When talking about the fastest rising stars in the hip-hop scene, most people go straight to trap artists in Atlanta, such as Playboi Carti and Lil Yachty, or the SoundCloud phenomenons of South Florida, like Lil Pump and Kodak Black. These figures have dominated hip hop recently, with mantras of prescription drug use, face tattoos and general teenage angst. New York Times music critic Jon Caramanica called it hip hop’s punk movement — a sort of rebellion against traditional rap culture.
Then there is J.I.D., who, over the last few years, has quietly been making a splash in the Atlanta hip-hop scene. As a soft spoken, introspective rapper, critical of much of the drug use and excess that Lil Pump and others represent, he is the antithesis of the SoundCloud movement.
Originally written off as a Kendrick copy-cat, his first studio album, The Never Story, showed that he had the technical prowess to make his own name but was more raw experiment than refined product.
With his sophomore project, Dicaprio 2, J.I.D. expertly blends his technical flow with diverse sounds and some of the most clever lyricism I’ve heard in a long time, proving that he is far from a one trick pony.
Although J.I.D. distances himself from Atlanta trap with his lyrical maturity, he in no way tries to refute his hometown influences. This is apparent from the second track, “Slick Talk,” which opens with the fast and bright hi-hats and heavy bass that typifies the style.
With the classically trap beat laid in the background, J.I.D. abandons the triplet bars that would make for just another trap song in favor of the rapid fire rhymes that only he is capable of. But just as quickly as this comes, it leaves, as the beat switches mid-track to a slower, heavier sound. J.I.D. proceeds to lay out his mission for this album — and he could not be more clear. He is challenging all of Atlanta, proclaiming, “When I’m done, please know that I was trying to diss y’all.”
Just two tracks later, J.I.D. does what some previously thought was impossible. The track “Off Deez” features J. Cole, and yet it avoids disintegrating into a fireball of cringe. J. Cole’s verse is pretty good, as far as J. Cole verses go — I’ll leave what that means up to your opinion on J. Cole — but it is undeniably outshined by the man signed to J Cole’s label, J.I.D.
In this track, J.I.D. really shows off the range of his flow. While he does flex the speed that originally drew attention to him, his verse starts off at a pace no faster than spoken word. However, through all of J.I.D.’s flow changes, the energetic track never loses momentum — a testament to how he has grown in the year since The Never Story.
The high point of the album comes almost halfway in with “Off da Zoinkys.” I hesitate to call it an anti-drug anthem, as so many songs with this structure serve to make rap more palatable to half-woke white people.
If you’ll allow me to take one more shot at J. Cole, just look at his song “Friends.” He tackles the problems of drug use as a person separate from the community. He plays the role of someone who has risen above the struggles of drug use and looks back on his hometown with almost a sense of disdain as he sees everyone who failed because “they ain’t got ambition.”
While J.I.D. starts with a similar accusatory frame toward the community, he quickly shifts to an introspective angle. He doesn’t simplify the issue of drug-use, switching his language from someone who uses drugs to someone who is quitting almost every bar. In the end, he claims, “I ain’t trippin’, I ain’t sayin’ that it’s wrong / But, it’s some other shit we can be on,” further enforcing the message as an anthem of self-improvement rather than demonization of his community.
In the very next track, “Workin Out,” J.I.D. presents something completely different. In a style reminiscent of his good friend 6lack, J.I.D. half sings, half raps his way through a somber piano-based beat. In the track, he expresses his dissatisfaction with life, despite the successes of wealth and fame he’s attained.
For a man who, at the beginning of the album, claimed he was trying to diss every other rapper, the song is extremely vulnerable. In the chorus, he repeats, “I been working hella hard, shit ain’t really working out,” but he gives no indication to what that “shit” might be. The track is an unapologetic look into J.I.D.’s own mental state.
This album does so many things right, but I can’t call it a masterpiece — it definitely has its flaws. It is undeniably top-heavy, with a second half that is good but not as great as the first seven tracks. Furthermore, while J.I.D.’s lyricism is as clever as it gets, it is almost too accessible. On the first listen, you can hear J.I.D.’s skill instantly. However, you aren’t rewarded on the second, third or even 10th listen like you are with one of the greats such as To Pimp a Butterfly.
But most of all, it just seemed too easy for J.I.D. He made the album sound effortless. This isn’t a masterpiece resulting from years of work — it’s a message of what’s to come. J.I.D. is only getting started, and he’s almost guaranteed to get even better.