Words C. Vernon Coleman II
Images Zach Wolfe

K.R.I.T. was here. At least he was a few seconds ago. The 25-year-old Mississippi rapper was right here at the edge of a parking lot in Northwest Atlanta, talking about he needed to find an outlet for his barber to plug clippers into. He was hoping for a quick cut before a photo shoot on this cloudless mid-April afternoon. But now he’s missing.

After a short search, Justin “Big K.R.I.T.” Scott is found in the women’s bathroom of the nearby Johnstone Supply, getting a fresh two-blade. How a young Black fella with sagging cargo shorts, “True Blue” Air Jordan 3s and a shirt that reads, “Fuck These Haters & Fuck These Hoes,” managed to convince the store’s old, steely White managers to let him use their business’ commode as his personal grooming space is anyone’s guess. Call it Southern charm.

That charm, along with a buttermilk flow and uncanny honesty, is why K.R.I.T. (an acronym for “King Remembered In Time”) is often mentioned as one of the best young talents in hip-hop today. He’s no overnight sensation, that’s for sure: He’s put in work since 2005, when he dropped the first of his six mixtapes. In March 2010, he joined forces with New York indie imprint Cinematic Music Group, with whom he has released his last three, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here (2010), Return of 4Eva (2011) and 4evaNaDay (2012). K.R.I.T. wrote and produced every soul-steeped track on these “free albums,” as he calls them, capturing the ears of hip-hop purists, backpackers and Southern rap dignitaries alike with a sound reminiscent of the Dirty’s mid-’90s golden era. He also has a growing list of production credits for established stars like T.I. (“I’m Flexin’”), Chris Brown (“Yoko”) and 8Ball & MJG (“We Buy Gold”). Now comes his major label debut, Live from the Underground, out on Def Jam Recordings in June.

“People expect that type of quality from me now,” he says, sitting in a dimly lit room at Atlanta’s Parhelion Recording Studios a few hours after the photo shoot. “I don’t want to let anybody down. I want people to see there will always be some kind of consistency. That is extremely important to me. I got to keep the consistency.”

He’s been keeping it for a long time. Raised in the small eastern Mississippi city of Meridian by his parents, who separated when he was young, and his paternal grandmother, “Ms. Lenny,” K.R.I.T. set aside professional baseball ambitions for music making in high school. “I sold my first beat in 11th grade,” he recalls. “That fucked me up. It’s like, I can go out here and make money right then.”

After a short stint at Meridian Community College, he left school to pursue his rap dreams. He released two solo mixtapes, See Me on Top Vol. I & II, and began traveling to and from Atlanta to promote his records using cash he made selling beats to local rappers. In 2007, Cinematic head honcho Jonny Shipes, a former club promoter who managed L.A. rapper Nipsey Hu$$le, reached out to K.R.I.T. via MySpace. “I started stalking him,” says Shipes of his long courtship. “I told him, ‘Yo, I can do this, this and this for you.’ He literally thought I was some crazy kid from New York.”