It takes more than good intentions to transform the South. It takes money.
What the hell is a Scalawag?
A few weeks ago my sister texted me, "And 'Other Side of the Game.' Nigga was legit singing."
I responded, "Nigga think he Erykah Badu so bad."
The next day a friend enthusiastically texted, "AND THEN THE ERYKAH BADU SENSIBILITIES ON 'OTHER SIDE OF THE GAME.'"
Each time I reveled in our mutual enjoyment of Big KRIT's new mixtape 12 For 12, a project composed of twelve freestyles that he released on Sound Cloud on July 6. But more than a simple mutual enjoyment, I was thrilled by the type—the type of generational bridging and nostalgia KRIT, a native of Meridian, Mississippi, was able to elicit in less than half an hour. He takes a series of well-known beats and transforms them, both sonically and substantively. He pulls us in with the allure of contemporary hit songs then draws on his Southern rap predecessors to build links between past musical influences and today. In doing this, he takes us for a ride temporally, from the mid-90s to now, and geographically, from Dallas to Houston to New Orleans to Atlanta and coming to rest in rural Mississippi, where he sets his stories and ponders what it means to be from Mississippi relative to the north and those other places.
I was slow—three days—to finish the entire mixtape because once I reached track six, a gritty tale of frustration, anger, and perseverance set to Bryson Tiller's "Rambo," I played it on repeat for two straight days, hanging on to every word and every note, two minutes and 23 seconds at a time, again and again. After a freestyle that included provocative bars such as "Never wanted more than I needed, just tryna maintain / Make a couple moves and show my brothers the same thang," KRIT descends into a slow, melodic hook, still in tune with the beat from "Rambo," but simultaneously drawing on the rhythm from the hook to New Orleans-based rapper Juvenile's 1999 classic "Ha" from his 400 Degrees album. KRIT raps:
I recognized the homage immediately and fell in love with the way he put an old school spin on a new sound. His ability to do this track after track is the strength of this project, which I'd call his best work since Live from the Underground in 2012. His classical Southern influences run as diverse as Juvenile, Outkast, Houston-area screw music, and Erykah Badu. The last of which makes for another of the more interesting tracks, "Other Side of the Game," where, to quote my sister again, "nigga was legit singing." After a verse over a smooth, soft beat, KRIT flaunts his singing voice, surprising us a little:
And with those lyrics KRIT brings us to Mississippi and soothes our ears with the harmonious sounds of our state's trademark struggle. Building on a long history of Mississippi music that centers on the obstacles residents face, he sings to us about hopelessness and the futility of educational accolades in a place where there is nowhere to cash them in, where the poverty and unemployment rates are among the highest in the nation and black people suffer twice as severely on both metrics as their white counterparts. He gives rhythm and soul to the statistics, calming us with the music and almost convincing us that everything will be ok.
But his typical commentary on Mississippi and the South starts early in the album, and it falls on us heavily. Track two, "Country Niggas Anonymous," speaks before the song even begins. The very title is spooky, particularly for those of us who feel displaced or otherwise distant from our roots or forced to hide an important part of ourselves that we may not even be sure is still there. It conjures images of sitting in a dimly lit community center room and standing before a circle of onlookers to say, "My name is Robert… and I am a country nigga." The title set the bar high, and the track didn't disappoint, flowing through familiar scenes of Easter Sundays and racial solidarity in the black rural South, interspersed with the standard rapper bravado, and concluding with probably the heaviest bar on the album:
It hits hard, with layers and layers of depth. Maybe "outside looking in" does mean you come from Mississippi. On the outside of freedom, on the outside of equality, on the outside of the nation's thinking. Hate, hurt, exclusion, deprivation, stigma, sitting at the bottom of the map looking up, looking in at the places you aren't supposed to go and the things that you aren't supposed to become. And perhaps one day you get there and people are sure to remind you that you don't belong. All in one bar.
My primary complaint with the mixtape is that it ends too soon. With a playtime of less than thirty minutes and songs averaging about two minutes each, the tracks and the album seem to end suddenly just as you begin to settle into them. At the end of "Country Niggas Anonymous," KRIT says, presumably referencing someone with him in the studio, "My nigga like 'Goddamn, why you stop,'" and I'm sure the rest of the audience echoes his friend's sentiments. Why you stop?