When you’re from the Deep South, trying to maneuver through an industry full of so-called city slickers can be exhausting. It’s not draining in the sense that city folks are far more advanced than rural natives. The taxing energy comes from ignorant questions rooted in stereotypes that city folks ask Southerners. The idea that being “country” equates to backwardness and dim minds can cloud the judgment of hip-hop fans, critics, and even graduate students at some of the world’s top universities.
As a native of Laurel, Mississippi, a town of 20,000 residents, perched just 56 miles south of Meridian, Miss.—the city that birthed 31-year-old rapper, Big K.R.I.T.—a feeling of comforting familiarity fills the space as he and I discuss some of the ridiculous questions about the ‘Sip that come our way. We chuckle over questions like, “What was it like the first time you saw a building?” or “Is it all dirt roads down there?” or “Is it still segregated down there?” Yes, a graduate student at Columbia University really asked me if segregation was still legal in Mississippi. Sadly, Andrew Fulgini argued in his book, Contesting Stereotypes and Creating Identities: Social Categories, Social Identities and Educational Participation, that cultural stereotypes do hinder forward mobility of people of color. Battling preconceived notions of being from Mississippi is a demanding feat for K.R.I.T., and myself, but we can handle it.
K.R.I.T., whose moniker is short for King Remembered In Time, is in the Rotten Apple to promote his new album, 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time. Yes, there are buildings in Meridian, but even so, the “King of the South” rapper has spent ample time in NYC. In fact, his best friend and fellow MC, Smoke DZA, is from Harlem’s infamous 116th Street, so he’s not at all awed by the city’s fast pace and tall buildings. Furthermore, K.R.I.T. has a solid fanbase in this city. He is the topic of discussion on Brooklyn blocks, in Queens barber shops, and in Uptown project hallways, where street critics argue over who’s the best MC and producer: Big K.R.I.T. or J. Cole?
New York’s sweltering summer has faded away like enigmatic stars that disappear into the universe, and the gold-tinged crisp of fall has descended upon the city. On this chilly and breezy Wednesday morning, I’m standing on the bustling intersection of Harlem’s 116th Street and Lenox Ave—the exact corner that once housed the well-known Temple No. 7, where Malcolm X taught during his days as the face of the Nation of Islam—waiting for K.R.I.T. to arrive.
A Secret Service-esque black-on-black suburban pulls up in front of Amy Ruth’s, a local soul food spot, right on time. The equally soulful MC, sporting his neatly trimmed beard, hops out of the SUV donning an all black ensemble of a pair of jeans, t-shirt and denim jacket. Despite the fatigued look on his face hiding behind his tinted frames, K.R.I.T. greets me with a smile and neglects to verbally or physically expose his fatigue. But one gets the idea that if asked, he’d gladly admit that he’s drained, but blessed.
These days, the rapper born Justin Scott is slimmer than he was two years ago. That’s because he’s exercising. He eats healthy sh*t like kale and asparagus, which further blows holes through weak theories about country boys and girls only chopping down on fried chicken, collard greens, pinto beans and cornbread. I mean, we do. But we’re also human, and aspire to be healthy like other humans from up North.
“I don’t want no eggs,” K.R.I.T. says after making our way through the tidy empty restaurant, which had just opened. Ornate hand-drawn portraits of Michael Jackson, Diana Ross, George Washington Carver and other African-Americans icons cover on the walls. “I don’t eat eggs,” K.R.I.T. continues. “[It’s] the smell. I must’ve had a bad experience when I was younger. But you know what? Greens, turnips, I hated them sh*ts growing up.”
I’ve only been with Big K.R.I.T. a few minutes and already, I’m convinced that one of the reasons for his existence is to disrupt the perceived notions people have of Mississippians. The former Meridian High School baseball player lost his virginity in the music game with the release of his mixtapes dubbed, See Me on Top Vol. I and II, respectively. That was back in 2005. Soon thereafter, the passionate rapper/producer moved to Atlanta to further pursue his dreams of rap stardom. While in the ATL, he made ends meet by selling beats to local and aspiring rappers, and (unsuccessfully) tried to peddle his mixtapes (Jeezy had the city on lock back then.) But K.R.I.T. continued recording music and making beats while sleeping on couches and eating whatever meal he could get his hands on.
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