As 2018’s Empire Taste “Joe Budden Old Head of the Year”, it’s common knowledge that I’m not about the latest trends in the hip-hop world. Mumble rap, SoundCloud rap, whatever you call it, I’m not its biggest advocate. Though I can enjoy Future and to an extent Uzi, the incoherent ramblings of Lil Pump and 6ix9ine are neither engaging nor meaningful. All I ever think about is how anyone could like this. This isn’t Kendrick, Vince Staples, or Chano. There’s no meaning or flow. It’s also the reason I haven’t written anything for quite some time now; simply put, a lack of inspiration.
With that in mind, it’s important to note that 2017 introduced one of the biggest dichotomies in the hip-hop world. There was, of course, the usual showcase of SoundCloud rappers marching towards mainstream popularity. But within this circus of bright hair and loud, incoherent vocals, two artists who bucked the trend and turned the entire hip-hop season around for me. With strong production value, insightful narratives, and rapping prowess, these artists bucked the trend of “Gucci Gang” and “GUMMO.” Jay IDK, who goes simply by IDK, and J.I.D are, to me, the two beacons of hope for the future of the hip-hop world. They aren’t mumble rappers, but rather lyrical and narrative geniuses in their own right. The Never Story and IWasVeryBad, both released in 2017, were phenomenal projects in their own rights, and even more so compared to their contemporaries.
J.I.D has been putting music out for years, but his first hit after signing with J. Cole’s Dreamville label was “Never,” which he dropped on February 24, 2017. “Never” set the bar incredibly high for the rest of The Never Story, his soon-to-be debut studio album. The first half of the song describes his frugal lifestyle, not having much and not particularly interested in ‘flexing’. J.I.D is seemingly from a low-income area where his friends haven’t amounted to much themselves. That being said, he has yet to reach his full potential (“But I haven’t really came up, this ain’t noth’”). The track helped me look at my own past but gave me a sense of optimism about my present and future. Just like J.I.D, I haven’t really came up, this ain’t noth’.
The Never Story was released in March of the same year to critical acclaim. J.I.D, who was born Destin Route, was being compared to Kendrick Lamar almost immediately, for example DJBooth’s Brent Bradley writing “The Dreamville artist’s debut album offers the same excitement as K. Dot’s ‘Section.80.’” The Atlanta native suddenly had huge shoes to fill. With much appreciated features from Earthgang, 6LACK, and Mereba, The Never Story provides a meaningful narrative and relatable themes.
Throughout the project, J.I.D is his own hypeman, confident enough in his talents to pull off any style. In a way, he shows his audience how to be their own hypemen and lift themselves up. The album is both a self-help book and an hour-long banger. J.I.D’s versatility shines on the album, from deeper, darker tracks like “Hoodbooger” or “D/Vision” to the mellow environment of “All Bad” and “Hereditary.” J.I.D’s voice is unique and prominent, never getting lost in his beats. His signing to Cole’s Dreamville Records is apparent, as Cole’s rapping and narrative style shines through, amplified by J.I.D’s vocals.
XXL has made some questionable choices for their Freshman list of up and coming rappers over the years, with artists like Pump, Yachty, and more making the cut. That being said, it’s a relief that they were on point with J.I.D. Whatever he puts out, I’ll give a chance, and if it’s anything like The Never Story, it’s going to be a hit.
Meanwhile in Prince George’s County, Maryland, IDK’s debut album IWasVeryBad dropped on major outlets in October of the same year. IDK, who was born Jason Mills, has a knack for flow and range, evident on the album. “Maryland Ass N****” had an inescapable energy and featured a great chorus by Swizz Beatz. I felt like I could relate to an extent to his line “The bad apple that dangled up on the fam’s tree”, being not necessarily the black sheep in my family, but at the very least one who hasn’t 100% followed the expected path (I’m a grown-ass man and my mom still asks me why I write about hip-hop).
IDK’s ability to spin a narrative about his youth and personal awakening is impressive. What stuck out to me about this album is how each track has both a standout feel about it but can also seamlessly blend into an episode of IDK’s story. Going from the high energy track “Dog Love Kitty” to an interlude and right into the relaxed vibes of “Windows Up” and “Birds & The Bees” (the latter being my most listened-to track on the project) feels difficult to pull off and yet, IDK succeeds almost effortlessly. This lyrical trilogy is told in reverse, an action that pays off in the finale.
IDK begins by describing his, acknowledged as regrettable, treatment of a girl he’s slept with on “Dog Love Kitty” (“Dog, I’m a dog, I’m a dog, I’m a dog. ‘Fore I hit, I’m in love, when I hit, I don’t call”). On “Windows Up”, IDK gives us a glimpse into how he got this girl to sleep with him, with the line “We need a drink, then maybe that can lead me to your panties girl. What do you think? (CPR, CPR), I could put the pipe on you, ooh, ooh.” “Birds and the Bees” wraps up the trilogy with the first chapter of the story, introducing the story of how he sees the girl and envisions a night of passion with her. This is evident in the intro of the song, with the verse “Nice thighs, a little bit of butt, uhh. Those eyes ah make a n**** want you. Back shots, a blocka blocka block, uhh. Nobody shoot it like I do”. However, it’s apparent that the girl isn’t interested in sex right away, with the chorus “She said we got so much time for that.” IDK acknowledges that she may have her reasons for not being interested, with the lines “She just wanna get an education on the book shit. Word around town is I’m always tryna book shit. Maybe she don’t wanna be another turned chapter in my page”. Nevertheless, he remains persistent, an effort that ultimately yields fruit, which we knew from the start.
Everyone’s experienced at least some stage of this saga, and it’s truly a standout aspect of the project. The decision to narrate in reverse chronological order is powerful, by letting us look back at the situation in a way that lets us deconstruct stories from our own lives in a similar fashion. In this episode, IDK is hip-hop’s BoJack Horseman, both shameless in the moment and regretful in hindsight. After all, there’s a reason the album is called IWasVeryBad. It’s a brilliant introspective look into self-destructive and hurtful tendencies, disguised by the mask of singability. IDK’s tracks throughout the project hit that perfect balance between hype and relatability. Naturally, not every track is going to feel very meaningful, but even the bangers are enjoyable to listen to and have a flow that keeps you wanting more.
The vocals are accompanied by outstanding beats throughout the whole project, resulting in a debut that is guaranteed to impress. In addition to IWasVeryBad, his singles (such as “No Wave” feat. Denzel Curry) and his mixtapes (Empty Bank in particular), add to my respect for the DMV native. Seemingly drawing influences from R&B, Trap, and old school Hip-Hop, IDK gives off vibes of Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar, Schoolboy Q, and many more throughout his discography. IDK’s perspective shines in a tale of his youth that we can all experience vicariously. There is no doubt in my mind that IDK is an artist to look forward to in the coming years, and it’s a damn shame he didn’t make XXL’s list.
As much as I wanted to use this piece to rant about 2017, today’s hip-hop scene, and how music is doomed, lately it’s become increasingly difficult to convince myself of that (not to mention our editor, Alex, said no to that idea). With J.I.D and IDK, it feels like a second wind has arrived in the hip-hop scene, ready to convince the masses of old heads that meaningful lyrics and versatile flow still have a place in this new school of SoundCloud rap. In the social media era, wild antics garner attention. But looking beyond that layer of hubris and Grade E Beef, it’s clear that despite what’s on the surface, hip-hop will always have some connection to its roots, an influence that’s been passed down from artist to artist since the beginning. For every 6ix9ine, there can be a J.I.D or an IDK. I’m doing my best to try and accept this new wave of what’s become mainstream hip-hop but, should that fail, I’ll be able to count on these two future all-stars.