Friday, June 8, 2012

In Revue- "Live from the Underground"

For nearly three years now, Mississippi-bred rapper Big K.R.I.T. has mined the sounds of Southern rap's past and delivered absolute gold. Starting with 2010's Krit Wuz Here, through April's 4eva N A Day, the man also known as Krizzle has been on an impeccable run. He doesn't just tip his hat to the "old school," he gets all his lessons there, being taught by greats: UGK, Goodie Mob, and OutKast. On his 4th release, and first official LP, Krit has graduated with top honors. 

"Pushin' rhymes like moonshine, with jump like juke joints," Krit introduces himself on the album's title track. The song is essential Krizzle, minor key piano, snarling drum hits, sharp scratches, and warped funk guitar. Adding to this Southern love-letter is a wicked harmonica solo that blares as a gospel choir reminds us this is straight from the "underground." When the track fades away, Krit comes crashing into a strangeland, said by a passerby to be the "mainstream." 

While many might worry Krit's in danger of selling out with this release he quells all fears with a run that ranks among his best on record. Beginning with the clobbering "Cool 2 Be Southern" replete with rhymes about being "Pine-Sol clean," and New Orleans horns Big K.R.I.T. tosses us in his gold-grill purple Caddy and takes us on a scenic ride of the South. The ride hits its high-water mark on single "Money on the Floor" which links Krizzle up with criminally unsung Memphis heroes 8 Ball & MJG and the snarling 2 Chainz. Krit's all car-talk on the track, as 8Ball rocks his Gucci shoes & MJG shouts-out DJ DMD's regional hit "25 Lighters." 2Chainz gets goonish over the sweltering synth and barks his best gun-threats. "No one can it do it better," the minimalist hook declares and for four-minutes we see why.

"Money on the Floor" NSFW

The aforementioned "Money on the Floor," isn't the last track to feature some Southern legends, a croaky Ludacris appears on the dirty "What U Mean?" and Devin the Dude shares a spliff with Krit on "Hydroplaning," the record's requisite weed track. Krit saves the best for "Pull-Up" where rap royalty Bun B rolls up and delivers a dazzling verse that namechecks HBO hits "Sopranos, The Wire, and Boardwalk Empire," while promising that UGK is "for life." If Bun B ever brings back the UGK banner, he has his Pimp C in Krizzle.

Live from the Underground grits its teeth with these bangers, but bears its soul on the type of slowburner Krit began with on "Hometown Hero," and mastered on magnum opus "Dreamin." "If I Fall" featuring Melanie Fiona is a piano-driven affair  that tells three tales. In the first, Krit "stands on his own two," balancing the rap game and the "real working world." The focus shifts to Krizzle's own mother in verse two, where she worries if her son will make it off the block. Finally turning to a lost love, Krit sees his relationship deteriorate, drugs and alcohol fanning the flames. There's respite in follow-up "Rich Dad, Poor Dad," the most moving track on the album. Here Krit's pop drops jewels of wisdom to his son, scored by a poignant piano-figure and militaristic drumming. Krizzle struggles to "be a better man in a world of negligence," and wonders if he's ready for children. The world Krit lives in is one where the gift of Christmas is simply being alive to see it, where cartoons of Saturday's superheroes fade away in your adult years. When he falls off his bike there's no one to pick him up, gravel is his only companion. Through all these trials and tribulations, Krit's motivation is a challenge set forth by his father, to be better than him.

"Rich Dad, Poor Dad"

Backed by blues-legend B.B. King, Krit next tells the haunting slave tale of "Praying Man." "My people done left me behind," the grainy voice of King croons as the praying man breathes down his neck. In the first verse, Krizzle sways in the breeze with a rope wrapped tightly around his neck. Still swinging, Death drops by and lends Krit a helping hand. We next see Krit tossed about in the Atlantic on a slave ship. Betrayed by his brethren, he is bound for America and the Reaper is there to greet him as he arrives. In all of this there is a beautiful metaphor of record labels acting as music's slavemasters, and nowhere is that better felt than in the final verse. Krit runs from the mainstream plantation as hell-hounds can be heard barking and nipping at his feet. Hands bloodied and feet bruised from a life of work for no pay, he takes up refuge in the "underground." Resting his head, Krit sees the Reaper one final time and is delivered from his oppressor forever.

Though most of these underground tunes are strong, a few may have you reaching for the dial. "Yeah Dats Me" comes across as a needless reheating of the "candy yams and collard greens" found on "Country S**t," and "Porchlight" is a bedroom ballad that doesn't get the boots knocking. The tracks are shackles for Krit, the type of mainstream slavery he warns of on "Praying Man." However, Krit is unimpeded for most of the album's hour length, running things and giving his all ala Boobie Miles. When the last note of the reprise wafts into the Southern night-sky, Krit can be found searching for someone to fill his shoes. Krit has become Southern rap's  king, and will wear the crown until the good Lord calls him home. After years of  learning from the South's best, the student has become the teacher. 

"Live from the Underground (Reprise)"

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