Two years later, in late 2009, K.R.I.T.’s career was stalling out. Money was tight; he’d been evicted from his home. “When I called him that last time, he said he was walking to the store with the last change he had,” recounts Shipes, who never wavered in his pitch. “He was like, ‘Fuck it. Come down, let’s try it.’”
In January 2010, Shipes flew to Mississippi with a camera crew to shoot a video for K.R.I.T.’s mixtape heater “Hometown Hero.” The next day K.R.I.T. learned his grandmother had passed away. “You are moving so much and thinking you have plenty of time to do this and that, and something like that happens,” says K.R.I.T., shaking his head at the memory. “That changes everything.”
Refocused, with a now-or-never mindset, he went to work on K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. A compilation of old and new songs, that fourth mixtape captured the pulse of the Southern hip-hop community—and the ear of former G-Unit records president Sha Money XL, who signed K.R.I.T. to a deal shortly after Sha became senior VP of A&R at Def Jam in June 2010. Two years, two mixtapes, four tours, one XXL Freshmen issue cover (in 2011) and two proclamations of “Big K.R.I.T. Day” later (he was honored on October 2 in Meridian and on April 4 in Lauderdale County, Mississippi), Live from the Underground comes as a hard-won victory for perseverance.
Spearheaded by the shake-joint anthem “Money on the Floor” featuring 8Ball & MJG and 2 Chainz, and the rambunctious second single “I Got This,” Live boasts features from Bun B, Anthony Hamilton, Melanie Fiona and a slow-cooked cut entitled “The Praying Man” with fellow Mississippian and legendary bluesman B.B. King.
“I’ve dropped enough music for people to understand where I’m going,” K.R.I.T. says. “It’s about being able to put K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, Return of 4Eva and 4evaNaDay together and making one body of music. Personal, but not so personal you can’t relate. Soulful, but not so soulful you can’t get excited. It’s still performance-based. But it’s all ride, get-to-where-you- going music.”
Will Live be enough to get K.R.I.T. where he wants to go, though? Will it push him into the upper echelon of national rap acts? After all, his MO is more homely than Hollywood. And his reserved demeanor doesn’t scream superstar. “He’s on the path of becoming a great force in hip-hop,” says Houston luminary Bun B, who appeared on K.R.I.T.’s “Country Shit (Remix)” last summer. “In the meantime, just let the brother make some music. That’s how he wants to do it—just really try to make some music he feels represents him. We ought to give him a chance to do that.”
The pressure is on. K.R.I.T. is an artist many see as a torchbearer for the South’s next wave. For now, however, he continues to focus on his craft. “Whether I’m considered the next great or not, I’ve had the opportunity to show you can be yourself minus the smoke and mirrors, the jewelry and all that,” says K.R.I.T. “And it’s okay. I just want to make timeless music.”