JID – DiCaprio 2 (Dreamville Records)

This Atlanta native came to the attention of the wider hip-hop community after his seismic debut album, The Never Story, was released last year and DiCaprio 2 appears to be the incisive aftershock succeeding the tremor.

JID has frequently cited Leonardo DiCaprio as his favourite actor. At the time of the release of his first mixtape, DiCaprio, in 2015, the actor had yet to win an Academy Award for his prodigious portrayals on the silver screen and the young rapper felt a commonality with Leonardo regarding the repetitive Oscar snubs. JID had yet to sign to a label and drew parallels between their lives. Despite honing their respective crafts and executing them to near perfection at times, neither one of them had fully received the recognition they deserved. Fast forward three years and Leonardo DiCaprio is an Oscar-winning actor – and JID has just released his new album, DiCaprio 2, under J. Cole’s Dreamville Records imprint (in conjunction with Interscope Records).

The opening skit plays as if you are flicking through channels looking for something to watch: “I’m here backstage at a hip-hop concert and I’ve just spotted a gaggle of rappers, I see cash, I see guns with extended clips…” the Aussie-voiced Steve Irwin-esque presenter narrates. This satirical take on hip-hop culture immediately informs us that JID is not interested in conforming to the archetypal male rapper model.

The opening track, ‘Slick Talk’, sees JID “activate” from the first bar of the song. He sprints off the line at breakneck speed; not giving the listener a second to adjust to his lightning-fast syncopation. From the outset, JID doesn’t want to waste anytime in showcasing his talents as an emcee. Just as he appears to be settling in to his flow, the beat suddenly switches to a much more menacing, atmospheric style of production. The mood that is created could be likened to the Twilight Zone with the whistling and stuttering echoed vocal effects accompanied by Phantom of the Opera style keys. JID then proceeds with the lyrical taunting of his peers in an attempt to separate himself from the rest of the pack: “Cause if this was a competition, then I’m setting this bar…”

The next song entitled ‘Westbrook’ focuses on asserting his dominance, as well as establishing his loyalty as an emcee. The title, ‘Loyalty’, is in reference to Oklahoma City Thunder’s point guard, Russell Westbrook, who has remained loyal to his team despite the departure of team mates and offers from other franchises. This inference can be noted as several times throughout the LP, JID alludes to his main record label Dreamville. JID’s vocal distortion on the opening verse resembles a technique often utilised by A$AP Rocky. With ‘Trap Lord’ A$AP Ferg providing the chorus, the style is reminiscent of Rocky’s chorus from A$AP Mobb’s ‘RAF’ from 2017’s Cozy Tapes – “I done came up (yuh)/ Bustin’ down a whole bag (bag)…”, you would be forgiven by thinking this song was an A$AP Mobb leftover. The juxtaposition between chorus and verse on ‘Westbrook’ feels slightly off. Only at the tail-end of the song does JID momentarily match the energy injected by A$AP Ferg in the chorus. There are also moments where the lyrical content borders on lacklustre; “Woman throw pussy at me, I never seen cats flying” or “Ashton Kutcher, who’s punkin’ me?”. Despite this, because JID’s syncopation arrives at such a startling pace, by the time these sub-par punchlines have landed, he is already on to another subject or theme never really letting these mishaps marinate for a significant amount of time.

‘Off Deez’, featuring Dreamville record label exec, J. Cole, operates as yet another lyrically impervious example of why JID’s demand to be regarded as an elite emcee is justified. The minimalist production is by no means aesthetically attractive, however, it functions well; orienting around the delivery of both emcees. Arguably, the most impressive facet of ‘Off Deez’ is J. Cole not only reaching the proverbial bar which JID has set, but doing so with apparent ease. JID got his name in part due to his grandmother calling him ‘Jittery’ because of his voice – and this beat, if anything, is jittery. Both rappers coalesce seamlessly, adjusting their tone and pace with the sonic shifts and movements.

‘151 Rum’ is undoubtedly JID’s most fervent petition for greatness. The production, provided by frequent collaborator Christo, creates a sonically striking; albeit malevolent and foreboding soundscape. When questioned on Twitter what sample was used to create this menacing instrumental, JID responded accordingly, making this an original inception. This track clocks in at a slender two and a half minutes (one minute of which is instrumental) leaving a total of ninety seconds for JID to convey his narrative. Not only does JID convey his narrative within these self-imposed time constraints, he does it in an audaciously clear and concise manner. ‘151 Rum’ is a compelling glimpse in to the rapper’s life. From the unexpected loss of a friend and being the younger sibling surviving on “hand me downs, that’s my brother brother’s shit…”, to poverty and thought-provoking moments on social circumstances ”Son of woman and man, son of a sun, in a sunken abyss/ Summon a plan, please come with a script…” JID manages to set a scene of a cruel, cyclical environment within the chorus of adolescents growing up repeating the negative actions of their elders; reflecting on powerful movie imagery in the process. This of course, being the gut-wrenching scene from John Singleton’s Boyz ‘N The Hood where the unassuming Ricky is maliciously gunned down walking home form the corner store. JID weaponizes his voice on this record in truly mind-blowing fashion. Hip-hop icon, Kool G Rap, was an inspiration to numerous emcees  – Nas and Jay Z to name but a few – and G Rap was known for his ability to not only perform technical internal and end-rhymes, but to simultaneously pair the exact amount of syllables in each bar culminating in a flawless fluidity within his rhyme scheme. JID appears to have taken this concept, and rather than striving for a similar multi-syllabic vision, he opts to string together sleuths of mono-syllabic words that detract from fluidity; however, they flow with a machine-gun-like disposition. A great example of this is towards the end of the verse where a large proportion of the lyrics work within these parameters.

The anti-dope anthem, ‘Off Da Zoinkys’, has a similarly deliberate, stuttered delivery akin to ‘151 Rum’ although, with the subtle piano and gospel samples, the thematic concepts are more ostensible. Considering the ill-timed manner in which JID’s good friend Mac Miller (who helped structure large sections of DiCaprio 2), recently passed away;  the emotional context of this song is all-the-more powerful when you hear JID plead for rappers to “get off da zoinkys”. Unlike other songs of this nature within the genre, this message is not delivered from a place of judgement. The positivity of the production and JID’s candour acknowledging: “I’m a fuckin’ addict/ Understand addiction, so I’m sympathetic…”, – this is a message of hope, that something better is on the horizon if the congregation puts down the “Little syrup we sippin’ out of the foam.”

Singles such as ‘Tiiied’ and ‘Skrawberries’ appeal to JID’s crossover appeal, whereas ‘Hot Box’ featuring Joey Bada$$ and Method Man embellish his love for the nineties boom bap era. Although they are more aesthetically pleasing than ‘Off Deez’ or ‘Mounted Up’, where JID’s objective is to transform in to a lyrical swordsman, crossover appeal is not something to be overlooked in these trying times of the musician. JID recently made his television debut alongside BJ The Chicago Kid and Thundercat on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon. During this televised performance of ‘Skrawberries’, JID did not falter in brandishing his emotional side, calling on everyone to “Check on your strong friends”, emphasising Mac Miller. During this song, the duality of JID’s statements about feminism can at best be labelled distasteful. “Got a couple abortions, now that pussy’s a haunted house…” is polarising in contrast to “Niggas think that you feminine when you sensitive…” or “Girl, you perfect without the make up or the plastic surgery.” A song that unfortunately missed the mark of being a suitable feminist anthem.

‘Just Da Other Day’ acts in part as a continuation of the standout ‘LAUDER’ from JID’s debut LP The Never Story. The production is slightly similar but beyond this, the delivery particularly the onomatopoeic characteristics are equally impressive; “That’s the plight of a player, plot an attack and rocking and rapping/ Rippin’ rappers off of the fuckin’ map, suckers suffering, succotash/ I need that Mark Zucker bag, Zuckerberg…” Although the subject matter does not have any supposed seriousness, the method in which it is delivered with contemptuous breathless ease, is undeniably impressive.

Unlike JID’s previous closing track ‘LAUDER’ (from The Never Story), the final instalment on DiCaprio 2 is a lot more jovial. – albeit, over industrious, cacophonous sounding shrills. Undeterred, JID makes light of the situation, including the humorously-titled ‘Despacito Too’ (a reference to the meme that circulated the internet calling for a sequel to the popular song), with the repeated introspective motivational exclamation “I can be, whatever I want to be/ Bet no bitch or a nigga stand in front of me…” reminding the listener although JID is having some fun, he is still gunning for the crown. Some of the wittier punchlines are found here: “I’m the wrong letter that made it up out your spell check/ Fucking up your texts…”. The closing verse is yet another stellar example of what appears to have become a trademark flow, notable here as the last few acapella bars offer an unfiltered understanding of his delivery.

Granted, there are sections of this album where JID appears to be firing on all cylinders, I can’t help but feel he is capable of more. DiCaprio 2 is let down in part by a lack of cohesiveness, fleeting moments of off-kilter production and the occasional piece of lazy lyricism that would otherwise have placed this project in esteemed company.

The vocal sample at the end of the ‘Despacito Too’ is taken from Raekwon’s ‘Incarcerated Scarfaces’ off the classic LP Only Built 4 Cuban Linx: “He looks determined without being ruthless…” Although, in the case of DiCaprio 2, it could be argued ‘he looks ruthless without being determined.’

Album Rating: Favourable.

Poor: 0-2 Stars / Favourable: 2-4 Stars / Highly Recommended: 4-5 Stars

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