Big K.R.I.T. returns to earth with warm, soulful It's Better This Way

Andy Downing, Columbus Alive

With Cadillactica, from 2014, Mississippi rapper Big K.R.I.T. launched into outer space, crafting a futuristic song suite that unfolded on a fictional planet that shared a name with the album's title.

"I was so close to the sun I burnt the top off my roof," the MC stated matter-of-factly on "Life," an interstellar romp where he bypassed comets and asteroids en route to his final destination.

But for his new mixtape, It's Better This Way, which surfaced in mid-October, K.R.I.T., born Justin Scott 29 years ago, returns to his home planet, turning out a series of warm, soul-flecked tracks designed to transport listeners to his birthplace of Meridian, Mississippi.

"I had to come back down to earth a little bit this time," said K.R.I.T., reached by phone prior to the kickoff of his fall tour, which includes a live backing band - a first for the rapper - and a stop at Park Street Saloon on Thursday, Nov. 5.

Opener "King Pt. 4" sets the tone, building on horns that mirror warm southern winds, breakbeat drums and the rapper's breezy, conversational flow. Throughout, K.R.I.T. makes mentions of soil and of emerging from the dirt - the lyrical equivalent of a space traveler kneeling to grab fistfuls of earth after touching back down on terra firma.

Since emerging with K.R.I.T. Wuz Here in 2010, the rapper has amassed a wide, deep catalog of songs that, taken collectively, paint a vivid, flaws-and-all portrait of an individual navigating the strains of day-to-day existence, and his music frequently touches on budgetary woes, romantic misgivings and the importance of faith to maintaining a sense of equilibrium in a world designed to knock us off balance.

"I'm not trying to take the funk," K.R.I.T. said. "I figured out I don't have to rap about nothing other than my life. It may not be glamorous, and it may not have a shock value, but it's still got soul, and there's an honesty to it. When people see me out and about and have conversations with me, I can be myself. I don't have to be no superhero rapper. I can just be K.R.I.T., aka Justin Scott."

Early in his career, K.R.I.T. concerned himself more deeply with commercial success, stressing when commercial radio didn't jump on his latest single. More recently, however, the rapper has come to embrace his lack of a defining hit as a net positive, since it's allowed him to gradually develop a fan base willing to follow his music wherever the creative muse might lead - be it to far-off galaxies or small southern towns.

"When I first started, I wanted a record to take off, and I wanted that attention and those accolades," he said. "But I'm 270 songs in - maybe more than that now - and we can go on the road and perform for an hour and people know all the content; they're not sitting back and waiting for you to play that one radio single."

It helps, of course, that K.R.I.T. refuses to remain stationary, exhibiting a restless creative streak that surfaces everywhere from the road (see: his decision to tour with a live band) to the studio. With Cadillactica, for example, the MC passed off production duties (generally the musician crafts his own beats), working with outsiders like Terrace Martin, DJ Dahi and Raphael Saadiq - a decision that freed him to invest more time in lyrical world-building.

"I wanted someone to listen to [the album] and say, 'Oh snap, I'm on Caddilactica!'" K.R.I.T. said. "And I think I was able to do that with the rhymes and the storytelling because I didn't have to focus on producing it all."

Moving forward, K.R.I.T. intends to expand even further upon his musical repertoire, and he has plans to school himself on a variety of instruments, including the bass guitar, organ and harmonica, to help breathe further life into his ever-evolving sound. And that's just the first step.

"With the kind of music I see myself making in the next 10 or 15 years, I'm going to have to start experimenting, and I'm going to have to start taking risks. And now I'm at that point where I'm ready," said K.R.I.T., who has already started formulating plans for a new record he'd like to release as early as 2016. "I go back and listen to all the songs I've done - and I've put out a lot of music - and it's like 'What can I do different now? How can I say this differently?'

"I want to challenge myself … and keep pushing the music to the point where I'm not part of any genre or sound or style. When people [hear me] I want it to be like, 'Oh, that? That's just K.R.I.T.'s music.'"

Park Street Saloon

7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5

525 N. Park St., Arena District

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