Big K.R.I.T. is in love, or at least, he was. That’s what it seems like after listening to his latest record, Digital Roses Don’t Die, a collection of songs detailing the courtship of an unnamed love and the consequences of that relationship. The album finds the Mississippi rapper pushing further away from strict hop-hop structures and finding room to explore a wider sonic palette. His rapping is scaled back here — though the way he involves his audience with every syllable is still unrivaled – and instead, he focuses on the melodic possibilities inherent to these stories of love, adoration, and physical tactility. Some may argue whether we need what is ostensibly a soul record from the same guy who gave us “Saturdays = Celebration” and “Confetti”, but even on the tracks in his past which could bring down mountains, K.R.I.T. always wore his funk and soul influences proudly on his sleeve.
He’s not exactly gone full R&B crooner, but he’s not that far off either. And that might be something that longtime fans need to understand as they dig into this album. Love has softened the edges a bit, but rest assured, there’s no lack of insight and lyrical fluidity to be found. Digital Roses Don’t Die is a subtle, occasionally lightweight, jaunt through the realms of K.R.I.T.’s affections and motivations.
He’s not necessarily stretching past his limits, but he’s able to work some perfectly fine miracles within the context of the record. More often than not, minor wonders pay off more than complicated messes anyway. Which isn’t to say that he foregoes complex realization in favor of simple emotional mechanics – he simply takes the byzantine avenues of love and breaks them down to their associative elements. And he seems to be having a hell of a lot of fun in the process.
In a move that reminds me of Funkadelic, he frames the album around four interludes named after fire, earth, wind, and water. These are half-song, half-spoken word interludes that frame the narrative of the relationship in almost spiritual terms, focusing on the extrabodily connections we make when we open ourselves up in such a vulnerable way to someone else. After the opening “Fire (Interlude)”, he relaxes into “Southside of the Moon”, a track that finds him conveying his love for this woman and addressing his responsibility for her welfare: emotionally, physically, and fiscally. In comparison to some of his earlier songs, it possesses a fairly minimal production aesthetic, but through this more skeletal atmosphere, he takes the time needed to reveal his intentions without relying on clichéd sentiment.
The record then proceeds to run chronologically through their time together, hitting all the highlights you’d expect. Against a funky synth and string-laced background, “Show U Right” continues his rather lengthy description of all that he can do for her, but to his credit, he focuses as much on emotional stability as he does on any sort of material persuasion. Utilizing some faint psychedelics (remember it all goes back to Funkadelic, and maybe Ohio Players), he paints a picture of unfiltered adoration, the kind of wide-eyed romance that can seem unrealistic but feels completely natural when K.R.I.T. sets his mind to its details.
“Cum Out to Play” is about as explicit as he gets here, though the title makes it seem a bit raunchier than it really is. It’s one of the highlights of the album, spilling over with lush instrumentation and a sense of theatricality more of the tracks could have benefited from. The song even ends with fireworks, leaving you with a celebratory feeling, or possibly something more intimate – I’ll leave that for others to decide. “Just 4 You” finds him back on his rap game, though the beat feels slightly dull, and it ends before really building to anything more than a slight declaration of vague connection. “So Cool”, however, does better at showcasing his lyrical talents along with his tendency to focus on melody and musical ingenuity.
“Generational – Weighed Down” feels like the album’s centerpiece; a wild and unconstrained look at self-doubt and the realization that not everything can be perfect between two people. Scratches, bits of brass, and lavish strings float between his verses, building to an emotional release that feels earned and isn’t afraid to acknowledge the pain that even the best relationships can produce. K.R.I.T. looks to the future and wonders if there is any way to guide the next generation, to convince them to make different choices and to prioritize their own self-worth and happiness over other superficial attachments.
He explores the aftermath of the relationship on “It’s Over Now”, a look at regret and acceptance that brings us almost full circle from the opening thrill of new love. Accompanied by acoustic guitar, a thinly clacking beat, and some phased vocals hovering in the background, he admits to his own faults and wishes that he could have done things differently. It’s a sobering reminder that best intentions aren’t always enough, and the experiences we carry with us often affect us in ways we can’t control. He pulls back from the edge on album closer “More Than Roses”, a jazzy reminiscence looking back on the good and the bad and finding that it was all worth it despite the pain and the eventual outcome. We learn, and we move forward – and somewhere along the way, we try not fuck up in the same ways again.