In 2018, Dreamville Records have been busy cooking, with four official releases from Bas, Cozz, EarthGang and the co-founder himself J. Cole already through their pipeline. But the year hasn’t ended yet and we have yet one more release to come from ATLien J.I.D, who has been running with a brand of rap that is far removed from his Atlanta contemporaries.
One of the newer members of the label having signed in February 2017, J.I.D already impressed with his intricate rhymes, dexterous flows and hands on approach to everything attached to his music as displayed on his debut ‘The Never Story’. Fast forward to 2018 and two days after he has dropped the spirited lead single ‘151 Rum’ from his new project, I get the chance to sit down with the 2018 XXL Freshman in a secret location in the heart of East London to talk about life, how he approaches his art and his upcoming sophomore album ‘DiCaprio 2’.
My excitement in meeting J.I.D is so real that Okari, my helper on the day, and I rush to the location worried we are running late. Funnily enough we’re earlier than we’d thought, and 35 minutes later with a couple of bathroom breaks in, the man of the hour arrives flanked by his managers. Warmly greeting us as we make our way to the designated spot for our chat, after some settling in and a few icebreakers, we get right into it.
Straight off the bat, I begin by talking about J.I.D’s recognition of Leonardo DiCaprio for roles in films like ‘The Revenant’ and ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’, but I’m curious where the correlation is and what this album means to him; “It’s just another stepping stone, with what you said about him being a great actor and people never knew. Same thing with me being a great rapper and people didn’t know. I always knew. Now three years later I’ve got deals, sold out tours around the country and the world. Everything has been a process so we just made sure to cross our I’s and dot the T’s.” We laugh as he fluffs that line, but I dust him down as we continue. Given the fact that J.I.D is such a big fan of DiCaprio, it’s only right to ask if he’s met the man himself. “Not as of yet but I feel like it’s gonna happen. I got a weird feeling since I started that this is gonna happen.” I remind him that if Offset can meet Ric Flair then he can definitely meet Leo!
We speak on the show of lyrical exercise that is ‘151 Rum’ and I tell J.I.D that I can’t remember the last time a rapper put out such a striking lead single. It certainly sounds like a statement of intent but I need to know if it was in fact the intention. “Me and my team, we say songs like this are not full songs. It has a full thought but it’s not a full song to us. It’s like candy, everybody is gonna like it, they gon want some more of that. It’s a moment that everybody can live with.” It’s apparent to see that J.I.D has adopted the paper (or candy) trail approach, teasing his album, dropping fire singles (check out his session on Colors Berlin for ‘Workin’ Out’), and all while maintaining a state of suspense for his fanbase.
Zeke (his manager) asks if I’ve listened to the forthcoming album ‘DiCaprio 2’, and since I’ve had the chance to preview it, I respond that it genuinely feels like a contender for AOTY. What has piqued my curiosity is wanting to know where the influences have come from to give the album its feeling of urgency, J.I.D chips in telling me, “basically shows and seeing how much fun people have with some of the songs I perform. It’s high energy and some versatility, but it’s all stuff that I feel that people can vibe to. It’s made to invoke feelings.” The brief mention of high energy brings to mind his statement on the release of ‘151 Rum’ in an Instagram post ; “this album is for car rides, working out and smoke sessions”. When I ask which track he would regard his personal favourite from the album, he’s non-committal, “it changes every day. But I would say ‘Slick Talk’ [is my favourite]”
Listening back to ‘The Never Story’ illustrates the striking difference between these two albums. Where his debut not only told his own story, but the story of a sea of millennials, his transition to ‘DiCaprio 2’ is commanding in a way that could be daunting for some other rappers to execute successfully. J.I.D however isn’t fazed at all, when pressed about whether the transition was hard he replies, “not really because all of it, is just another part of my story. All this? Everything I rap about is all true stories, all facts in some capacity, it’s all a part of my story and how I’m trying to present myself.” Expanding on his answer he is carefully precise about his analogy of a writer as a 28 year old who is even more exposed; “At the same time it’s just another… like you know how an artist paints? You work on this painting, you done with the painting, let other people enjoy the painting. And then you gotta paint more paintings. That’s how I look at it, this is like a whole nother canvas, me splashing around tryna come up with the greats.”
I feel a sense of telepathy going on as his painting analogy goes hand in hand with my next topic; the importance of visuals to his brand. “Music and visuals go hand in hand. The music gotta be great but the visuals have to come with the same energy. I take it serious because I want to be a film writer or maybe a director one day, I wanna be involved in those types of things. So I take that [the visuals] just as seriously as my lyrics.” I add that I have friends who have disregarded an artist’s new release because of a visual or when the artwork wasn’t up to scratch. Without digressing, I bring it back to the topic at hand and acknowledge Scott Lazer’s (current Director of Video Production at Dreamville) influence on the visuals coming through the label. J.I.D acknowledges some of the creative direction for his visuals, but keeps his cards close to his chest. “He’s definitely involved in one of the ones we shot. It varies but it depends on what style we’re looking for and the direction we want to go in. Scott is amazing, super creative. He’s a deep thinker and I love Scott but as I said it does vary.”
J.I.D is naturally soft spoken and a considerate speaker giving answers that often sound carefully premeditated even when his response is rapid. With that in mind, I tackle the next question with sensitivity given that I intend to touch on the memory of the late, great Mac Miller. After brief condolences, I ask how Mac contributed to ‘DiCaprio 2’, “he helped with some of the post production; he just came in as a friend and helped out. Just a good person, that’s all. Inspiring.” Understandably it’s apparent this is all J.I.D will say but before we move on, he tells me his favourite song off of Mac’s last studio album ‘Swimming’ is ‘2009’. A few weeks later J.I.D performs at Mac Miller’s tribute concert ‘A Celebration of Life’, reminding fans that they were meant to be on the ‘Swimming’ tour together at that very time.
As I get into my next question, on hearing the names of certain artists, a groan erupts from J.I.D that makes everyone laugh. I promise him I won’t be mentioning any of the features on the album, and in the age of the leak, I honestly can’t fault him for it. So we quickly move on, skirting around dropping names and get into how hands on he’s been with the production and features. “Definitely hands on, especially the production. I use guys that nobody would even know. I remember going on Twitter one day and I told people to send beats to an email that I made and some of those beats actually made the project, I feel like two of those beats made the album.” As he says that, my face has a somewhat puzzled look as I’m trying to think of which beats he’s referring to, J.I.D expands “the features are with family for real, for real. I don’t really work with people because it’s lucrative or whatever type of gains [it brings]. I only work with people that I feel stand for something or have intentions of pushing the culture forward.” Strong words from the XXL Freshman and given the lack of features on his own projects, this approach suits him perfectly. I add that the feeling I get from his projects, is that he wants to carry them on his back as opposed to having 20 features for decoration. “Exactly!” he exclaims.
Next, I carefully explain to J.I.D what a guilty pleasure is, when it comes to music – something you secretly enjoy that your homies would roast you for – and then I proceed to ask him his, “uhh… Bhad Bhabie”, he responds. It’s not ironic considering I recall an earlier tweet from Okari where he stated that she was secretly on people’s playlists not long before this interview!
I like being in conversations with some of the people that I grew up admiring and try to emulate.
I move on to talk about someone who no one would consider a guilty pleasure, André 3000. As one half of THE great Southern rap duo OutKast, Andre unequivocally exclaimed that “The South got something to say”. J.I.D has been described as one of the next big lyricists in rap, so I ask him to describe how he feels about this. “Dope as hell. I like the different conversations that people bring me in. I like being in conversations with some of the people that I grew up admiring and try to emulate.” At this point, Okari chips in by asking who J.I.D feels he is in competition with… “I compete with ghosts, shit that’s already been done. I’m competing with 27 year old Jay-Z. I’m not thinking of current. It’s more of a time-case sensitive; I don’t even know how to describe it.” Myself and Okari tell J.I.D that we understand as we always use 20-year-old Nas (on ‘Illmatic’) and 26-year-old Jay Z (on ‘Reasonable Doubt’) as reference points to ascertain what perfect raps sound like.
The self-confessed social media nut once described his music as “a cluster fuck of good shit” so I ask him to discount his flow and tell us what his best skill is from a technical standpoint. “My flow is dope, but I try to say a lot of slick shit to get people like “ah he’s an asshole” just to show that I have the wow factor.” In response to that answer, I start rapping the chorus to ‘M.O.M’, the cool collaboration between J.I.D and fellow Atlanta rapper Quentin Miller, as that song proves his point.
“Beat? Nobody! I’m cooking all of them,” J.I.D answers confidently, while we all break into laughter about his response to my question about who on his label could beat him in a rap battle. When pressed to elaborate, he says “I don’t take myself too serious, I take shit serious but I’m not like “ah you can’t laugh at me”. I can be joked on and I accept that, but what I’m gonna say will hurt way more what anybody gotta say. I’m comfortable about myself so I think what I would have to say [in a battle] would be much worse than what would get said about me.” It is clear to see that J.I.D is a living vessel for the spirit of competition, his come up is similar to that of 6LACK, who was actually a battle rapper in high school. The years of being overlooked can really help hungry artists sharpen their tools and it’s evident in J.I.D.
J.I.D’s has a seemingly laissez-faire approach to the music, unsurprising since he has another 100 songs in the tank. With regards to what he wants fans to take from his sophomore release ‘DiCaprio 2’, he doesn’t ask for much at all. “I just want them to resonate with the stories, as long as they feel something, relate to a song and spread the music, my job is done. They can say what they want, they can say they hate me but say “man listen to this shit I hate this”. I don’t care about what people say but honestly I wouldn’t be making music if nobody felt it, so I try to be like a vessel. I would remove myself [from music] if I wasn’t doing what I should be doing.”
J.I.D has eyes on dinner (and some good tree) so our interview turns to a chill session inevitably having to end at some point. With the sun about set on us, I ask what the future holds for him. “Hopefully, God willing the greatest shit. I wanna make music for a minute and create forever.”
On October 31, the birthday boy announced that his long awaited album ‘DiCaprio 2’ would be released on November 26.