me that was nervous because I always wanted to do justice to those records that I was sampling. [Artists] created those records you’re sampling; they put everything they felt was necessary to go in there. With Cadillactica, it was more like, let me step back and try to create something completely original.

Some of the tracks on Cadillactica discuss how the values of today’s youth are in decline. Was there any specific incident or trend that made you feel this way?
I just feel like music is a language that everybody speaks. I was getting older, and things I may have been into on my previous projects are different for me now. I wanted to express that there’s a point in everybody’s life when you get older and can’t do the things that you used to do. There’s a lot of youths who listen to our music literally, and if we don’t give them some kind of positivity, it’s gonna affect them in a negative manner. You have to grow as an artist in order for your fans to grow with you. I think that’s what Cadillactica was for me: to show that I’m growing and that my next album won’t be like this album.

Your name stands for “King Remembered in Time,” but you’ve started calling yourself “King of the South.” Do you think you’ve earned the title, or are you still waiting for your due as you mention in “Lac Lac?”
First off, I created the planet Cadillactica, so why wouldn’t I be the King of the South on Cadillactica? [Laughs.] Secondly, it’s about me and my confidence as an artist now. I feel like everybody at some point should feel like they’re the best at what they do, and that’s how I feel right now. I’m not trying to disrespect anybody. There’s more to come in my story in hip-hop, in music in general. It’s only the beginning.