Gone are the days when Big K.R.I.T. would hint at his supremacy using the gold coronal logo, his acronym (King Remembered In Time), or song and mixtape titles littered with the word “king.” With the release of his sophomore album, Cadillactica, insinuations are left in the dust as he peels out in his drop top spaceship bellowing “King of the South” in no uncertain terms. The Def Jam MC makes a strong case for the crown this time around, doling out aggressively cerebral bars over plush production to construct an 808-incepted rap dreamscape.

While K.R.I.T.’s first major label release, Live From The Underground, garnered its fair share of critical acclaim, the rapper acknowledged frustration with the lack of production and structural freedom that he enjoyed as a mixtape rapper. Cadillactica seems to be his answer to that, leaving our stratosphere behind to find some breathing room. He pulled in more outside producers than ever to assist with the beats, which, as an almost exclusively self-produced artist, was a sizable risk with a sonically rich reward. The resulting LP is unquestionably a concept album, but not obnoxiously so; all 17 tracks stand firmly on their own. The storyline follows the creation and destruction of the planet Cadillactica.

Krizzle reminds everyone how intros should be done with his album kick-off, “Kreation.” He’s relaxed and poetic over southern tinged G-Funk, letting you catch the vibe before he assaults you with the verbal arsenal. “My Sub Pt. 3 (Big Bang)” does double duty as a key part of the album narrative as well as carrying on his “My Sub” series. It’s a quintessential car banger and, like everything K.R.I.T., a larger metaphor. In this case, for the Big Bang (808 drum machine) that birthed Cadillactica, and the ensuing evolution on the planet. “This is how it all started way back / First the boomin’ voice then the bass crack / And that’s when we first started fire / ‘Cause the speakers wasn’t grounded and he fried all the wires.” The track itself starts out as sparse 808, then becomes slowly populated with more diverse sounds and beat switch-ups. Prepare for a lot of this type of multidimensional storytelling.

Though drums run this show, the outside producers rose to the occasion with some varied musicality, all of which still bear the fingerprints of K.R.I.T.’s heavy creative hand. “Soul Food” is a twangy sepia-toned beat produced by Raphael Saadiq (also on the hook) that equates the lost tradition of good food with the loss of good morals, music, community, and love. It delivers all the rich flavors of R&B with K.R.I.T.’s uncompromising wordplay. The menacing melodies we’ve come to associate with the Mississippi rapper are preserved (by Mike WiLL Made-It in this case) on tracks like “Mind Control.” K.R.I.T. kicks his feet up for one of his more relaxed flows on the album, while E-40 is cleverly cartoonish and Wiz Khalifa just sounds way out of his league.

“Pay Attention” is the Jim Jonsin-produced radio effort, and though it’s a solid single, it wilts next to the bigger moments on the album. Alex da Kid provides the backdrop for one such moment, unsurprising given his penchant for making epically cinematic beats. “Saturdays = Celebration” teeters wildly between tribal and bluesy, with K.R.I.T. throwing existential raps out like darts. Jaws will hit the floor.

“Cadillactica” is another heater, thanks to a ferociously cool hook and K.R.I.T.’s ruthless double-time flow. The hard-hitting, relentless bounce makes it a fitting title track and will be the song to tear roofs off every venue K.R.I.T. runs through. “King of the South” further cements the rapper’s lyrical reign, running a quick spit clinic with colorful inflection and voracious rhymes about why he’s doper than the rest. And while that track gets the king title, “Mt Olympus” might be the record to prove it. K.R.I.T. reads the music industry with time worn clarity and corresponding hostility, while his delivery is so domineering that in spots, his timing seems to bend the tempo to his will.

In some ways Cadillactica is the Big K.R.I.T. we already know. He’s fearless in his content; unafraid to talk about (and even equate) both the material and the philosophical. It’s The South ‘til death, and underground at that. In maybe more ways though, this is K.R.I.T. evolved. Lyrically he’s never sounded surer of himself, and his beat selection proves we have nothing to worry about when he relinquishes some of that control. The album is incredibly dense, packed past capacity with metaphors, even for a concept album. Even without much mainstream appeal, K.R.I.T.’S relatability keeps it accessible, and ultimately, Cadillactica proves to be something the game barely knew it needed. Consider the gauntlet thrown.—Rachel Chesbrough

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