For those of you who haven’t followed XXL’s recent Freshmen of the Year lists, J.I.D is something of an anomaly. Where most rappers selected by XXL lately have been young Soundcloud rappers who mostly carry on a mumble-rap tradition, J.I.D is a 28-year-old, signed to J. Cole’s Dreamville label, who’s already dropped a debut studio album. Much like his mentor (who joins him on the frenzied “Off Deez”), J.I.D wants to be a lyrical rapper; his technical skill is reminiscent of Cole, his flow of Eminem, his nasally tenor and conscious lyrics of Kendrick. And at this moment in his career, with so many eyes on him, first impressions are critical. Safe to say, then, that J.I.D impresses plenty at the beginning of DiCaprio 2: The first seven tracks here are all back-to-back bangers animated by J.I.D’s trademark, free-associative flow (“151 Rum” and “Off Deez” especially).
Three features in the middle of the album, though, start to see the waning of the MC’s personality, ceding agency to the soulful stylings of Ella Mai (“Tiied”) and the East Coast boom-bap of Joey Bada$$ and Method Man (“Hot Box”). Each track here is never less than serviceable, but this middle section doesn’t have the X-factor that makes, say, J.I.D.’s collab with A$AP Ferg (“Westbrook”) pop. The whiplash between J.I.D’s menacingly subdued, tip-toe flow and Ferg’s bombastic “We done came up!” hook, however, gets completely re-contextualized by the album’s best and most heartbreaking track, “Just Da Other Day.” Here, J.I.D rides in a lane all his own, with a descending sing-song hook that dances over melodramatic, melancholy piano chords. An ultra-deep, booming bass kicks in under the verses, which J.I.D seems to wring out of his soul, his raspy voice trailing off multiple times as he tells a story about coming up broke through abstract details (“Tryna find a place to live, shit I’m is right now / In doubt of my next move, get a pill, bite down). It’s a chilling track, and one that shows J.I.D easily trumps his mentor’s sentimentality with sheer, harrowing emotion.
Published as part of What Would Meek Do? | Issue 5