To be completely free transcends the body. To be free means not being shackled to the expectations of others, not constrained by the handcuffs of the past, and most importantly, not living within the prison of your own fears and doubts.
Music can be a powerful freedom song, but if the mind and spirit isn't free than the music won't be either. J.I.D. is free, and that's why he's been selected as part of our Top Prospects series with A3C.
Decades before he and his EarthGang compatriots (themselves TopProspects alumni) had formed the Spillage Village collective and begun making the kind of waves that signal an impending hurricane, J.I.D. was just a kid growing up in East Atlanta with visions of becoming a sports star. Super Bowl celebrations, gold medals on an Olympic track, those were the dreams that danced in his head, although as one of seven children music was a constant presence.
Of course we listened to T.I., Wayne, Outkast, all that. But one of my older brothers was big into Nas, DJ Quik from the west coast, he had real diverse taste. My other brother would listen to real soulful music, my sisters would listen to Lauryn Hill, my pops would listen to Sly and the Family Stone, it was just a clusterfuck of good music. I loved it.
I wouldn't have been brave enough, or inventive enough, to come up with the term myself, but now that J.I.D.'s used it, it strikes me that a "clusterfuck of good music" is an excellent way to describe his sound now. We talk about artists that are breaking boundaries or blurring genre lines, but much of his music is so thoroughly mixed, sonically and thematically, that it becomes hard to even identify the ingredients mixed into the sonic gumbo.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before "Momma Told Me" was even a glimmer of a possibility J.I.D. was chasing his athletic future on a football scholarship to Hampton University. While in Atlanta the Eastside/Westside difference between J.I.D. and EarthGang felt like planets apart, but hundreds of miles away in Virginia, a shared hometown proved to be a strong common bond and J.I.D. was soon drawn into their creative orbit, spending hours not in class or at football practice learning how to make music from scratch. They had no mentors, no connections, it was just them and the limits of their creativity and resourcefulness.
When J.I.D.'s time at Hampton came to a close - he was kicked out in his senior year for reasons he'd prefer not to divulge - and his athletic career ended as well, he decided to rejoin EarthGang in Atlanta and throw himself headfirst into music with the same intensity he used to throw himself into breaking up slant routes.
When I got kicked out of school, that made the decision for me to lock in. They were back in Atlanta building, we made that decision [to form and pursue music], and it's been on since.
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In short order that's meant spots alongside EarthGang, including an excellent verse on "Momma Told Me" above, a growing collection of Spillage Village music and, with his collective always at least in the atmosphere around him, a growing body of solo work, most notably last year's DiCaprioproject, which found him stretching out even further musically, and since then he's only continued to make progressively more...free music. That really is the best word for it, free.
J.I.D. is careful to insist that he considers the core of what he does doesn't take place in headphones but onstage. "That's how music started, being around people," he said. "Face to face, that's powerful. That's where I give it up at. "
But while a dynamic live show has certainly been crucial to his building buzz, it's hard to ignore J.I.D.'s growing momentum on wax as well. He just appeared alongside J. Cole on DJ Khaled's new album, Spillage Village as a collective has a project on the way, intriguingly titled Bears Like This Too Much, and he's got his own EP on the way this fall, which he says is still in the process of crystallizing.
All that points to a signing in the future, but J.I.D. is also insistent that while he won't shy away from pronouncing GRAMMY-winning ambitions, he's remaining focused on the task in front of him, making great music; that's the foundation upon which any skyscrapers will be built. And when I ask him if he has a grand vision for his career, a musical mission he's hoping to accomplish, he pauses for just one thoughtful moment and replies:
Freedom, for everything, for everyone.
NOTE: We've partnered with A3C for this upcoming group of Top Prospects. Over the next two months we'll be unveiling four other selected artists, culminating in what's sure to be the greatest musical performance in the history of human kind during the A3C festival in October, along with a boat load of other great content we're currently in top secret production on.
TICKETS: Tickets to our A3C TopProspects show are now on sale. You can cop tickets to just the TopProspects show here (a festival pass will also get you in), or get a $20 discount on a festival pass by entering the code 20topprospectsa3cwhen you buy.
By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.
Original illustration by Joshua Hayden aka JHAY. Follow him on Instagram.