Escape. That’s the mentality of a crab trapped in a barrel. Surrounded by fellow crabs, they don’t see the strength in numbers, just enemies who will drag them down before lifting them up. Escape. It’s the mentality of rap artists who see the local scene as a barrel they must emerge from. They’re surrounded by other artists on a similar mission to break out. Getting out is difficult, a struggle that only the strong will survive. The question is, once you escape, are you willing to extend a helping hand to others? Feelings of jealousy, envy, pride, and fear can play a part in why the escapees refuse to assist the ones still trapped, and vice versa. All it does is create a cycle of more artists acting as crabs and not moving as a movement.
Maryland native Jay IDK is reaching the point in his rap career where he’s no longer in the barrel, but getting ready to make a splash into the giant pool that is the music industry. He is a true artist that started from below the bottom but has worked tremendously to propel himself high enough that it’s becoming impossible not to see him. Empty Bank, his recently released album, became the first album ever premiered by Forbes. I laughed as he admitted that the website wasn’t even sure how to embed a SoundCloud link. For an artist that isn’t signed to a label, or backed by a big company, that’s an incredible feat. It’s the music, the work ethic, and brilliant marketing moves that have made Jay a revered name in the underground and will hopefully push him much further. He’s now in the position to help others get their name out, and he’s very passionate about helping artists that hail from his city and the DMV.
With the way I’m about to be moving I’m really trying to help. If I have a relationship, and I believe an artist is ready for that relationship, I’m giving it to them. I’m not going to hold nothing. I’m not going to try and sign everybody, being signed to me isn’t the only way you can get my relationship. I’m literally going to put people in situations to make certain moves when I can and if they deserve it.
The first step to giving a helping hand to an artist from the DMV will be done on October 18, as Jay IDK will be throwing an Empty Bank show with Big Flock, WillThaRapper, Innanet James and Nappy Nappa in Washington, DC. Each rapper also hails from the DMV, but their sounds are diverse, and they aren’t associated with the same scenes. The show’s goal is unity and the beginning of a movement that Jay envisions for DC and the entire DMV music scene. He has seen firsthand that a divide exists, a segregation between the street artists and the other rap artists that fit in various artistic boxes. He wants to be the bridge that brings the two worlds together. The decision is an interesting one because, while Jay is someone who is respected for being a lyricist, he's able to give you songs that bang like street records. He is more than just a metaphorical bridge, but a sonic bridge, and that’s why he’s perfect to assist in bringing different scenes together under one roof.
What I wanted to do with this show was create diversity between the rap scene in DC. It’s basically segregated. The street rappers are the street rappers and then there’s the other rappers. No one bridges that gap. I believe when you bring the two together we have a really strong movement. At first it was only street rappers. Then it got to the point where people like GoldLink, Chaz French, even back earlier Rob Regal who used to go by Lyriciss, they started forming their own type of rap music whether it’s boom bap or something more eclectic, and that’s when that scene started to come together. Street rap always had a strong presence, but there’s also Wale at the same time. He was the first backpack rapper to do anything out of the DMV.
Wale is by far the biggest, most prominent rapper to ever come out of the DMV. He cracked the door to really bring attention to the city. Jay’s goal is to push that door wider, and unity is the answer he believes will really have all eyes on what’s happening in the District, Virginia and Maryland. Noisey wrote an article early this year about the possibility of Washington, DC becoming the new capital for rap, which would be huge for a city that has mostly existed on the outskirts of the mainstream. If a true explosion does happen and brings together street rap, backpackers, and more eclectic sounds, we are looking at the second coming of Chicago during the drill movement. Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Fredo Santana and more were all attracting attention, but at the same time, you had Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, Mick Jenkins and Noname also starting waves and brewing storms. With the various kinds of music coming from the city, Jay believes the DMV will be what Chicago was starting to become in 2012.
I think that’s my duty. Being from where I’m from, you gotta do that. You should be ashamed of yourself if you’re making an impact and you have the ability to put your city, or where you're from in a higher ranking when it comes to the grand scheme of things in the music industry. If you have the ability to bring your whole entire city with you, you should do that. You shouldn’t try and keep everything to yourself, that doesn’t make sense to me.
Jay remembers not really having a helping hand. Most of what he learned came from firsthand experience. Looking, learning and observing assisted in helping him figure out the moves to make to forward his career. It’s admirable to do it on your own, but it’s also difficult. It’s rewarding, but you receive so many bruises and scars when your teacher is trial and error. What Jay is willing to do is help others without them having to walk the same path of painful lessons. His ideology reminds me of Gucci Mane, one man in Atlanta who has helped to put on so many artists from his city. I always believed Gucci was genuine in his desires to help others, and by doing so he’s been hailed as the best A&R Atlanta has ever seen. I don’t know if that’s the position Jay hopes to be in, but I see that same way of thinking in what he hopes to do for artists in DC.
I wasn’t sure. I thought about it, and I wanted it to happen, but I wasn’t always sure. Until things really started to take off. I didn’t see a lot of people with the resources that I have take it this far. A lot of people have a really good manager or really good relationship, or some money; I literally had to build each and every one of those components myself from scratch. I didn’t know if I would be able to do those things, I didn’t know if it was humanly possible. You just have to take your time and make things happen for yourself without waiting for other people. That’s one of the things I don’t like to do, wait for other people.
Most of my talk with Jay was about DC, and what he hoped to accomplish for the area he grew up in. He just dropped an album; most artists would want to spend their time talking about their project, but his eyes were on a bigger picture. He did give me some insight on the process of writing Empty Bank, how he began writing the songs before SubTrap was even released. It begins with one idea, it slowly evolves into a theme, and soon enough you have an entire cohesive concept. His form of writing reminds me of Kendrick, and the way he had GKMC thought out long before his release. Some rappers operate like screenwriters, able to add a layer of cinematic value to their writing. Jay is one of those writers.
Empty Bank specifically took a little bit of time. I worked on the first tracks, which were ‘Needs For Cash’ and ‘Priorities Pt. 1’ before SubTrap even came out. SubTrap was done and I knew they weren’t going to be on SubTrap so let me get in the studio and record this because I had those songs in my mind for a while. That was over a year ago. I didn’t work nonstop for a year. I didn’t work consistently for a year. I was putting together the pieces for a year. When I really locked in it took about two months to put everything together. Then about another month or two to finalize everything.
“I want to be number one,” Jay told me. Not a big surprise from a rapper who cites Eminem as a huge influence on how he writes, and his approach to storytelling. It reminded me of the comment Lil Wayne made at the beginning of the year, the statement about how no rapper wanted to be the greatest anymore. Jay wants to be the greatest or at least recognized as one of the greatest. You can hear it in his music―a rapper that truly cares about each and every verse he writes. There’s a technical level to his rap style that feels as if he studied the great lyricists of our age. He wants to do more than walk in their shoes; he wants to ascend even higher than them. Not only is he shooting for the top, he isn’t forgetting where he came from. He’s taking his city with him. DC’s rap scene is getting ready to explode, and Jay IDK is one of the many hands holding the dynamite.
By Yoh, aka Outskirts Yoh aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Instagram