The sophomore jinx skipped 2018. Some of the best, most memorable albums to be released this year are second offerings from stellar artists. Noname’s Room 25 lived up to the acclaim of her 2016 debut, Telefone; Smino’s NOIR delivered an experience worthy of succeeding a strong project like blkswn; Saba’s CARE FOR ME and Mick Jenkins' Pieces of a Man musically and artistically exceeded their 2016 predecessors. Joey Purp, 6LACK, Phonte, Playboi Carti, Choker—the list goes on and on.
J.I.D is the latest esteemed hip-hop artist to return with a sophomore album. The East Atlanta lyricist became a renowned wordsmith following The Never Story, his 2017 debut project on Dreamville and one of the 10 best albums of 2017. His potential for greatness is why his sophomore album, DiCaprio 2, is so highly anticipated. The album will be heard by ears who are familiar with that of which he's capable. They will be listening for elevation; to hear if and how he has transcended his prior work. That’s the pressure of a sophomore album: an expectation of excellence.
Full disclosure: A few weeks ago, I heard DiCaprio 2 for the first time. The listening left a lasting impression, but I wasn’t able to review the music.
In usual 1-Listen album review fashion, the rules are the same: no skipping, no fast-forwarding, no rewinding, and no stopping. Each song will receive my gut reaction from start to finish.
1. "Frequency Change"
Let's get it! Skit-esque intro. Flipping through television channels. The Discovery Channel-esque rapper show is hilarious. These are clever. These sped-up vocals need to be deciphered. I think I heard a MirrorLand reference, word to EarthGang.
2. "Slick Talk"
Now the album begins. The intensity can be felt in the buildup. “Activate” into a Kenny Beats tag. Shoutout to Key! The drums just slammed my ears like they were choke-slammed by Andre the Giant. J.I.D is able to pack so many words into his flow. "Had a dream of eating lamb in the Lam." Dope Martin reference; the sitcom, not the Martin who had a dream. Sheesh, the song just stopped and suddenly became a completely different record. The beat is MONSTROUS. He’s talking his talk. “I’m from East Atlanta like Gucci and Travis Porter.” Travis Porter deserve their flowers. Man, whoever produced this second beat has J.I.D rapping over a bloody murder scene. As frightening as a starving Godzilla arriving from the depths of the ocean. His flow is slower, but the words are as sleek as a pimp’s suit. This is a disgusting way to begin an album. Again, it’s impressive how much he packs into these verses. So many short stories in one song.
3. "Westbrook" ft. A$AP Ferg
Christo! Another aggressive banger. Pitched-up vocals. J.I.D sounds like the devil on your shoulder encouraging debauchery. “Eastside mad scientist.” Ferg came in with the ENERGY. It’s loud. Ferg sounds like he’s coming out of my headphones to sit on my eardrums. This flow is nasty. This is the lyrical version of the Mighty Ducks doing the Flying V. “Westbrook” is going to cause the ground to shake at shows. I need J.I.D and Ferg performing this at Coachella in 2019. MAN! He suddenly sounds like a man on fire! This is what I meant when I wrote the album sounds like he planted cherry bombs into the Pro Tools. Controlled combustion. The little skits at the end are dope. Christo killed this beat. Killed it.
4. "Off Deez" ft. J. Cole
Chase The Money gave J.I.D a moon bounce to jump on. This beat is so animated and fun. This rhyme pattern for the hook is a mouthful. The entire song, really. I can’t imagine his fans being able to follow this scheme, but they will try and that’s fun. His breath control isn’t human. Cole is crazy for jumping on this. I see why J.I.D wanted Kendrick, though. “Off Deez” is in Dot’s world of weird. Cole snapped something serious, though. He came in like a rapper with something to prove. You know Cole came to EAT when he switches flows. J.I.D told me he was eating at a restaurant when the Cole verse came in. I would’ve turned the entire table over. Three for three. All bangers. DJ Drama! I almost forget he’s on this tape.
5. "151 Rum"
The more I hear “151 Rum” the more this song impresses me. This record hits harder than 500 fists knocking on a lunch table. It’s a battering ram. Pure chaos. It sounds like there are monsters growling on the beat. Another mind-spinning rhyme scheme. J.I.D doesn’t waste a word and nothing is said just for the sake of saying it. He paints pictures. The bar about being next to a homie who was shot gives me chills. “I been living with it like a sickness.” The line about his homie being tree-silent is so Wayne. If Weezy was an alien, J.I.D is an earthly offspring of his mania.
6. "Off da Zoinkys"
Okay, here's change of pace. The soulfulness is cleansing. If “Rum 151” is hellfire, “Off da Zoinkys” is a baptism. Take me to church. Christo cooked up something holy with this sample. J.I.D! The clarity in his voice. Slower flow, but it’s absolute fire. There’s so much replay value in breaking down his bars. It will take more than one listen to comprehend it all. The energy shift. The way this record builds up is gorgeous. He’s talking about taking it easier on the drugs. OH! YES! This is beautiful. The soul! J.I.D is walking on angel wings. “We are a long way from Decatur.” The self-reflection is so pure. Gangsta Grillz tag. Another clip. Someone is giving J.I.D game. Replay 100 times.
7. "Workin' Out"
The singing sounds like a voice Childish Gambino would’ve used on "Awaken, My Love!" He sounds good. The keys come in beautifully. I’ve played this record every day since it was premiered on COLORS. This beat has a heavenly eloquence. The album slows down, but the tempo switch is a pleasant one. “I’m fly, and I got my niggas fly too, it’s like buddy passes.” A simple but clever bar. Everything about this record is gold: hook, verses, beat. “Wasn’t around when you had the dirty house, now they won’t leave when you kick them out,” the aftereffect of success. Lyrically, J.I.D is showcasing how much life has changed since The Never Story. Zach Fox skit is hilarious. The album is filled with textures. “J. Cole got all this money but look like he about to borrow somebody charger.” LOL.
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8. “Tiiied” ft. 6LACK & Ella Mai
I feel this song title on a spiritual level. “Tiiied” could’ve easily been a 6LACK record for East Atlanta Love Letter. The production sounds like it was tailored for his voice. Yep, J.I.D got another R&B-esque record in the lane of “Hereditary” and “All Bad.” He's singing the hook and it sounds really good. He’s telling this story about an argument in a movie theater with his girl and the imagery is so sharp. Knowing what details to share for the best storytelling is a gift. 6LACK sounds at home. This is a verse! Okay, I’m convinced, we need that J.I.D and 6LACK album next year. Ella Mai sounds great. Placing her at the end was a short but sweet touch, like Rick Ross' verse on “Monster.” A gem of a record.
9. "Skrawberries (For da Ladies)” ft. BJ The Chicago Kid"
Cole got a gorgeous loop. J.I.D is snowboarding like Lee Thompson Young in Johnny Tsunami. He’s in a zone. BJ sounds like a zen pastor taking us to the light. This record is a collection of incredible talent. Cole behind the boards, BJ on vocals, Masego on the sax, and Mac Miller did the arrangement. All these talented men on a song for da ladies, a beautiful thing. It’s the Hip-Hop Avengers. “My homegirl raps and she’s feminist, hold it down for the women I call her Feminem.” When I heard that bar at his house I almost jumped off the couch and went home. Masego take us home. This sequence, from “Off da Zoinkys” to “Skrawberries,” has been incredible.
10. “Hotbox” ft. Method Man & Joey Bada$$
Drama! I still need to find out where these keys are from. I know them. J.I.D hasn’t phoned in a single verse. Method Man came to impress. So happy to hear him on a record with J.I.D and Joey. “Mr. How High” should be his alias from now on. Joey Bada$$! He wasn’t originally on the song when I heard it a few weeks ago. Their duality is Goku and Vegeta levels. This is a performance. This is a collaboration. Another crazy record. Drama just showed up again and has this record feeling like a vintage Gangsta Grillz tape. Man, DiCaprio 2 is making a statement.
11. "Mounted Up"
Three more songs to go and not a single skip yet. Drama says to take him where the bars are at. Some of these bars are from the Funk Flex freestyle. I’m glad he recycled it. Every time I watch the freestyle, I’m disappointed by Flex’s lack of enthusiasm. The beat sounds like a Mario Bros. bonus stage. “Looking for love at the end of this Hen bottle.” J.I.D rapping is like watching Uma Thurman cut down the Yakuza army in the first Kill Bill. A warrior in poetic motion.
12. "Just da Other Day"
All of Drama’s clips are on the back end. A change from the Gangsta Grillz format. The hook and beat shine brighter than the fur of a golden retriever. The animated cartoon-esque singing voice is addictive. If he did the entire verse like that I wouldn’t mind. “My nigga got a Benz and push it like a go-kart.” I can’t support this level of irresponsibility. The second verse storytelling is great. The verse is long enough to be two verses. I thought it was three the first time I heard it. Electric guitar adds a subtle change to the beat. Makes the song even more disorderly.
13. "Despacito Too"
Another slapper! This one will cause trunks to rattle. DiCaprio 2 is one of the best-produced albums of 2018. Not a bad beat, not a bad verse. Lil Wayne will love this kid. Someone, please get them in a studio together. This is one of the records you lean back and just soak in every line. The third verse isn’t dead. I like this song’s concept. Telling kids they can be whatever they want. The glitchy touch is nice. He really saved a Super Saiyan performance to end the album. The sound of a car crash. Nice breakdown. Barry’s son saying Black Panther isn’t real is my favorite part of the album.
14. "Hasta Luego"
Bonus song. Another heat rock that was released as a single. Wondagurl produced a tank and J.I.D’s bars are cannons. The vividness of his lyricism shines on “Hasta Lugeo.” Feels like the brother of “Rum 151.” He has a way of creating these songs that are vignettes of his life. From afar you get an idea of what his life is like. The madness of his surrounding. 14 songs, zero skips.
Final (first listen) thoughts on DiCaprio 2:
After hearing the rough version of DiCaprio 2, I left J.I.D’s house and I didn't listen to a single record the entire car ride home. Thirty minutes of uninterrupted musing. Each song was memorable in its own right. The album felt like binge-watching an episodic Netflix series or watching a slideshow of epic movie clips. I couldn’t wait to play the music again under headphones, to see if the initial thrill would still be present.
Hearing the album for the second time—the first time, if we're talking about the final, official version—has left me with the same feeling of awe. DiCaprio 2 is filled with material that proves a diamond is being polished underneath J. Cole’s Interscope umbrella. J.I.D reminds me of hearing a young Drake, recognizing his talents, and believing he carried the potential to shine brighter than Lil Wayne. Look where Drake is now. Imagine where J.I.D could be if he continues with such a strong output.
What makes DiCaprio 2 so enjoyable is how J.I.D puts on full display his artistic elevation. Not only has he improved as a rapper since The Never Story, but the production selection and album sequencing are pristine. Every sound functions to make each song shine. DiCaprio 2 is well-paced; an explosive beginning, a reflective middle, and a closing climax that merge these two moods. It’s a wild ride that doesn’t stall for a second.
J.I.D is aware of his strengths, and with DiCaprio 2 he has created a 4K, Ultra HD exhibition of his blooming talents. Bring your popcorn.
By Yoh, Off da Zoinkyohs, aka @Yoh31