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Everyone Should Listen To: Big K.R.I.T - 4eva Is a Mighty Long Time
By: Cameron Rogers
Southern hip-hop has had its fair share of groundbreaking artists that have had their influence on mainstream music as we know it. This is particularly salient today, as the mainstream is currently clogged with trap music, a beat style that originated from Atlanta rappers in the early 1990s.
Amongst the legendary artists and seminal moments that occupy the pantheon of Southern hip-hop, it’s fairly easy to rattle off a list of game-changing familiar faces. T.I.’s gritty album Trap Muzik (which popularised the term “trap”), Young Jeezy’s Thug Motivation 101, or any of OutKast’s outstanding albums immediately come to mind. Another name that is known amongst stand out Southern hip-hop artists, is Big K.R.I.T., or Justin Scott as he is known on a quotidian basis. A more contemporary figure, Justin Scott has been active since 2010, and released his latest album A Style Not Quite Free in August this year. The release of this album and subsequent revisiting of his earlier material made me realise that Scott’s magnum opus, 2017’s 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time, is an unforgivably under-appreciated project in mainstream trap music. This is why the album has found itself onto this particular Eklectish segment.
Justin Scott, hailing from Mississippi, is hardly inconspicuous as a Southerner. His strong Mississippi accent is used to his rhyming pattern’s advantage, his self-produced beats are the dictionary definition of the trap style, and his usage of Southern soul and spiritual samples pretty much advertise his heritage. His mixtapes leading up to the aforementioned album contain these three distinctive ingredients, giving his sound a heavily influenced yet also pleasantly unique style. As part of any truly incredible artist’s journey, there are two hurdles that need to be jumped. The first is finding a sound that is unique to oneself, a challenge that is infuriatingly difficult and the single most important factor for standing out. The second hurdle is finding a depth of thematic songwriting that makes for something truly powerful. While Scott jumped the first hurdle years ago, he definitively cleared the second hurdle with style on 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time.
The album consists of 22 tracks (with two interludes), making it a double album at a staggering 85 minutes long. The record can essentially be thought of as two juxtaposing albums in one that are there to compliment and contrast with each other. The first half of the album, opening with the track “Big K.R.I.T.”, is packed with bombast and charisma which is performed (as the opening track would suggest) by Scott’s moniker. The second half of the album, opening with the track “Justin Scott”, is an introspective look at the artist's struggles with insecurity, pressure, and the trials of becoming a better man. The project presents a stark contrast between the ego and the soul, and this dichotomy makes for a glorious finished product.
The opening track sets the thematic tone for this first half of the project as well as the production tone for the whole album. Addressing his alter ego within the first verse - Scott says that K.R.I.T. will ultimately “go farther than I can go, [and] see farther than I can see”. He also states “I saw you grow up to become the kind of king that I’d knew you’d always been”. The applicability of this verse to all of us is what makes it such a fantastic opening. We all have a vision of ourselves in our minds-eye which is the best version of us in existence, and Scott addresses this part of himself as the figure who has built his enduring legacy. In Scott’s opinion, Big K.R.I.T. is the simulacra of his strongest characteristics, and this is reflected in the themes of the tracks which follow.
‘Big Bank (feat. T.I.)’, ‘Confetti’, ‘Subenstein’, 'Ride Wit Me (feat.s Bun B & Pimp C)’, ‘Layup’, ‘1999 (feat. Lloyd)’, ‘Get Up 2 Come Down (feat. Cee Lo Green & Sleepy Brown)’, ‘Aux Chord’ and ‘Get Away’ are braggadocious tracks that showcase Big K.R.I.T.’s swagger, luck, position, bling, and success with the ladies. They’re chockablock full of cheeky bars such as “set my team up, raise my ring up if you play our position; out the park when I swing, it don’t matter who pitching” in ‘Get Away’, and audacious statements such as “I’m on the chase for a bread truck to put off in my safe” in ‘Ride Wit Me’. The lyrical nous of this first half of the album requires a dedicated article on the topic itself.
The music itself compliments the witty bars on this first half. Scott worked with a host of producers on this album, but personally takes on the majority of producing and all of the direction. The first half of this album has a particularly distinct sound to it - like someone has fused T.I.’s Trap Muzik with the chopped soul style of Kanye West’s College Dropout and Late Registration. This unique sound delivers track after track, with my personal highlights being the spiritual-infused ‘BIG K.R.I.T.”, euphoric “Big Bank”, and the upbeat melancholy of “Get Away”.
The vibrancy and energy of part one is perfect for hip-hop fans who are fans of the Southern trap style popularised by many artists prior to Scott. This in itself would be a great album on its own merits. However, it is the second half of this project, and its contrast with the first half, that makes the overall package phenomenal.
Confidence is a patina that is often applied to fragile foundations. This is ultimately the sentiment of the ‘Justin Scott’ half of 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time, where Scott explores the real-life troubles he has been experiencing since the success of his moniker/alter ego Big K.R.I.T.
This is clearly reflected within the second track ‘Mixed Messages’, where Scott questions his own integrity. He openly wrestles with principles he wishes to follow in contrast with his impulsive tendencies, many of which are exhibited in his music on the first half of the album. The tonal shift is as incredible as it is jarring. Scott is essentially tearing down the illusory self, Big K.R.I.T., that he uses to portray his experiences within his music. It’s a beautiful song that serves as the introduction (the ‘Justin Scott’ song prior is somewhat of an interlude) to the difficult themes that are explored in the second half.
While there isn’t a dull moment on this project, the tracks on this half of the album are in a league of their own. The only thing which I can do here is implore all readers to listen - and although I won’t cover each song in detail, I would like to focus on my three favourite songs in this half: ‘Miss Georgia Fornia (feat. Joi)’, ‘Drinking Sessions’, and ‘The Light (feat. Bilal, Robert Glasper, Burniss Travis, Kenneth Whalum III)’.
‘Miss Georgia Fornia’ is a stunning song about Scott’s move away from Mississippi to Atlanta, assisted by soulful vocals courtesy of Joi. The song is used as a medium to explore one’s relationship to their home, and how the journey of success ultimately leads most people away from their roots. The aesthetic of this song is an ode to Southern soul through and through.
‘Drinking Sessions’ is a very heavy track that is thematically similar to ‘Mixed Messages’ in that it sees Scott doubting himself, except in a more morbid manner. The song also looks at the expendability of Scott’s legacy, despite him seeming unconcerned about this in the ‘Big K.R.I.T.’ track that opens the album. This is revealing, as it ultimately shows that the seemingly brazen confidence of Big K.R.I.T. is essentially for show. Either this, or there is a genuine distinction between who Scott portrays himself as in his music, and who he truly is.
Finally, ‘The Light’, an ethereal ray of hope within the second half that is about persisting in the face of adversity. This song sounds like something that would be on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly, partially due to the jazz musicians who feature on the song, but also down to the lyrical content:
“In a world full of alt-rights I was left field Black man born poor, I was black steel Black man born free, this how blessed feel Because my dreams are dreams, don't make them less real”
The song presents a compelling story of someone who has defied the odds and made a success of himself, which is ultimately a testament to Scott’s journey and growth as an individual.
While this album has a somewhat larger profile than other albums previously written about in this segment, it’s rare that such an incredible album is not popularly regarded as the masterpiece that it is. Quite simply, this is one of the best records of the 2010s, and one of the best Southern hip-hop records ever made. Relative to the status this album deserves, it is vastly undervalued.
Justin Scott has turned out great work since this project, however I do not believe he will come close to surpassing this. This album is an exploration of the side of our personalities that drive success, as well as a view of the side of ourselves we keep hidden from the world, that consistently tells us we are not measuring up. To have the two fused together on one project illuminates both respective selves in a way that otherwise wouldn’t resonate with the same force. I couldn’t recommend listening to this album enough.