Since the early 2000s, hip-hop has lacked vocal visionaries who were able to balance radio-ready sensibilities with artistic integrity and foresight. The past 6-8 years have been a bit of a dark age for the genre, with major record executives and radio pushing flaccid pop rap, encouraging stagnation rather than progress. Fortunately a new generation of rappers and producers have emerged, flaunting their talents while undermining the current climate by striving for more than just arena tours and red-carpet events. Big K.RI.T.'s Return of 4Eva manages to directly address much of the aforementioned issues while placing K.R.I.T. (an appropriate acronym: King Remembered In Time) in a position to be a catalyst of the new movement and the return of consciousness to radio rap.
K.R.I.T. (aka Justin Scott) positioned previous album K.R.I.T. Wuz Here as his final attempt to pursue a career in rap music before hanging it up. K.R.I.T. just happened to compose a premature musical eulogy that was thought-provoking, catchy, and ultimately compelling enough to entice Sha Money XL (Def Jam's Senior VP of A&R, responsible for much of G-Unit's success) to untie the noose and hand Scott a contract. K.R.I.T.'s opus highlights his sonic versatility and ability to craft cohesion between production and lyrics. Although K.R.I.T. Wuz Here is a solid album, it was released independently and lacked the fine tuning that would've made Scott's sound radio-ready. Return of 4Eva expands on the concepts found on Wuz Here, illuminating the exciting, infinite possibilities for a young musician embarking on a path leading to rap immortality.
The production on Return of 4Eva tends toward the nostalgic and seductive, while the lyrics promote a slightly elevated level of consciousness that still resides within the predetermined confines of hip-hop. This isn't necessarily a detractor, although a track like "Shake It" should never be presented as anything more than dismally cliche. K.R.I.T.'s traditionally southern cuts do help balance an album that at times is very emotionally dense: a tactic many great rappers utilize to draw listeners closer to their more thoughtful tracks.
Effective rap albums must have their fair share of care-free moments, and from vicious head nodding to universally memorable choruses, K.R.I.T. delivers. "Time Machine" is extremely likable; if you have a car and love hip-hop, this should become your spring anthem. "Sookie Now" enlists David Banner and some extremely tight syncopation for a classic car-rattler that manages to add a little social commentary to the otherwise traditional Southern rap anthem.
The most impressive aspect of K.R.I.T.'s repertoire -- and possibly the most important in his quest for immortality -- is that he's the sole producer on his work. Scott's self-sufficiency allows his music to transcend the usual pitfalls of many of his peers. "Dreamin'" charts his life-long relationship with rap music, specifically detailing his first musical loves and his dissatisfaction with the industry. "American Rapstar" builds on the concept of "Dreamin'", beginning with K.R.I.T. speaking over the vocal sample: "An A&R once told me you could determine the worth of a song within 15 seconds..." From here he addresses the parallels of hip-hop and drug dealing with mutually symbolic verses over eerie (yet somehow warm) production that utilizes a heavily spaced-out bass line and an atmospheric soul sample that doesn't fully reveal itself until the track's close.
Return of 4Eva finds K.R.I.T. expertly fluctuating between socially conscious blue collar rap and Southern snare-laced candy-painted pimp music, even occasionally juxtaposing or combining the two. The album closes poignantly with three tracks that define Scott's mission better than any of his previous work. Questions addressing the societal measures of success, self-worth and freedom lace "Another Naive Individual Glorifying Greed and Encouraging Racism", "Free My Soul" and "The Vent", each narrating a specific aspect of the perils of his/our condition. "Another Naive Individual Glorifying Greed and Encouraging Racism" takes aim at the stigmas associated with being a black male rapper. K.R.I.T. speaks of progress while a hook coupling a confident piano chord with a jazz horn provides an instrumental boost essential to his powerful message. "Free My Soul", a heartfelt letter to his mother, once again meditates on the superficiality of hip-hop. A piano plays painfully as K.R.I.T. croons, "Mama, I made it/ Got my chain now, I got that Benz too/ I got my Louis Vuitton and my Gucci shoes...But I'm scared it all ain't enough to free my soul/ Lord, Mama, I made it." The album closes with "The Vent", arguably the most honest self-account to ever grace a rap album. Scott presents himself more as a poet than a rapper as synths drift by and a bass drum pulsates -- the only noticeable remnants of K.R.I.T.'s usual production stylings. It's something you'll need to hear for yourself.
Above all, Return of 4Eva illuminates K.R.I.T. as a rare breed of musician: one who carefully composes every aspect of his sound; one who looks to explore concepts in a time of land-lock; one poised to change conventionality. K.R.I.T. is impressively doing all the above while staying true to his roots and maintaining his composure and humility. It truly takes some gumpshun to even attempt that.