I was introduced to Jay IDK during A3C 2015. It was one of those rare introductions where we met in person before any of his music graced my ears. I saw him onstage before visiting his SoundCloud, and what I witnessed was so impressive that it was natural to seek out the music he performed. Subtrap, his debut album, took me back to Lupe’s The Cool and Kendrick’s GKMC - albums that were built around a cohesive narrative and brilliantly executed, more like movie soundtracks than just a collection of songs. He has a gift for storytelling, a keen eye for detail, and a passion for music that shines through with every record. A chance occurrence introduced me to one of my favorite artists on the rise.
Subtrap showed me that Jay’s mind works like a journalist - he could take a mundane subject and find an angle that’s enthralling and thought-provoking. Trap music comes with a connotation of being shallow and one-dimensional - only about drugs, bitches, and money - but Subtrap takes the basic trap foundation and builds a Taj Mahal on top.
Having a great debut project sets the bar high for everything that will come after. Any doubts that Jay would drop the ball with his sophomore effort were dispelled once he revealed the album cover - a picture of the artist sitting on the hood of a vintage Porsche with a noose around his neck being held by a man who is the spitting image of Benjamin Franklin. As the album is named Empty Bank, I believe that the powerful imagery represents how we’re strangled by money and materialism.
Money has always been a topic of discussion when it comes to rap music. Rappers want to tell us how much they make, how much they spend, how much their label advance was - there's a constant showcase of wealth in the music. Braggadocious rhymes have continued to perpetuate that rappers are meant to be flashy and wealthy, and this form of thinking is ingrained in listeners. Every year, Forbes releases a list of which rappers have earned the most money over the preceding twelve months. The highest earners is a staple series, one that tells us who is raking in the most millions. Forbes and hip-hop overlap when money is the concern, so it’s extremely fitting that Jay IDK is the first rapper to ever premiere his album on Forbes’ website. An album that delves into the mind of a rapper who isn’t rich but has moved beyond being poor, it’s the perfect album to stand on a platform like Forbes and another testament to Jay’s way of thinking differently.
Forbes: A lot of artists rap about money, but very few go in-depth about what it means and the pressures associated with it. What inspired you to make an album entirely about money?
IDK: The truth and what I would see at the time when I was making it. I just started to see money in a different light. Growing up, I wouldn’t say I was poor. But my parents, although we lived in a nice, middle-class home, they had their struggles. There’s been times when there was no lights, there’s been times when there was no heat. We were running off of a generator for a while at one point. So money wasn’t ever something that I could just get anytime.
When I started doing music and my last project started to move, I started to do a lot more shows and I started to get a lot more offers for things. I realized how easy it was to make money. So when I started to see money come in, I realized that I was spending money on things I shouldn’t. People were beginning to look at me like I had more money than I actually had, and I even played into that sometimes. I always like to vent and tell the truth in my music. That’s why this happened. I was like, “This is what I’m going through, and people need to know.” - Rapper Jay IDK Gets Real About Money On 'Empty Bank'
Instead of bragging about all that he has, Jay gives us another angle; a more important perspective. On the album's first track, "Mr. Mills," there's the line, “I’m spending everything I got on things I don’t need.” It’s a line that many young men and women will likely deal with in their lifetime. You go from having just enough to get by and now you have an excess amount of funds. During his The Sun's Tirade press run, Isaiah Rashad admitted that he was spending money on expensive Uber rides and splurging cash on food for friends to eat. He’s signed to TDE, he’s toured the country with ScHoolboy Q, the money he made in just a few months time had an impact on his lifestyle. Suddenly, bottles of alcohol and pills were never empty, closets were never empty, and bellies were never empty. The gas tank is never empty, but it’s eating away all the money you’ve worked so hard to make. Isaiah touches on this change on his album, but it's Jay who truly puts money as the forefront subject for Empty Bank, along with everything that comes with having and not having it.
If you heard Subtrap, you’re aware that Jay captures drug dealing from multiple vantage points. There’s a character that embodies every view - the plug, the junkies, the dealers, and more - to really turn the trap into a world that feels more realistic than fictional.
Throughout my first listen I realized that Jay’s narrative isn’t channeled through various identities. Empty Bank centers around Mr. Mills, but it’s also a broad concept that goes beyond one character. For example, one of the album’s immediate standouts is “Boy’s Innocence” - a song about how money can inspire a young man to steal, fight, and even kill. All our wants require money, and not having enough will turn the purest soul dark if there’s a lack of funds. Then you have a song like “Mentality.” The first line goes, “This is what happens when a nigga gets a little money,” giving a realistic look into the thought process of a rapper whose ego gets inflated by a pay raise. Brands are name dropped, he relates the glow of his diamonds to blind onlookers like Stevie Wonder, but the hook admits that everything is good, so long as he doesn’t fuck it up. That’s the thing about money, it can go as quickly as it comes.
“My Wallet” is an equally incredible record because it’s honest about how brands can insinuate class and status. The song begins with Jay admitting he has a new wallet - a Louis Vuitton wallet - and how even the brand of wallet can attract attention. A woman can see the wallet and find interest despite not knowing how much is inside. The song features Michael Christmas, Saba and Jimi Tents, who all give their perspective on wallets, wealth, and perception. There’s power in perception: you can see the nicest clothes on a person and make an assumption without knowing the circumstance under which those clothes were acquired.
The song “I Picture” does an excellent job capturing our perception of wealth through brand names and materialism. We glorify ideas and not reality, and that’s exactly what Jay articulates. When we think of drug dealing we don’t see jail time, we don’t see communities destroyed. All we see are the cars, the clothes, and the women.
Jay reminds me of an early Kendrick Lamar. He’s a rapper who cares about every word he writes, a rapper you listen to for the lyrics and not just for the banging beats and catchy hooks, though there are plenty of both. Kendrick and Jay are detailed writers; no words are wasted and there isn’t a line worth overlooking. Empty Bank is an incredible rap album, with the production to match. My favorite rappers are those who care about using lyricism to create a world for their listeners to live in. Jay brought this world to life with Subtrap, and he takes things a step further with Empty Bank.
“Priorities, Pt. 1” and “Priorities, Pt. 2” are early favorites - two songs that are introspective records of balance. Priorities, or the lack thereof, can ruin your future in the present. Jay understands what’s important but there are so many temptations that come alongside acquiring money. Having money to burn can burn down a dream without even knowing. Listen to "Who's Looking," which perfectly articulates this. There are so many moments on this album that capture the struggle that comes with having money, and how that changes the people around you, how it changes priorities.
Empty Bank is money from the perspective of a rapper, the rock star of 2016, so it touches on women who are simply interested because of jewelry, and not much more. That’s a true definition of a groupie, a woman who is only giving you the time of day because of what you have, or what you might have. It’s pure temptation. “La Groupie” depicts this relationship perfectly. He doesn’t see a groupie in this woman, he sees someone who's limited to lust for the moment and not love for an eternity. Lust because of a chain, arousal due to diamonds dancing, she sees a lottery ticket and not a man. He accepts this about her, he entertains the dynamic, but he knows their sex is based on what he has and not who he is. It makes me think of every time a picture of a rapper surfaces online in bed with some woman. They have to know they're walking into a situation that has to potential to go south, but the feeling of temptation is difficult to resist especially when there’s no depth to the union. Shallow as a lake, money isn’t the motive, but it motivated what transpired.
What makes Jay IDK stand out to me is that he’s not just making music for the sake of making it. He creates with a purpose, with something to say and share with listeners. Concept albums are difficult to build because you’re married to an idea, and straying too far from the idea could potentially ruin the entire project's structure. This wasn’t a problem on Subtrap and it isn’t a problem with Empty Bank. The music is great, the theme is relatable, and the rapping is top tier.
Jay is one of the most promising artists I’ve heard in a long time. He is the rapper you need to watch, the rapper you need to hear, because if he continues to make music of this caliber he will undoubtedly have a bright future.
By Yoh, aka YohMoney. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Instagram