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J.I.D's in-studio performance of "Working Out" for Colors Studios was a majestic depiction of what makes the 28-year-old rapper from Atlanta so captivating. He looked shy and lost, thinking of the lyrics that'll be performed. Once the smooth instrumental started, he was off in a swirling gaze showing why, of the rapper-rappers that exist in today's game, J. Cole had to have him on Dreamville Records. This was a one-of-a-kind performance with J.I.D imitating the voice of his mother, while acting out every syllable that was spilling from his mouth. His performance had a theatrical vein -- which was unlike Gunna's viral performance of "Top Off" that took place in the very same studio -- as Gunna rocked a grey vignette instead of J.I.D's purple. Gunna's set would amass 6.7 million views, while J.I.D's had three million less than that.
J.I.D's due for his moment. He released his first mixtape, Cakewalk, in 2010. Earlier this year, he was given a spot in XXL's annual freshman class – eight years later. The journey takes time and J.I.D's had time to mature while waiting. But, his Colors performance was naught but an indicator that, while he's up, he's not quite there. But, with the release of his new album DiCaprio 2, the rapper seeks to master this moment, his performance, and all of the other goodwill coming his way. And what an album it is: Tight, cinematic, and menacing.
At REVOLT, we listen to albums and figure out what's really going on underneath their surfaces. We do this in the form of five takeaways from newly released projects. Here are our takeaways from DiCaprio 2.
Finally, J. Cole has a match
J.I.D revealed in a recent Complex interview that Dreamville Records is in competition with Top Dawg Entertainment. This makes sense. Both rosters have less than ten artists (Dreamville has six, TDE has nine) and both entities prioritize rap music that stick, unlike the quick rinse-and-dry formulas that create top ten Billboard hits and soundtrack funny videos. "Dreamville, we gotta step this shit the fuck up because them niggas is fire," J.I.D says in the brief clip. It's for good measure. Everyone in T.D.E. carves out a different rap (or R&B) niche that elevates their prestige. Dreamville, in comparison, is truly propelled by J. Cole's mystique and, occasionally, Bas' new music. But, on DiCaprio 2, J.I.D makes a case for himself as Dreamville's premiere artist. Yes, even ahead of J. Cole.
J.I.D and J. Cole are polar opposites. Whereas J. Cole's music is traditional and relies on charisma to carry the listener through mundane patches; J.I.D's electric, constantly changing flows make his music border on overwhelming in a similar manner as Travis Scott's Owl Pharaoh-era creations. But, J.I.D's charisma aligns with Cole's, being equally as drawing thanks to confidence that comes with the kind of eight-year seasoning that J.I.D's had prior to his moment. "Skrawberries" begins punchy and sexually with the kind of flair reserved for mid-career paragons, and continues with heat reminiscent of dragon's fire. "Mounted Up" sounds like it would swallow up J.I.D's voice because of its eccentricity. But, he marches on while switching the flows like he's shuffling the cards of a deck for his table at a casino. The rapper distributes this manic energy across songs the same way that J. Cole uses his music to talk about folding clothes calmly, or raps from the perspective of a heartbroken teenager refusing to get an abortion. The two come from starkly different rap worlds with startlingly different values. But, in terms of charismatic ability, J. Cole's finally found a match in J.I.D.
There's a New Cinematic Universe in Town
Marvel successfully created the cinematic universe that's come to dominate pop culture and will continue to survive long after Stan Lee's death, earlier this month. Universal Studios tried to use The Mummy to jumpstart its own cinematic universe -- dubbed ominously "Dark Universe" -- but it didn't work. Quite frankly, it was boring. Now, it's stalled. The only other game in town is DC's Universe that's successful... depending on who you talk to.
DiCaprio 2 is a cinematic universe that's a little hard to put onto paper. Its cover comes from, yep, you guessed it, Oscar-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio – someone that J.I.D is a huge fan of. "He got an Oscar, things are going forward," the rapper said in a recent interview with Rolling Stone. "I wasn't trying to make it seem like, 'Oh, we're the best friends. We have the same life story.' But, I'm like, it's similarities there." The album's fascination with the actor shows in both its flair, and its variety of different worlds and locations. It's an experience comprised of fifteen tracks that sound starkly different. Think of DiCaprio's career. He's played everything from a mentally-challenged amnesiac to dream-jumping heist master, a frontier man attacked by a bear, and a snarky Wall Street con artist –- all within the last decade. Look across the span of his 27-year career and you'll find an actor who never picks the same thing twice. J.I.D's album keeps the pattern with each of its disparate narratives, but each track is a different vignette of artistic creativity. It's clear in the transition from "Stick Talk" to "Westbrook" that there's a lot going on here.
Speaking of "Slick Talk"...
DiCaprio 2 begins with someone flipping the channels of J.I.D's mind, looking for an individual film to watch. Once they settle on one, "Slick Talk" starts with the alien chant of "Activated" over and over until -- wham! -- J.I.D's switch is turned on. And turned to the max it is. "Slick Talk" is the album's strongest cut – not saying that the rest of it isn't at a near stellar level – that is slow enough to allow J.I.D the privilege of choosing his method of slaughter. He tickles the beat into submission with twisting rhymes and thwacks it over the head by dropping snare hits that allow him to switch up his flow whenever he wants. It's a beautiful mess. J.I.D calls out those who make their top ten lists without including him. He lets the listener know about the tortoise's slow and steady crawling to win the race. He lets the listeners know what he's looking for out of this lifestyle - "the cars, ring, clothes, all the houses" – and he's unapologetic. It's thrilling and captivating. Largely thanks to the funky, pelvis-bopping production courtesy of E Wonder and everyone's favorite producer Kenny Beats.
It largely avoids studio album – almost
Large and large, J.I.D's mesmerizing opus is lean and clean. Except for "Tiiied," which manages to sound both hurried and crowded. Its message is a necessary one for misunderstandings in relationships, so I get the structure. I really do. But, in execution; J.I.D, 6lack, and Ella Mai falter. J.I.D's magnetic voice can be used for rapping and even some light singing that sounds captivating on lively instrumentals like this one from Ron Gilmore and Elite. Bringing in 6lack's sullen whispers was meant to add a smoother R&B presence to the song to counterbalance Mai's sensual counterargument. But, this could have been avoided. 6lack sounds drained here. In comparison, J.I.D could sing backup for Cher. 6lack's verse goes on and on. By the time that it's finished, the listener wants to take a break. Mai manages to salvage the song from its mundane middle with her sultry sweltering vocals. But, it's easily apparent that 6lack probably should have sat this one out. Aside from this glaring misstep, DiCaprio 2's execution is tight and well thought out.
Rap-rap isn't dead, y'all
The new cast of rap paragons have bleached dreads, face tats, and viral antics to define their characters, and it's an allergic reaction to well-thought out lyricism. But, J.I.D's DiCaprio 2 shows that he's carrying the torch for the next generation who knows that shirking around more than surface level rhymes aren't synonymous with outdated. It shows a braveness that isn't found in copying the flows of Valee, Migos, or Blueface. J.I.D's rhymes on this album range from nonsensical ("Uh, okay, I stepped in this bitch like I stepped in some shit/Right, left, right, left, left, hop, dip, skip J.I.D, dipshit, the spliff lit, I'm lifted" from "Hotbox") to introspective ("I'm tryna get my fucking goals, not Goyard/Paying for the lawyers, get my bros out the courtyard/Cause I got the ear for the flows, not Mozart, but damn a nigga go hard" on "Just Da Other Day") and they mesh effortlessly. It makes for a strong case that lyricism, or rap-rap as it's regularly referred to, still exists. Hopefully, DiCaprio 2 increases the fervor surrounding it. J.I.D's new album propels him into the elite and he's just starting. Isn't that scary to think about?
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