IDK Isn't Selling Out

"If 'IWASVERYBAD' made you cry, these new songs will definitely make you weep."
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The fan-artist relationship must be cherished, but also navigated with some tact. On December 2, DMV wordsmith IDK did just that when he fired off a tweet reminding fans that he’s “not tryna be no underground rapper forever,” and to keep their accusations of selling out to themselves. Intrigued, we reached out to IDK, whose IWASVERYBAD was one of the 20 best albums of 2017, and who, at the time of our conversation, is “40 percent” finished with the album of his career.

“I’ve been working on something really special,” he tells me over the phone. “I can’t speak on it now, but everyone is gonna be really excited. Some people will be shocked, but I know for a fact the whole industry will be like, ‘Woah, that was a great move.’ Everybody’s gonna have their eyes open to see what I do after that.”

The grand surprise IDK gloats about, however, should not be mistaken as his switching up his sound or losing his message. Just because IDK has his eyes on bigger goals and a larger platform does not mean he is leaving his roots behind. “I’m not really gonna change my sound too much,” he continues. “My sound and my message are the same, it’s more so I want my message to reach a broader audience… Selling out would be conforming to everyone else’s sound in order to be big, but I’m gonna continue my sound. Same producers, same creatives around. If I make different music, doing the same thing I’ve been doing, writing my own music and writing from the heart, it’s not selling out at all.”

With that, IDK’s whole attention is on his secret upcoming album. “For this [next] project, I’m probably gonna have some type of label situation,” he reveals. “So I was just kinda like, you know, I’m making better music and I want everybody to understand that. I’m not trying to be some underground legend for the rest of my life.

“If IWASVERYBAD made you cry, these new songs will definitely make you weep,” IDK concludes. “I say some things that you’ve never heard in rap. I touch subjects that you’ve never heard in rap.”

We’ll be waiting patiently, tissues in hand.

DJBooth’s full interview with IDK, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.

DJBooth: Let’s start with what prompted you to send your tweet in the first place.

IDK: For this [next] project, I’m probably gonna have some type of label situation. So I was just kinda like, you know, I’m making better music and I want everybody to understand that. I’m not trying to be some underground legend for the rest of my life. That’s not the path or the career that I want, nor has it ever been that path.

Is there some virtue component of being labeled “underground"?

It’s all about fans not wanting to share you with the mainstream artists, kinda wanting to confine you to a sound that might not be accepted widely, which is cool. I’m not really gonna change my sound too much. My sound and my message is the same, it’s more so I want my message to reach a broader audience. You can do that to an extent underground, but you’re not gonna get everyone unless you cross over to the mainstream. For me, you can do that without compromising the music. That’s what I plan on doing.

How do you define “selling out”?

My real fans won’t say that [about me]. The people that want me to be at a certain level and see my vision, those are the people that won’t say that I’m selling out. The only way I’d be selling out is if I lose my message and I lose my sound, which I’m not gonna do. Selling out would be conforming to everyone else’s sound in order to be big, but I’m gonna continue my sound. Same producers, same creatives around. If I make different music, doing the same thing I’ve been doing of writing my own music and writing from the heart, it’s not selling out at all.

In your tweet, you’re talking about being able to do your own thing and having a budget to make it even better. How are you moving now to get there?

I’ve been working on something really special. I can’t speak on it now, but everyone is gonna be really excited. Some people will be shocked, but I know for a fact the whole industry will be like, “Woah, that was a great move.” Everybody’s gonna have their eyes open to see what I do after that.

How did IDK & FRIENDS :) factor into you shooting for the top?

I look at IDK & FRIENDS :) as what I would call a sacrificial lamb. Basically, I had to put that out in order to set up for what I’m about to do. I didn’t put any projects out, and I had a bunch of songs that probably would’ve never seen the light of day if I didn’t put it out as IDK & FRIENDS :) just because the music that I’m working on now is so much stronger, so much more impactful, way deeper than what I’ve been doing and what I just put out. So I was like, I don’t want to put this out after. It won’t compare to what I’m about to do.

Where does IWASVERYBAD factor into your plan?

It’s my best project to date.

Is the new music in that vein?

If IWASVERYBAD made you cry, these new songs will definitely make you weep. I say some things that you’ve never heard in rap. I touch subjects that you’ve never heard in rap. I am gonna be bold and say some things that everyone feels, that everyone will feel, and things that are very personal to me but everybody can relate to. It’s gonna be special. It’s award-winning content. Will I get awards? I hope so and I’m gonna work towards it, and I believe in my heart that I will. That’s up to the world [to decide]. I know that the content is award-winning. I don’t think that anyone’s project is gonna touch people the way that this will because no one has this story, but everyone can feel this story.

Shit, I’m excited.

I’m not even 40 percent done yet, and it’s powerful. It’s powerful.

Even with this next body of work, do you think you’ll ever reach a point of making everyone happy?

I don’t think I’ll ever really make everyone happy, but I don’t think anyone will have anything to say… Anyone who listens to this, gives it a good listen all the way through. Gives it two listens… It’s impossible for you to just say that this isn’t a big step up from the last thing. It’s just so obvious and I’m not the only one saying it. I’ve played it for some really important people that everyone would respect. It’s basically what I’ve done before, but just on crack, I guess you would say. I’ve leveled up in my ability to make music, especially conceptual albums. I can’t even imagine what’s gonna happen when it’s fully done.

IWASVERYBAD was a good project. I’m surprised that I was able to take it up a notch on this one. It’s obviously better. It’s not a debate kind of thing. Stronger music, stronger narrative, stronger story, deeper story—it’s a lot of those things.

What’s the one thing you’re going to do to make sure you keep IDK happy across your career?

Not focus so much on the top, focusing on other things. I was watching this J. Cole interview… He would be miserable whenever he wouldn’t put out music. That’s what happens when you’re so focused on this and what you’re doing. After this project drops and everything goes the way I see in my heart it’s gonna go, once that happens I’ll be in a… I don’t want to say comfortable position because I’ll always have to top what I did before, but comfortable in the fact that I feel like my name will be solidified as one of the best newer artists. From there, I have to follow up, but then I can focus on real life things: just being a human being. Not having to worry about work 100 percent of the time. Maybe 90 percent of the time. That’s what I look forward to, being able to be a human being.

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