“I met Kendrick when all I had out was 'The Warm Up,' nobody knew who he was, he didn’t have a deal. He was signed to Top Dawg–I didn’t know he was signed to Top–I actually wanted to sign him but I didn’t have my business right and I didn’t know he was with Top,” explained Cole. “In my mind, he was the first person I ever found that I was like, ‘Yo, I’m tellin’ everybody I wanna sign this kid cause this nigga’s nasty!’ What happened was I was at a party in L.A. with this group U-N-I… At the party, they did a few songs and they brought this short, dark-skinned kid up and I was like, ‘Yo, who is this kid?’ And he gets on the mic and he murders. I’m a rapper’s rapper and I’m not easily impressed and when I heard him I was instantly like, ‘This nigga’s crazy!'" - J. Cole On Combat Jack
J. Cole wanted to sign Kendrick Lamar when the Compton butterfly was still an unknown caterpillar. In retrospect, Cole had yet to have his own identity, most knew him for being the first rapper signed to Roc Nation and not The Warm Up. He was at the genesis of his career, but J. Cole had a vision of a label that signed impeccable rappers, an umbrella to house talent under. He saw magic on stage the night Kendrick performed, a rappity rapper that he needed to share with the world. I believe the whole purpose behind their planned collaboration album was to showcase Kendrick’s talent; even if Cole's platform was small, he wanted to be the Rafiki that lifted the next Simba before hip-hop’s Pride Rock.
The deal between the two never became more than an idea, the album they announced never become more than an empty promise, but Cole did launch his label once the business was right and subsequently signed rappers Bas, Cozz, Omen and Lute under the Dreamville imprint. Each artist is respectfully gifted, bringing their talents to the roundtable of dreamers, but I've never believed any of them could enter the ring and fight tooth and nail for the title of best rapper.
My thoughts changed when Dreamville recently announced the signing of J.I.D―a lyrical arsonist from East Atlanta, Georgia. I’m uncertain of how Cole discovered the Southern samurai, but I’m confident that the reaction to his music was similar to when he first witnessed Kendrick. I wouldn’t directly compare the two artists but they have a few similarities―dynamic rhyme schemes, helium-high voices, decapitating punchlines, schizophrenic focus, and a feverous delivery that feels like an endless barrage of lyrics, each more impressive than the last.
J.I.D has the hunger of a man who hasn’t seen an edible meal in decades and the prowess of a gonzo wordsmith who would rather write raps than fill libraries with literature. He isn’t here to tell us a story of a good kid from a m.a.a.d city, he is here to redefine what it means to be a rap genius.
Last year, DJBooth championed J.I.D as one of our Top Prospects, someone too gifted to be overlooked. This was before the release of any album, his singles and loosies posted on SoundCloud were exceptional enough to grasp our attention like snowfall during a Miami summer. “Never,” “Robotics,” “Reloaded” and “Underwear” are labyrinths of head-spinning wordplay and animated martian-esque style―think Lil Wayne meets Big L, raised in Gucci Mane’s jungle and someone who found Slim Shady more humorous than offensive.
Dreamville may have announced his signing last month, but J.I.D is far from a new artist, the years of sharpening steel as a Spillage Village rhyme-slayer has made him more monster than man. Listening to his recent DJ Tony Touch and DJ Kay Slay freestyles are proof of a beat devourer who has the skill set to match the current praise and the acclaim to come.
J.I.D’s Dreamville debut, The Never Story, is his first new body of work since 2015's Dicaprio EP. His introduction to the world is only two songs longer than Illmatic, and features DJBooth favorite duo EarthGang, R&B’s dark knight 6LACK, and the soulful Marian Mereba―all Atlanta natives who've been alongside J.I.D since the beginning of his rap dreams. SMKA, Childish Major and Hollywood JB also rep Atlanta on the production side, but their contributions don't comprise a conventional Atlanta album. J. Cole doesn’t appear as a rapper, but his two production credits―When was the last time we saw producer Jermaine?—are very rare.
The Never Story is a true first impression project, showcasing all sides of one artist who could very well become your favorite new rapper by the end.
Three Standout Songs:
“My fucking wisdom tooth is killing me,” is the confession J.I.D makes at the beginning of the second track. Whatever pain he felt isn’t audible as he rips through Boston native Latrell James' production. Atlanta rappers are known for rapping over beats perfect for turning up in the club, and Latrell gave J.I.D the kind of stark, aggressive, chilling production more fitting for fighting on the dancefloor than cutting rugs.
J.I.D gives a bit of autobiographical insight into his life as a college football star, more likely to be an Arizona Cardinals running back than a Def Jam rapper. Trouble found him before the NFL could call, but the change in destiny worked out. Certain lines just jump out―how he can compare himself to Leo DiCaprio while in the next breath admitting how his big sister reminded him of Queen Latifah’s Set It Off character Cleo. The ability to blend pop culture references, metaphors, punchlines and glimpses into his own life exhibits a rapper who is a roller coaster of twists and turns, more thrilling than frightening.
“All Bad” (ft. Marian Mereba)
The art of rapping is what J.I.D is most known for, so I was pleasantly surprised by “All Bad,” a song that highlights another side of his artistry―J.I.D the singer. He wouldn’t win American Idol, but his whisper-esque vocals are dreamy and melancholy, while also completely enthralling; the song brings listeners to the point of a couple collapsing―the sadness of honesty before anger, the words that come before the final goodbye. Marian Mereba’s presence only enhances the track, there’s a harmonic chemistry between the two. J.I.D and Mereba together on “All Bad” sounds like if Anderson .Paak and SZA made a breakup song. This kind of range will keep J.I.D from being pigeonholed as just a rappity rapper―both his pen and voice can exist in other spaces.
When J.I.D announced his Dreamville deal there was a video of him rapping shotgun in an old Pontiac while Cole drove erratically. The snippet was a painful tease, but the full version was well worth the wait. It is a perfect closure, an artist's stream-of-consciousness spaz attack, in-between voicemails by unknown voices. The production from Cole is rather sparse, the kind of open field a former running back would love, and J.I.D is in rare form from the first lyric to the last line. This is potential unleashed and promise personified.
J.I.D never wanted to be a rapper until a mistake rewrote the future he foresaw. Rap was his escape from reality and the stairway to a new mountaintop he never imagined to climb. It’s hard not to call him gifted after listening to an album sprinkled with top-tier lyricism and dynamite production multiple times.
From top to bottom The Never Story is well crafted, you can feel the hours of work poured into each song and lyric. “Hereditary” is the only song that feels remotely coated in sugar, but every other record is raw enough to survive in the jungle with lion, tigers and bears.
Dreamville didn’t sign the next pop star, but a rapper who will make you appreciate lyricism, metaphors, punchlines and style. J.I.D’s dream was not to be a rapper, but he is a damn good one.
J. Cole missed out on Kendrick, but he did not miss out on J.I.D, and you shouldn’t either.
By Yoh, aka Y.O.H. Dicaprio, aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Dreamville