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10 min read

Touch My Soul

A while back, I was driving my nephew from his friends place back to our house. I was listening to one of my favorite hip-hop stations on the radio. The volume wasn’t my usual level of “let me feel the bass on my face,” but it was just up enough to make me bop my head as my nephew was talking to me about his day. After some quiet time during one song in particular, I tell him, “I want you to remember something: if the music you’re listening to doesn’t make you automatically bop your head, don’t listen to it.” I continued explaining that it was because, in my mind, something in the soundwave of that rhythm or beat links directly through your ears to the nerve endings in your neck to activate the motion because the nodes in your brain associate it with joy and serenity to command that nerve to act as such.

Please keep in mind that I’m not a neurologist nor have any degree in musicology. I may be completely wrong with the previous analysis. That was how I felt like explaining it to him because that’s how I legitimately feel when it comes to hip-hop music.

I prefer the earlier days of simpler engineering when it comes to the genre. The D.J. would only have so many vinyl records in his milk crate to sample from and a drum machine to paint on top of the canvas of the background melody. That type of production is reminiscent of when hip-hop was supposed to be for the movement of the crowd and bringing great vibes to the party, not just glorifying the harsh realities of society. That’s not to say realism wasn’t important to the evolution of the genre, but it was pleasant to have that type of soul touching groove paired with the right number of beats to move your body along with.

I like to have this line as my mantra when it comes to hip-hop: “If it doesn’t touch my soul, I can’t listen to it.” That line was dropped by Mississippi native rapper, Big K.R.I.T. on the 2011 track “The Vent” off of his mixtape, Return of 4Eva. That is what hip-hop is to me. That is why I believe he. should be considered alongside the greats of this beautiful genre. I implore you to let K.R.I.T. preach and feed your mind and soul with more than the typical bravado and excess that exists in the genre.

I first learned about him as XXL magazine released its yearly “Freshman Class” issue. They grouped and highlighted several up-and-coming artists to be put on hip-hop’s watchlist throughout the years to come. That year’s list (2011) is arguably one of, if not the most powerful lineup that the magazine will have had. It included K.R.I.T., Meek Mill, YG, CyHi the Prynce, Mac Miller, and some Compton rapper named Kendrick. He is decent, I guess, in my humble opinion.

All those rappers ended up in my rotation and yet, something about K.R.I.T. stood out. K.R.I.T., I would discover, stands for “King Remembered In Time.” Even just from that detail, I was intrigued by what this new kid from the Dirty South had to offer. After watching his XXL Freshmen Cypher, I knew this was gonna be a rapper I could vibe with.

I always had a penchant for the South when it came to hip-hop. The first artist to break me through to the genre was actually Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz (simpler times people, go eye-roll somewhere else) from Atlanta. I suppose it was the heavy bass that made me bop my head no matter what. I grew with the rest of hip-hop from all coasts, learning to appreciate the subtle nuances some southern rappers brought to the table. There was the creativity of lyrics from that region, whether it be the actual slang that I learned from the early “swang and bang” music from UGK or the complexity of flow brought to light by OutKast. And the production? Oh man! You haven’t lived if you haven’t listened to Ridin’ Dirty.

The different epicenters of the southern United States all had a stylistic flair that was unique, like the different New York City boroughs. Take Houston as a prime example. If anyone appreciated some old-school turntable sounds, it was the early Houston group Geto Boyz, the artists behind the all-time classic, “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.” Houston rap’s signature style of production is called “chopped and screwed,” which is taking a regular album or track and heavily slowing down the pace while deepening the vocals, mixing in table scratching the record to make an immediately impactful type of deep sound. It’s an admittedly acquired taste, but one that can be appreciated due to how much the producer affects how it sounds.

The second epicenter is Atlanta. It infused a more uptempo party style of rap that lit up the crowd. It also introduced some very dexterous lyricists with quick-rapping wordplay like the aforementioned OutKast and Ludacris. The other thing about this region is its trend of using the rhythm of a lot of blues and jazz music. This can be said for the genre in whole given that’s how the music was born in the first place. In my mind, however, the southern hip-hop acts I follow close blend the melodic roots of its region (bluegrass, jazz, etc.) to highlight the use of their unique slang and drum patterns to appeal to a grand scope of musical palates — from the old heads to the young and reckless just looking to get hype.

This is where Big K.R.I.T. comes into the picture. These facets of Southern hip-hop — the influence of music from previous generations that is intrinsically tied to your home region — is what makes K.R.I.T. rise above so many artists. I honestly could go off on multiple tangents explaining why you should seriously consider making this man a regular fixture in your Spotify rotation. But let me at least highlight a few of tracks from his discography because I do want you to add him to your Spotify rotation.

First and foremost, K.R.I.T. has a crazy-good ear for production quality. His sound blends a smooth and soulful classic hip-hop melody and southern flavor. In other words, he is unapologetically Southern. In other, other words, he is unapologetically country. You can’t represent the South with the likes of UGK and OutKast without being unapologetically Southern and country. The identity is critical.

The single that really set him apart was one of his first popular singles in 2010 called “Country Shit.” The track itself is probably more recognizable through its remixed version featuring Southern rap heavy-hitters Bun B and Ludacris. This track has K.R.I.T. acting as the tour guide for the masses in the name of the Southern United States.  This track boasts a “trunk-knock” bass, a true staple of Southern hip-hop. The best way to experience the vibe is to have a couple of subwoofers at the “ready and wear that bass like a sweater” level. But in all seriousness, the main aspect of the track is the way K.R.I.T. paints the picture of his neck of the woods through his slang, mentioning typical southern wares and how he’s just another playa’ bettering himself on the way to glory.

I apologize to an extent with this basic interpretation, but its only for the sake of letting you, as a (hopefully) intrigued prospect, listen to these tracks on your own time and allowing your ears and scope of sonic tastes do the decision making for you. Thus, we continue.

The second track I’m going with is is a fantastic track called “Porchlight” featuring R&B/soul singer Anthony Hamilton, who also has roots in the Southern United States. This track is from his debut studio album under Def Jam Live from the Underground. The main thing I want to highlight about this song is its placement in the tracklist of the album. The songs that precede it, while also fantastically produced, could be construed as heavy bangers and hype tracks. At the point where “Porchlight” appears, the album seems to transition into a more soothing and introspective K.R.I.T., shining a light on the side different to his persona of a “true Southern playa.”

We also cannot overlook the track’s sample, The Commodores 1978 track, “Say Yeah,” which is about as silky smooth as the tracksuits they all wore back in the day. These are the old school tracks that K.R.I.T. thrives on building upon in his library. It’s a softer side of the Mississippi native, which shows love to that special someone that eagerly awaits for him while he takes care of business. It’s a testament to how balanced he is to make sure that he puts out the most quality of projects every single time out.

The last song I want to discuss is my personal favorite: “Soul Food” featuring singer/songwriter Raphael Saadiq off of the album Cadillactica. This song is the quintessence of Big K.R.I.T.’s artistic quality. It includes his complex beat making that appeals to the bass junkies and the lounge dwellers. It’s a softer melody that drives forward thanks to his dexterity behind the panels in the studio. With assistance from the smooth vocal hook by Saadiq, it gives his lyrics the power to really settle in with the listener and resonate with passion. I always find it at or near the top of my most repeated songs anytime I just want to vibe out and relax.

And the most impactful part of the song is the message K.R.I.T. sheds light on: the definition of success. He yearns for a simpler time when the drive for success and happiness was through the scope of your family and friends and not of strangers and critics. It’s a humbling song. What matters most is garnering the respect, love, and support from those closest to you rather than a random Instagram post or album review in a magazine. How can you not respect that?

He’s not going to care much for this statement, but Big K.R.I.T’s music has touched my soul. It embodies everything that I look for in music. And I hope that you give the music the opportunity it deserves to touch your soul as well. I appreciate if you made it this far in the article but stop reading and listen to K.R.I.T. right now. He’s worth your time.

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