Photos by Yancey
“I hope I don't sound like an asshole,” J.I.D. tells me after we've been on the phone for 20 minutes or so. He's just explained that he wants to be considered one of the greats, or maybe “the best that ever did it,” but, as bold as that claim is, he definitely doesn't sound like an asshole. For the most part, if anything, he's too self-effacing. He insists his music's meaning is up for interpretation; he mentions that he grew up with an Atlanta music legend in his family but refuses to say anything more other than saying it was inspiring; he's hesitant as he says he hopes his music lets “people know, like, the South has something to say?” To be a little more unequivocal on J.I.D.'s behalf, he is awesome.
A soft-spoken but intricate lyricist with a cocky side (“heard you're the best thing coming up / oh god I'm dying from laughter!”), J.I.D. raps in a way that's reminiscent of Kendrick Lamar if Kendrick were immersed in the creative Atlanta underground. J.I.D. grew up in East Atlanta and went to college at Hampton University with the other members of the Spillage Village collective, which includes fellow Atlantans and current roommates EarthGang. At Hampton, J.I.D. played football (corner, defensive back, kick return), which allowed him to travel the country and get a view of how the rest of the world saw his home city. He got a more recent impression of those opinions this past fall, when he went with EathGang on tour with Bas and Ab-Soul, an experience that helped build visibility and help J.I.D. develop his stage presence. When I saw him on that tour, he was a small but effective whirlwind of energy.
While J.I.D.'s home of East Atlanta is best known in the rap world for birthing the more aggressive sound of trap music, J.I.D. tactfully points out that that image of his part of the city “is not everyone's reality.” Nor, for that matter, is the broader impression of Atlanta rap true to his music: “From the outside-in, Atlanta is kind of perceived as like popcorn. People don't respect it as having artists such as myself and EarthGang and other lyrical talents and album-worthy artists” J.I.D. explains, noting that, while he personally appreciates his peers, he would like for his city to be seen as a home to actual talent and not just commercial hitmaking.
His bid to present himself as the solution works for me: J.I.D.'s DiCaprio EP is soulful and restrained but also foulmouthed and funny, its lyrics fun to follow in little circles rather than exhausting or needlessly intricate. Johnny Venus of EarthGang describes J.I.D. as “tenacious: a Tasmanian Genius,” which seems accurate, while Childish Major, who produced “LeInterlude Part 1,” complimented J.I.D.'s “ability to pull objects and situations out of the air to describe certain things.”
J.I.D. explains that the EP is a prelude to a year that will be full of new output and of building up his brand as a different type of Atlanta artist. “It never really mattered to me trying to get somewhere fast because if you get somewhere fast you probably won't stay there too long,” he explains.
With cameos from familiar names on the local scene like OG Maco, Key!, Childish Major, and Curtis and Jace of Two-9, the DiCaprio EP might not be the slow burn that J.I.D. is anticipating, but that's a good thing. This is a project worth paying attention to right now—if you thought you knew Atlanta, think again, and get familiar below:
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