Most hip-hop heads can easily rattle off a few dozen (or more) albums that qualify as bona fide masterpieces, seminal song suites that embody the best of the genre’s rich recorded canon to date. But ask them to name double-albums that fit the same bill, and that number invariably dwindles to no more than a few, most often comprised of 2Pac’s expansive All Eyez on Me (1996), the Notorious B.I.G.’s posthumous Life After Death (1997), and the Wu-Tang Clan’s “triumph”-ant Wu-Tang Forever (1997). Oh, and for good measure, you can also throw in OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below (2003), which rode the ubiquity of singles “Hey Ya!” and “The Way You Move” to become the best-selling hip-hop album of all time with more than 11 million units sold, solidifying southern hip-hop’s rightful place not just on the critical map, but the commercial one too.
The truth is, aside from these rare shining specimens of double-LP dynamism, most multi-disc efforts—hip-hop or otherwise—typically fall victim to diminishing returns. This is largely due to the inevitable presence of superfluous filler fare, which constitutes little more than mediocre B-side tracks best left to single releases and rarities compilations designed for an artist’s diehard fans.
Enter Big K.R.I.T.’s new double album 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time, the Meridian, Mississippi-bred, Atlanta-based emcee-producer’s most ambitious recording yet, which proves the exception to the rule outlined above. Beyond proving to be one of the most fully realized and masterfully orchestrated double albums hip-hop has ever witnessed, the 22-track 4eva is also unequivocally one of 2017’s finest long players, regardless of genre classifications.
A heavyweight on the mixtape circuit since 2005, the sharp-tongued rapper born Justin Scott has steadily—and deservedly—earned widespread respect across the hip-hop community in recent years, serving as an ace-in-the-hole contributor for many of his fellow artists’ projects. David Banner, Big Boi, BJ The Chicago Kid, Talib Kweli, Lecrae, The Roots, and T.I. are just a few of the hip-hop luminaries that have enlisted Big K.R.I.T.’s lyrical prowess.
K.R.I.T.’s passion and devotion to the grind paid off in 2010 when he signed his first major label recording contract with Def Jam Records, a partnership that would yield two excellent LPs in the form of 2012’s Live from the Underground and 2014’s Cadillactica. Although each album showcased his progression behind both the mic and the boards, resulting in pervasive critical applause, they met with lukewarm commercial reception, which prompted Def Jam and K.R.I.T. to part ways in the summer of 2016.
But to paraphrase Alexander Graham Bell, where one door closed, another one swung wide open for K.R.I.T.. In the wake of his dissolved relationship with Def Jam, K.R.I.T. reclaimed his independence by launching his own Multi Alumni label and releasing a grand, brave manifesto of renewed purpose and self-awareness in the form of 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time. Truly a concept album of two halves that unfurls as a unified, cohesive whole despite featuring multiple producers, the first disc is a hard-hitting, braggadocious expose of K.R.I.T.’s public alter ego, while its noticeably more contemplative and subdued companion second disc finds him reconnecting with his off-stage identity as Justin Scott. And it is precisely this duality, this dichotomy between its creator’s ego and humility that can be heard across the 22-song effort and discerned in the album’s quasi-spiritual artwork, that makes 4eva K.R.I.T.’s watershed moment to date.
K.R.I.T. kicks off the affair with his signature confidence and energy on the ambient, self-referencing (and self-produced) opening track, delivering one his most cogent mission statements yet: “Mind, body, and soul connected to the Most High / Even when times got low / Uhh, look how they hate me, but copy me / Possibly I was the one with components and properties / To be the greatest of all time, but you won geography lottery / So I keep kicking, flipping tables, chosen and favored / Fuck being major when giant is greater / Fortune and fame but you fuck for the label / Truth is what paid me / Settle down, settle down, I was angry but I'm better now / Niggas talking raising bars, mine amongst the stars / Give it time to level out / If you worried about the flow, I'll make a beat / Write you a hook that you repeat.” He then proceeds to practice what he preaches on the haunting, DJ Camper produced lead single “Confetti,” during which he exposes the transparency and superficiality of other rappers in the game.
Other highlights abound across the first disc, most notably with the feel-good third single “Aux Cord,” a nostalgic voyage down musical rivers, with Krizzle namechecking classic soul, blues and hip-hop artists, encouraging listeners to “Let this eargasm take you to heaven.” Atop DJ Khalil’s atmospheric, multi-textured soundscape, he reminisces, “Instant Vintage, might as well, that Raphael Saadiq, yeah / Voodoo moved your soul, Cruisin' was made for L-U-V-ing / Badu food for thought, eat out of Apple-treeing / The sky forever golden, R.I.P. B.B. King / Prince and MJ that we played, barbecue to death / Summer shine, summertime, Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff / Willie Hutch scored the mack while Foxy Brown was slept / Billy Paul, Me and Ms. Jones, I always knew she crept / Barry White, Love Unlimited for the Soul Brothers.” Good taste in music is obviously another of K.R.I.T.’s many laudable qualities, I think we can all agree.
Elsewhere, K.R.I.T. invites UGK’s Bun B to pay homage to his legendary partner-in-rhyme Chad “Pimp C” Butler on the moving, Organized Noize and Cory Mo produced “Ride Wit Me,” the chorus of which features the late emcee’s archival vocals dusted off here to great effect. Speaking of Organized Noize, the acclaimed production trio’s Sleepy Brown is joined by Goodie Mob alum CeeLo Green on the WLPWR co-produced “Get Up 2 Come Down,” a smoothed-out track that displays K.R.I.T.’s lyrical dexterity to a tee. And while many tributes to inanimate objects frequently come off as campy and trite, K.R.I.T.’s ode to the all-mighty power of the subwoofer—and bass culture, more broadly— “Subenstein (My Sub IV)” is clever and thoughtful, as he rhymes, “Oh my sub, it knock and it bang / From the lows to the highs, it shakes the whole frame / Of the old school whip, it swang whenever I come through / I've been basing all night long / My sub won't do me wrong / All night long / My sub keep subbing on.”
Whereas the “Big K.R.I.T.” first disc leans more heavily on the visceral dimensions of its creator’s lyricism, the “Justin Scott” themed second disc elevates his penchant for the cerebral. A handful of the tracks here find the remarkably self-aware K.R.I.T. attempting to reconcile his public and private personas, whether through acknowledging his own contradictions over Supah Mario’s electro-shine sonics on “Mixed Messages” or conceding the fleeting comforts of the so-called high life on album closer “Bury Me in Gold,” where he reflects, “Big houses, nice cars, all that stuff cool but its materialistic things that we strive so hard for as human beings / And it’s not fulfilling, it doesn’t take away the pain / It doesn’t take away the loss / You have to search higher / You have to go higher for that / The Higher power, that higher energy / And that’s what I’m striving for.”
On the laid-back “Price of Fame,” K.R.I.T. examines the psychological implications of hitting the big time: “Bottle by the night stand, that ease the stress / Dealing with depression, pills on the dresser / Fiending for affection so I'm buying out the section / Now I see what fame really gets you.” Considering the disproportionate value traditionally bestowed upon one’s level of notoriety and bling within the more mainstream strains of hip-hop culture, K.R.I.T.’s willingness to question what it all really means is refreshing to behold.
“We got a love and hate relationship, I know / But, I'll keep you on my mind, no matter where I go,” K.R.I.T. proclaims on the wistful “Miss Georgia Fornia,” featuring Joi’s soulful, yearning vocals and inspired by his move from his native Mississippi to Atlanta, with California representing aspirations of achieving stardom. “It's my song about leaving home,” he recently explained to NPR. “I left Meridian, Mississippi and I moved to Atlanta and then there was the possibility of moving to L.A. So I wanted to create a song about how Mississippi would feel, what she would say to me and how I would respond. I don't get to go home as much, either. Everything's changing. My niece and nephews get bigger. So I wanted to create a record from that perspective, almost apologizing for the time that I haven't been there.”
The most poignant and musically uplifting moment appears on the second-to-last track “The Light,” a stirring composition that finds K.R.I.T. ruminating about what it means and how it feels to be a black man in America today, as perhaps best manifested on the third verse: ““For me when I barely can smile / And the sun refuse to shine when I'm out in the wild / And the raindrops tap the window pane on my room / Scared I lost faith, pray I find God soon / In a world full of alt-rights I was left field / Black man born poor, I was black steel / Black man born free, this how blessed feel / Because my dreams are dreams don't make them less real / Nightmares are still the same thing / I've fallen from grace, wishing I had wings.” The all-star ensemble that unites K.R.I.T.’s eloquent, impassioned lyrics, Bilal’s insistent vocals, Robert Glasper’s ever-emotive piano, Kenneth Whalum’s sublime saxophone riffs, and Burniss Earl Travis II’s foundational bass makes “The Light” the supreme standout among this standout-heavy song suite.
On 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time, Big K.R.I.T. mines emotional depths and exorcises personal demons with a lucidity and sincerity seldom heard these days on contemporary hip-hop records. Whether or not this album grants him the mainstream attention that has thus far eluded him throughout his ever-evolving, yet still criminally underappreciated career remains to be seen.
But regardless of how bright the spotlight shines on him in the weeks and months and years to come, it’s reassuring to know that K.R.I.T. is destined to embrace the vicissitudes of his personal and professional life, without compromising the purity and integrity inherent within his distinctive musical vision. K.R.I.T. translates to “King Remembered In Time,” and chances are that this exceptional album will be remembered as one of the year’s finest and arguably its creator’s magnum opus. That is, until he releases his next masterpiece in due time.
Notable Tracks: “Aux Cord” | “Get Up 2 Come Down” | “Miss Georgia Fornia” | “Mixed Messages” | “The Light”