Like it or not, your favourite rapper is a major brand. With hip-hop’s ever expanding popularity, and the introduction of social media, the entrepreneurial hustler’s spirit that we’ve celebrated for years has morphed into full blown capitalism: artists that can best articulate their USP in a snappy elevator pitch are the ones destined for greatness. While this may be a blessing for record label marketing departments everywhere, for consumers it’s watering down the product, making rap stars less real, more two dimensional and unable to truly articulate the complexities of the human condition, for fear of being off-brand.
As a Def Jam signee, Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T. refused to fit his conflicted realities into a neat, marketable box. A three dimensional talent, Justin Scott was signed to Def Jam by then senior president of A&R Sha Money XL in 2010 after the release of his acclaimed mixtape ‘K.R.I.T. Wuz Here’. Despite inking a deal as a high priority act, he soon found himself surrounded by an unrecognisable team of staff following label restructuring, and felt that those left weren’t sure what to do with him.
While he was by no means a flop - his first two albums charted in the top ten on US Billboard 200, and his 2012 single ‘I Got This’ was declared the Miami Heat’s theme song by LeBron James as they won the NBA championship - K.R.I.T. wasn’t the star he should have been under Def Jam’s regime. It seems that this was due to a misunderstanding of K.R.I.T.’s fan base rather than anything on the creative front. For example, while the label chased the digital world, they failed to realise how important physical product remained for K.R.I.T.’s fans. “Physical copies were so important to me in these small cities, in the Best Buys and shit,” he explained on an episode of YouTube talk show ‘Everyday Struggle’, “because that shit still means something, especially in the South. Streaming hit and it was like ‘Oh, there’s really no space for you.’”
In 2016 K.R.I.T. announced via Twitter that he was parting ways with Def Jam. He’d tell Billboard that this was because of changes in the business, but refused to be too specific. “It’s definitely a longer story,” he said, “but for the most part, it’s no love lost.”
Now, with the benefit of hindsight, he sees the split as a blessing. “I don’t regret what I’ve had to go through,” he assures us, kicking back at home one Friday morning, “because it got me to this point. You can always say ‘I wish I could have...’ but I’m here now. I’ve got to deal with it as it’s been.” Now afforded the freedom to take his career entirely into his own hands, K.R.I.T. has released one of 2017’s best rap albums, ‘4eva Is A Mighty Long Time’, an expansive double LP exploring two sides to his life as an artist; one disc comprises trunk rattling bass primed for the subwoofers, while the other is a jazzy revelation of the Clark Kent behind his Superman.