About a year ago, a funny thing happened; I realized most my favorite up-and-coming rappers weren’t from New York. Had you told me in the 90s that this would be the case, I might have gotten Prodigy rock-you-in-the-face-stab-your-brain-with-your-nose-bone-type defensive. But like the scope of hip-hop itself, I’ve grown. And I’ve been fortunate over the past couple years to witness the maturation of cats like Yelawolf, Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown, and Big K.R.I.T. into real-deal dual threats, capable of cultivating indie cred while being courted by majors. K.R.I.T. pushes the prototype further, producing his own beats and never allowing one of his talents to outweigh the other.
Live From The Underground is billed as K.R.I.T.’s debut LP, but anyone who’s a fan will likely consider it his fourth record, following a string of three well-received “mixtapes” (the quotes because these releases are rarely in fact mixed). The only sense in which this packaging proves problematic is in the heightened expectations that come with official albums vs. the more casual hype that accompanies mixtapes. By that measure, LFTU isn’t necessarily better than Return of 4Eva, but it isn’t worse either. And it’s on Def Jam so, all things considered, Young Krizzle delivers. Some critics have called the LP “safe,” but let’s push give K.R.I.T. some well-deserved credit for actually staying in a lane, pushing toward the perfection of an individual sound rather than making some vacant, soulless Mc’Rap bullshit. Can I get an amen?
Moreover, LFTU is NOT that safe. After a few preliminary cruising joints, more polished extensions of 4Eva N A Day, “I Got This” hits like Dre on speed. “What U Mean” (feat. Ludacris) and “Yeah Dats Me” follow suit, punctuating the album’s pervasive cool with some attitude. Even the mellow cuts display daring in their own right – “Don’t Let Me Down,” the dope, snare-heavy “If I Fall,” and the nearly acappella “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” are brutally heartfelt and the B.B. King-assisted “Praying Man” sounds refreshingly uncontrived. Anthony Hamilton, Bun B, and Devin the Dude come through for additional mic-blessings, and help fortify K.R.I.T.’s new school ethos; it is indeed cool to be Southern.