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Big K.R.I.T.: Music Straight 'From The Underground'04:48

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Big K.R.I.T. (Courtesy of the artist)closemore
Big K.R.I.T. (Courtesy of the artist)

Big K.R.I.T.'s distinction as a rapper is the way he spreads his vowels out over his beats like gravy. There's little that's harsh in his phrasing, even as his lyrics can be tart or tough. In general, though, his tone over the course of Live From the Underground is a voice of coolness, of relaxation or resignation, even occasionally serenity.

Justin Scott, the man behind the Big K.R.I.T. image, possesses a sense of history. His immediate influences include other Southern hip-hop acts such as OutKast, David Banner and Scarface. But his musical influences reach back farther than that. He's said he was deeply influenced by soul men such as the gritty-voiced Bobby Womack and the angelic-toned Curtis Mayfield. It's no surprise, therefore, to hear him team up with a contemporary neo-soul singer, Anthony Hamilton, in "Porch Light," and to hear Big K.R.I.T. sample B.B. King in "Praying Man."

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In Big K.R.I.T.'s vivid manifesto "Cool to Be Southern," the Mississippi native summons images of his grandparents and his favorite Southern food, aligning himself with what he frequently calls "country people." He concludes Live From the Underground with a languid version of the title song, singing as well as rapping, invoking the underground railroad as well as his own emergence from obscurity, taking care not to conflate the two. By the time it ends, you feel as though Big K.R.I.T. has taken you on a trip through his version of Southern history: troubled and comforting, bound by tradition and yet bursting with the ambition to be free in every aspect of his life.

Copyright NPR 2016.

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