Last week, Big K.R.I.T. released his Def Jam debut, Live from the Underground. The project put on display much of what the 2011 XXL Freshman has become known for: Southern pride, countrified flavor, varied production, personal songs and more. One track in particular was unlike anything Krizzle listeners were used to, though. “Praying Man,” the album’s penultimate cut, painted a picture of three different slave narratives in its verses. Adding to the power of the track, it featured vocals and guitar playing from musical legend B.B. King. Big K.R.I.T. explained to XXLMag.com how the concept for the song came about, what it took to get B.B. King on the record, what it was like being in the studio with him, and more. —As told to Adam Fleischer (@AdamXXL)
In the beginning, I was just working on a record, and I wanted to make something super impactful. I kind of came up with the hook first, and then coming up with the verses. But I didn’t want it to be about me. I wanted to kind of step outside of myself and write a song in the perspective of what I think somebody may feel or how I think somebody may look at the situation that they’re in that they never wanted to be in or that they never thought they’d be in. In a slavery format, though.
I wrote the verses based off of three different slaves: The perspective of a slave hanging from a tree; the perspective of a slave that jumped off a slave ship; and the perspective of a slave that was running from a lynch mob.
When I finished the record, we had already been riding around listening to it a lot. It came about one day in a general conversation between me, DJ Wally Sparks, and Big Sant, like, “Yo, what if I put B.B. King on this record?” And we all kind of sat back and laughed about it, like, “Yo, that would be crazy!” But you never really think you can make some shit like that happen.
Over time, I took it super seriously. Like, “OK, what if I really got B.B. King on this record? This is a very powerful record. And I think being able to tie the two generations together to get somebody that’s so impactful in music to be a part of this song, lord willing, would make people pay more attention to this record. And the content, and where I was tryna go, and hopefully open people’s eyes up about something that’s still super sensitive and it may be over, but there’s still a lot of things that go on with modern day slavery. It shouldn’t be forgotten. A lot of people died in order for me to have the freedom I have now.”
So I reached out to my lawyer, and my lawyer reached out to somebody on his side on the legal team. And it happened to be a cat that works side by side with B.B. King, named Jason—he’s a good friend of the family—and he was already a fan of my music. When he got the record, he showed mad love, and immediately listened to it, and told B.B. about it, and let B.B. listen to it. From that point, B.B. was like, “Yeah.” He liked the content, and it wasn’t like I was trying to make a hip-hop song and feature B.B. King on it. It was like I was tryna merge blues, hip-hop, and something super conceptual and cinematic and a message in one song.
When I did it, I was trying to create something that sounds sample-ish. But B.B. is a kind of artist that people sample, so when he sings, it sounds like a sample anyway. A lot of people thought that I sampled something he had already did, but no. I actually created the record. I got the opportunity to go to Las Vegas and record with him. He sat down and sung the hook. I was in the studio when he sung the hook. And he actually sat down and played the guitar on the song—which, for me, was a monumental moment in my life. You’re talking about someone I’ve seen countless times on television—documentaries, live performances on television—mad books. And he’s sitting right there, playing the guitar over a song that I produced, and singing a hook that I had the opportunity to write.
It was mind blowing, to be honest with you. I walk in, and he was just chillin’. “Hey,” you know what I’m sayin’? I’m like, “Hey, you B.B. King!” It’s one of those situations where you meet somebody and you immediately look around the room, Does everybody else see this?
He was super cool. He told me about touring life, and staying consistent, believing in yourself, making music that comes from your heart. How it was to work with a lot of his friends, like Eric Clapton and John Mayer. It was crazy.
Definitely [want to shoot a video]. It’s something I really wanna do and I pray that we can make it as cinematic and as powerful as possible.
I never would have imagined this would have happened to me in my career—and to top it off, on my first major label album.