In June of 2012, it seemed as if Meridian, Miss., native Big K.R.I.T. (an acronym that stands for King Remembered In Time, born Justin Scott) was poised and ready to take over the world with his major label debut album, Live from the Underground. He was fresh off the successful release of his 4evaNaDay mixtape just a couple months prior and the album's lead single, the infectious Willie Hutch-sampling "I Got This," was making an impact on the airwaves.And then: nothing. The album was well received in general terms, but failed to live up to the lofty expectations of critics, fans and even K.R.I.T. himself.
"To me, it was one of those things where I dealt with so much," he says. "I went from doing mixtapes and having the freedom of just throwing out music [whenever and without worry]...but when you're signed and working on a major label album, it's a bit more organized. It's a lot that goes into it when you're sampling. It's a lot that goes into it when you're creating a song."
The uncharted waters that came with K.R.I.T.'s situation at Def Jam Records were, to an extent, too choppy for his liking and the undertow nearly ended up carrying him away.
"You have to deal with the business aspects as well," he says. "I wasn't 100-percent prepared to do what I normally do with a project and also deal with the business end. I think it bled over into my music. It bled over into how I felt about having to work under those circumstances. Dealing with sample clearances was one of those things that I never had to deal with before and it was mind blowing."
The entire ordeal with his album release proved to be a humbling learning experience, but it wasn't the first time. K.R.I.T. speaks fondly of his upbringing in Meridian — more specifically, the support of his dear grandmother, Miss Lillie.
"She was very passionate about me following my dreams and doing what it was she wanted me to do," he says. "Ultimately, she was scared about me venturing into the music industry just because of stories she had heard growing up, but she played a big part in how I am as an individual and as a man. She was born in 1923 and instilled a lot of morals in me that carried over into how I am not only as a musician, but as a human being. I think people can hear that in my music."
In that music, it's not uncommon to hear samples of music by soul greats like Curtis Mayfield, Willie Hutch, Al Green and even Ann Peebles, but it's difficult to ignore the influence of the recently departed Cleveland native, Bobby Womack. When asked if the two ever had a chance to meet, the answer is rife with regret.
"Man. I didn't, brother," he laments. "I was so sad about it. It was mind blowing. With me wanting to work with him so bad and being so influenced by and sampling his music, doing my research about what he had been through and was able to accomplish musically... to not be able to work with him was disappointing."
It isn't all gloom and doom for Big K.R.I.T. though. Following the release of Live from the Underground, he returned to the mixtape circuit in 2013 with the eponymous King Remembered In Time. The project proved that his flashes of greatness were not a fluke. One of the tracks, "R.E.M." even goes so far as to apologize for the quality of Live from the Underground. Moving ahead to 2014, K.R.I.T. is gearing up for his second Def Jam album entitled Cadillactica. The concept behind the album is that Cadillactica is a planet that K.R.I.T. has created for himself.
"In reality, it's my conscious mind," he says. "It's where all of my creative ideas come from. It's where all of my ideas come from. All of my passions. All of my struggles. All of my pain. It all comes from Cadillactica. Everything is a little bit obscure and a little different because in your mind it is like that. Your mind is abstract, your ideas are abstract and I wanted to make my music seem a little abstract."
The album's first single (and name of his current tour) is "Pay Attention." Produced by Jim Jonsin and featuring Rico Love, the track is a departure from K.R.I.T.'s usual do-it-all approach to creating music.
"For me, it was about getting out of my comfort zone," he explains. "I was used to producing my own records and singing my own hooks. It was out of necessity at first because I couldn't afford to pay for beats and I didn't have anybody to sing on the hooks. At this point in my career, I want to write and create in a manner where I can always take it to the next level."
This Saturday, the Pay Attention Tour is set to hit the Grog Shop with Two-9 and Dirty Jones on the undercard. K.R.I.T. has been on tours as the headliner and also as the opening act for artists like Macklemore and Wiz Khalifa. As it turns out, he's just happy to be out there performing, regardless of the venue or crowd size.
"It doesn't matter," he says. "It could be five people there or it could be 5,000 people there. I'm going to put on my show like it's the last show and it's fully packed in that thing because I remember when nobody cared to see me perform and when there were no shows at all."
Even after enduring so many setbacks and disappointments, Big K.R.I.T. is still being touted as one of the better artists in the industry today. He's had his music in television advertisements and he's continuing to grow and strive for greatness. He's in it for the long haul.
"I think this is my journey," he says. "Some people's success comes faster, some people's success takes time. It takes years. It takes development. I look at it like this: I'm still building my foundation. There's bricks still being laid but once it's right, this building won't ever come down."
Big K.R.I.T. with Two-9 and Dirty Jones
9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11. Grog Shop, 2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Heights, 216-321-5588. Tickets: $22-$55, grogshop.gs.