NEW YORK, NY -- It was probably hard for Big K.R.I.T. to envision Tuesday night four years ago.
It was then, in June 2010, that Krizzle hit the stage at Manhattan's Highline Ballroom, as an opening act for Jay Electronica, and was showered with boos while performing "Country Sh--," off of his breakout mixtape K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, which had dropped just two months earlier.
But on that same stage for a stop on his Pay Attention Tour last night -- three mixtapes and a debut album later, with his sophomore effort due in November -- the Mississippi native played to a packed crowd of his country cousins -- regardless of where they were from.
After openers Two-9, K.R.I.T. hit the stage, sprinkling tracks from throughout his catalog. Much of the evening was a party, with energetic anthems like "Return of 4Eva," "Cool 2 Be Southern," "My Sub" and "Just Last Week" creating a uniform bounce inside the club. But towards the end of the set, the Def Jam signee showed his other side. First, there was "REM," his reflection on the release of and reception to his debut album, mixed with a contemplation on the state of hip-hop and his own future.
As he often does when bringing his set to a close, K.R.I.T. geared up for "The Vent," a somber, meditative fan-favorite -- but injected it with some new meaning, dedicating it "to Mike Brown and his family."
The opening lines of the track, released in 2011, became particularly poignant: "A mother lost her child, I tried to ease her pain/ 'It's only God's will,' she says she felt the same."
But things ended less on a sad note than an aggressive one. After "The Vent," the 28-year-old launched into "Mt. Olympus," his inspired, combative opus from earlier this year, written in response the attention he received after Kendrick Lamar mentioned him on "Control." His music hadn't changed, he thought, but suddenly people's interest had. "Now I'm lyrical all of the sudden/ Well last year they claim they ain't understand me," he raps.
Luckily, people will have another chance to understand him -- and the fact that he's not just lyrical but immensely talented -- with the November 11 release of Cadillactica. On Tuesday, the only album cuts he performed were "Mt. Olympus" (a bonus track) and the lead single, "Pay Attention." But last week, I was one of a handful of representatives from various outlets for whom he played the majority of the project.
It's a bit of a concept album. Cadillactica, he explained, is a planet that he creates at the beginning of the disc and destroys at its end. In between, there are various stages of existence: Early, carefree times full of fun and partying; and ultimately looking back and hoping those that you leave behind will be alright when you're gone.
He's got a few friends in tow for the sophomore release, including E-40 and Wiz Khalifa on "Mind Control" and Lupe Fiasco on "Lost Generation," the album's last track. Also, for the first time, he's branched out and brought in other producers -- a sure shift for someone who has produced all of his own music in the past (and he still does plenty of that here). The results offer an expanded sonic palate without becoming a drastic deviation from his comfort zone. Raphael Saadiq produced and is featured on "Soul Food," Jim Jonsin helmed "Pay Attention," and Alex da Kid co-produced "Saturdays = Celebration."
What really stood out on that first listen (since that's all we got) was "King of the South." It's akin to "Mt. Olympus" in that K.R.I.T. has something to prove, and he goes on a ferocious lyrical tour de force to do it. He's making bold claims and doing his best to back them up.
Whether or not Big K.R.I.T. becomes the King of the South remains to be seen -- but the days of getting booed are surely behind him.