Big K.R.I.T. / B.o.B.
K.R.I.T. Wuz Here / The Adventures of Bobby Ray
(Self-released / Atlantic/Grand Hustle; 2010)
By Colin McGowan | 5 June 2010
It’s fitting that Janelle Monáe is featured on B.o.B.‘s scattershot debut because they seem to have similar worldviews: seeing hip-hop as an amoeba that can consume and commingle with everything from intergalactic pop to stadium rock. While Monáe’s The ArchAndroid is more ambitious and more successful in fleshing this vision out, The Adventures of Bobby Ray isn’t nearly the mess it could be. It should be first noted that Adventures is greasy with the fingerprints of about five too many A&R reps; B.o.B. is sloppily packaged as a jack of all trades—rapper, singer, producer, multi-instrumentalist. Either someone pandered to his desire to fell the tree Andre mistakenly barked up with The Love Below (2003), or they convinced him he’s an interstellar Drake, encouraging him to bury his verses in layers of guitars, synths, and crooning.
Damningly, this bullshit congeals pretty astoundingly on a song-to-song basis. Even if the young ATLien is encumbered by the shackles of major label servitude and the lack of focus that often accompanies the confluence of youth and multiple talents, most of Adventures is pretty great. Vacillating between buoyant synth-pop and melancholy sections of R&B, it halts only twice for a pair of fairly straightforward rap tracks (“Bet I” and “Past My Shades”). For all the obfuscation of actual bars, B.o.B.‘s flow proves unstymied; he wraps his elastic staccato around each of these beats like gaudy bows. Meanwhile, a handful of duds—“Lovelier Than You” is aimless, saccharine, and ultimately an inferior version of the perfectly pleasant “Nothin’ on You”—serve as ever-present reminders that this album teeters ominously over the cliff of suck.
The expected problem with Adventures is that it makes very little sense as an album, the only thread running throughout the sentiment that each track, without exception, sounds like an attempt at a single. This harkens back to my “too many A&Rs in the studio” gripe, but the other edge of that sword is that some of these songs are or would make really incredible singles. B.o.B. may be too eager to please at this stage of his career, and Adventures is perhaps too stuffed with ideas and styles to be deemed a true success, but the triumphs fucking reverberate. So, while the tracks sometimes pair off like vegans and steakhouses, take both parts of “Airplanes”—especially the revelatory Eminem verse on the latter installment—the big, fat overproduced hook on “Don’t Let Me Fall,” or the maudlin jazz-stomp of “Past My Shades,” and be satisfied. His earnestness in interviews suggests that B.o.B. will inevitably battle with his label and grapple with himself for possession of a less schizophrenic identity in the future, but, for now, he walks the line rather brilliantly between scatterbrained eclectic and harebrained bullshitter.
Meanwhile, Big K.R.I.T. is cranking out some of the most self-assured hip-hop this side of Wayne and Kanye’s cartoonish delusion. K.R.I.T. Wuz Here is the best rap record of the half-finished year precisely because it’s wholly unconcerned with the outside world. While Adventures seems like it was recorded with 25 people from Atlantic in the room, one wonders if, with the exception of guest spots, K.R.I.T. recorded the entirety of Wuz Here in complete solitude. Where Adventures attempts to be encyclopedic in the styles it incorporates, Wuz Here is concerned only with growing K.R.I.T.‘s production aesthetic. The former is obsessed with radio play and public perception; the latter is as self-contained and honest as a love letter.
You get the idea. K.R.I.T. is the perfect foil to his fellow Southerner, shirking stadium hooks for dense verses. The writing on Wuz Here is often captivatingly smart and nuanced, in large part because K.R.I.T. uses his pen to accomplish so many different things. He can construct awesome non-sequiturs like “gator talk reptilian” and “third coat muddy water”—shit that just sounds cool—without shying away from stark introspection, lamenting, “Did it big in the club with my cash out / But dealin’ with a lot, so I drunk until I passed out.” He can deftly combine two disparate elements, like apprehension and fly-talk: “I heard the angel wings was kinda heavy / Scared to put ‘em on my back, so I threw ‘em on a Chevy.” He doesn’t kick any straightforward story raps, but on “Neva Go Back” he constructs a vivid portrait of rural poverty, throwing in asides like “Maybe the dope boy’s baby need some new clothes” and details such as scattered G.I. Joe toys that remind him of a deceased relative. The brilliance of K.R.I.T. lies in these subtle moments, how he answers his own ambitiousness with such measured, vivid verses.
His more immediate appeal relies on his ability to construct a trunk-rattler. The hook on “See Me On Top” slaps like a T.I. single; the sonorousness of “Country Shit” would sound at home on G-Side’s immense Huntsville International (2009). This is the stratosphere in which these bangers reside. As he reminds us on numerous occasions throughout the album, K.R.I.T. produces all his own beats. That he effortlessly shifts between big productions like these and smooth, quiet numbers “Neva Go Back” and “Glass House” speaks to his ear for and ability to chop a diverse range of samples. He makes lilting strings sing with the same ease he elevates a soul sample into ethereal thump.
While I’ve tossed out a few comparisons as reference points, all of this diverse, satisfying majesty carries the stamp of its creator. This isn’t our introduction to the next T.I. or Mannie Fresh; it’s our introduction to the most incredible rapper/producer to emerge out of Mississippi, his best moments equaling David Banner’s, and, as a complete project, better than anything Banner’s ever released. While Wuz Here‘s penultimate track “As Small as a Giant” buzzes with poignancy, it’s apparent that the poorly-sketched crown that adorns its cover may some day adorn K.R.I.T.‘s humble head (though he’ll probably never see his name on the charts). On the contrary, B.o.B. had the number one record in the country a couple weeks ago, which is exciting in a way, as his record is wildly inventive compared to the Godsmack album that shot up to number one the following week. Seeing these two artists mature over the next few years will be exciting for different reasons: B.o.B. is still figuring out what he will become; K.R.I.T.‘s telling us who he already is.