“Now you’re going to have to go through hell
Worse than any nightmare that you ever dreamed
But in the end, I know you’ll be the one standing
You know what you’ve got to do. Do it… Do it!” — Duke, Rocky IV
Mississippi-bred rapper and producer Big K.R.I.T. found himself in a familiar place on a dark stage in Atlanta’s Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre on September 16th at the BET Hip-Hop Awards. He was alone.
Yes, he’s held his own side by side with some of the best lyricists in hip-hop. He was called out by arguably the best rapper in the world and met the challenge without blinking. He’s been cosigned by OGs. He’s graced magazine covers.
He’s been independent and he’s been on one of hip-hop’s most prestigious labels. He’s been considered next up and subsequently forgotten.
But on that Atlanta stage, knowing that hip-hop fans worldwide would soon look on wondering what the solemn rapper in the police uniform was about to do, he stood alone. Unleashing an acapella version of his searing verse from Kenneth Whalum’s somber “Might Not Be Okay,” Big K.R.I.T. reminded the hip-hop world why.
He stood alone not just because he performed without musical backing or hype men, but because only he could have pulled off this particular performance. Some artists have flash crafted by stylists, jewelers, and publicists that can create the right look and ensure that the right people see it. Others have natural charisma. They were stars before they ever even opened their mouths to rap. Some are even blessed with boundless energy, seemingly able to bend a crowd to their will with perpetual motion. Big K.R.I.T., on the other hand, has soul.
He bared his soul like an exposed nerve on that stage and and echoed the weary calls for compassion that have emanated from the black community since the first slave ship arrived on America’s shores. He represented the history, born and bred in Mississippi, of southern bluesmen who evoked feeling with their voices and told the truth with their words. He made it clear that there is no one like him in hip-hop today. The question remains, however, is there anyone who is buying what Big K.R.I.T. is selling?
On his 2010 track “Now or Neva,” released shortly after announcing that he would be signing to Def Jam, he begins the song with a clip from Rocky IV. In this sequel, the scrappy fighter from Philadelphia was facing an opponent with a seemingly endless supply of resources. An opponent so big and so strong that Rocky felt more like he was fighting a machine than a fellow boxer.