I should have seen this coming. After blowing up my car’s speaker system over the summer, “Country Shit” was released as an official single in late September of 2010. This was not particularly surprising, as the track was definitely the highlight of Big K.R.I.T.’s debut, K.R.I.T. Wuz Here. However, the single’s cover was a little off-putting, given the context. The picture that was made to exemplify the toughest hip hop song of the year was not of the Mississippi rapper making some badass pose or even standing around some lavish cars like he does on the cover of his newest mixtape, Return of 4Eva. Instead, a single called “Country Shit” had the cover of K.R.I.T. facing away from the camera, a look of contemplation, almost shame, completely betraying the track’s braggadocio. The picture looked less like a countrified victory lap and more like an apology in the vein of the cover of Gucci Mane’s The State v. Radric Davis.
After listening to Big K.R.I.T.’s newest mixtape, Return of 4Eva, released a year after K.R.I.T. Wuz Here, I understand why K.R.I.T. looks far from proud on that cover. During the shooting for that cover, K.R.I.T. was most likely in the midst of writing Return and knew that the song was nothing like what he would release next. His appearance on that cover looks now to be him disavowing the boasting featured so prominently in the track, the rapper embarrassed by the song’s virile immaturity.
Return of 4Eva has no brutal barnburners like “Country Shit”, nor does it have any aggressively dedicated songs like “See Me On Top” or even mid-tempo tracks like “Hometown Hero”. The most aggressive Big K.R.I.T. gets on Return of 4Eva is the ominous bassline to “Time Machine”. Other than that, he’s in full-on relax mode, more comfortable to spit motivational rhymes and critique the rap industry over soul hooks like that of K.R.I.T. Wuz Here tracks “Neva Go Back” and “They Got US”. The man premises “American Rapstar” with a speech about how you have to listen to his songs in full to truly understand them. A song title like “Another Naïve Individual Glorifying Greed and Encouraging Racism” gives off some pretty intense holier-than-thou vibes. K.R.I.T. has a preference for elevated criticism on Return of 4Eva and you get the impression that he wants you to be ashamed of yourself for expecting something as juvenile as another “Country Shit”. Return is Big K.R.I.T. trying to be taken seriously, and, unfortunately, he’s a lot less fun as a result.
However, the songs of Return of 4Eva are good for what they are. About half of K.R.I.T. Wuz Here was made up of serious reflections on the world, his home state and hip-hop, so it’s by no means bad that he’s continued down this route. Songs like “Amtrak” and “Lions For Lambs” would fit well on his debut for their catchy laid back hooks and inventive production. Despite its heavy-handed title, the aforementioned “Another Naïve Individual” is a genuinely affecting track, K.R.I.T. telling various establishments he refuses to be pinned down as an African American stereotype. He’s relatable when he talks about how his mom didn’t want him to rap about faith in “The Vent” and when he builds up a lavish beat only to tear it down as an interrupted dream in “R4 Intro”.
The problem I have with Return of 4Eva is that it has no ballast, no significant shift in style between the romps of self-awareness. As a result, the hazy beats and pleasant rhymes tend to blend together in the album’s second half, their melodies not memorable enough to warrant second listens. Luckily this doesn’t happen enough to turn Return into a bad album, but it definitely keeps it from being the magnum opus many have made it out to be. It also doesn’t help that the times when the album tries to be somewhat rowdy fall awkwardly flat. It’s hard to get past the chorus of “Sookie Now” (add another “sookie” and you got the song’s hook), inconsequential David Banner verse and all. “I put that on my sub” is a strange hook to build a song around, and, unfortunately, K.R.I.T. lacks the charisma to pull off the track titled “My Sub”. Ultimately, many of Return’s songs lack distinction, a quality that can be crippling to an album made up of twenty-one tracks.
So my criticism of Return of 4Eva isn’t so much that K.R.I.T. is trying to separate himself from the shameless posturing of his compatriots, but that he’s trying so hard as to make himself sound self-satisfied and to detract from the core elements that made K.R.I.T. Wuz Here so refreshing. The album does yield a new and interesting face of K.R.I.T., but it is in the moments when he opts for lavish production that sounds like the work of genuine party starters. The beat that K.R.I.T. creates around Return’s intro is ultimately made to be a joke, but it’s invigorating to hear him explain what he calls the “R4 movement” over it, even if it’s for a fleeting moment. “Shake It” is a similarly excellent jam in which K.R.I.T. shows off his suave side, and it’s a triumphant success. The song is one of Return’s highlights and I would be happy to see K.R.I.T. expand upon that style in his next release. However, based on the great seriousness K.R.I.T. attempts to get across on Return of 4Eva, I wouldn’t hold my breath.