A wave of phone calls from school administrators crashes into each other on the opener of IDK’s new short IWASVERYBAD. The introduction, titled “Mrs. Lynch, Your Son is the Devil,” is a crescendo of complaints simulating the trouble the rapper found himself in growing up in PG County: an academic career filled with the inability to focus, failing grades, and suspensions. The calls addressed to his mother, Mrs. Lynch, get progressively worse. The penultimate call is from Maryland’s Third District Police Department with news her son is implicated in an armed robbery; the final one is an insurance company seeking payment of $7,550—the cost of his legal fees. The Maryland rapper, born Jason Mills, transports you into the world as he sees it.
IWASVERYBAD—which is premiering at Noisey today—is the reality where black boys are admonished in undervalued and understaffed school systems. “Nigga, you gon’ be bad, forever,” a choir teases on the opening track. The album is a reminder that when it comes to speaking life or death over the lives of black children, society often chooses death. One year after releasing the 35-minute cinematic album, IDK is releasing the first part of the short that accompanies it—and it’s every bit as chilling as you’d expect.
Directed by IDK, Jamie Sanchez, and Gregory “Beef” Jones (who’s helped produce Noisey Atlanta and Chicago), the rapper reenacts the real-life events that led to his incarceration at 17-years-old. “I’m just a middle-class nigga whose class was a mixture / Of them spelling bee winners and them PG killers,” he raps. The rambunctious student body can’t keep still until they’re seated for a class photo. Despite their behavior, each of them plasters on a smile—except IDK. Stuck in the crosshairs of the best and worst of PG County and Washington, D.C., the rapper doesn’t know who he wants to be. The remnants of who he is are found in his room. It’s littered with sneaker boxes, trophies, and oversized headphones. There are regional fashion staples, like his Wizards jersey, New Balances, and Nationals hat, but what’s found in his drawer by the police is most surprising of all: a .38 mm pistol that was used in the robbery of a pizzeria three months earlier.
IDK’s recollection of the night at the pizza shop has the adrenaline of Eazy E’s “Nobody Move” mixed with YG’s “Meet the Flockers.” “So, now we speeding to the pizza place, closing up, it’s getting late / Someone’s gotta rob the place, everybody look at Jay,” he raps on “Pizza Shop Extended.” Walking into the pizza place with a ski mask, the song launches into its compelling second half. “Load the clip, rob, repeat,” he repeats, which feels more like a pep talk than something he’s grown accustomed to doing on his own. The action-packed song suggests this isn’t a life he’s privy to when he says, “Knowing I’m not that nigga / My acting skills get as good as Michael Jackson on Thriller.”
Of all the imagery he provides for the first six songs of the album, the most poignant parts of IWASVERYBAD is how IDK grieves his mother’s death. For much of the visual, the role of Mrs. Lynch is portrayed by a fair-skinned woman with intense eyes who is never seen without her satin scarf. She’s thrown to the floor during a SWAT team raid and filled with so much anger after finding a pair of panties in the house she slaps him. The 15 minutes aren’t filled with warm mother-son moments. Instead, IDK seems remorseful yet unrepentant. For all the examples she and his stepfather provided for him, in defining himself for himself, his reality doesn’t align with theirs. The white dove in the opening scene is emblematic of the relationship they’d never get a chance to mend, which he raps about on “Black Sheep, White Dove.”
One day shy of its anniversary, IDK told Noisey how the grief, anger, and discovery of IWASVERYBAD—his most introspective release since his first mixtape in 2014—is still resonant, one year later.
Noisey: October 13 is the anniversary of IWASVERYBAD. Now that you’re a year removed from the project, how do you view the album differently?
IDK: The year gap showed me the music has longevity. Whatever people heard when they listened to it touched them enough for the content to really resonate with them. Everybody’s very excited for what’s coming next with this project. This is one of those things that define who I am to a lot of my fans. Now, they see me as not only a really good artist but a really good storyteller.
How long after the album from did you know you wanted to make a visual?
Immediately, honestly. There were times when I had to put the video on ice because I was doing a bunch of other things, but this has been in the works for about a year. But, I’ve been planning this before the album was even out.
Would you say having the concept for a visual made the writing process easier?
I still had to write it to make sense on film, but it made the writing process a lot easier for sure. It made it like it was written. The album was basically written, I just had to add more things to make it suitable for TV.
How heavily involved were you? What was the creative process like?
There were a lot of times it was just me and Jamie playing with different ways to direct things. A good example of that was on “Pizza Shop.” At the very end, before it goes into the next song, you’ll see I come up with the camera. Then, the camera stays up and I go down. That was an idea I had in the field. Like, “Yo. Let’s do it like this because I feel like it would be a great way to make people feel attached to what’s going on.” I thought it was perfect. It’s funny because in the theater you could hear people screaming, “No, don’t go!” I’m glad I was able to capture that emotion with that shot.
IWASVERYBAD relies heavily on your life story. How difficult was it to record the album and was it more difficult it was to relive it on film?
I literally put myself in the same place I was when I started making the album. I went around to some of my old friend’s neighborhood and asked them questions about how was back then. They told me some stories I even forgot I did. So, when it was time to record the album, it just came. That’s one of my strong points. I’m able to relive things from the past—even live through other people through my music, sometimes. Doing it on-camera wasn’t difficult, either. It was just a matter of putting myself in that mindset again.
How did you choose the locations?
I wanted to correlate the similarities between PG County and D.C. Everybody knows PG County has bad neighborhoods, but growing up, there were a lot of suburban kids who acted like they were from D.C. So, I recreated that whole tension with this visual.
If you notice, there are pieces where the camera goes from the computer into one of the most notorious neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. It’s basically me saying I wanted to be what I saw on the internet or where some of the high school friends were from. It’s like me leaving reality and going into this virtual world of what is supposed to be the hood.
In the beginning, you open with the white dove, which has been symbolic for your mother across this project. How important was it for you to get that symbolism in there?
It was the most important thing. If you think of IWASVERYBAD, the dove was an important mascot. The most important thing for me to establish for this project was the dove to begin with. When [we finish the second part], it’ll pop back in and everyone will know what the dove is and what it represents, and what everything means.
What about the casting? You have that woman playing your mother, what were you looking for when it came down to casting your mom?
Because it was a silent film where there’s no real dialogue, I just wanted a strong, powerful, black woman. She doesn’t necessarily look like my mother but I feel like what she represented still made sense and you could see the emotion in her face.
There’s a section on the album that details your relationship with women, but the phrases “I treat her bad” and “I blame my friends” mirror the dynamic you describe between you and your mom. Would you say they were reflexive of each other?
It all reflects back to a disrespectful relationship if you want to be honest, with my mother. I wasn’t the most respectful for a lot of reasons that could be justifiable. That bled into the ways I viewed women, period. On top of that, you have the influence of my friends. I said “I blame my friends,” because as a kid you don’t think deeply about the psychology of what could happen to your parents and how that could affect your life. The simple answer is the homies.
I also wanted people to understand that when I go into the party with the girl, it does connect to the story even though for a split second it might not feel like it. But once it’s done, then it all comes back full circle.
What made you want to end it with the animation on “Windows Up?”
Josh Heineman did that. He killed it. When my mom slapped me, I wanted it to put me in another world. It’s almost like she’s slapping some sense into me. The animation was the best way to do that. It was a way to segue out of reality for a second and get into my thoughts, almost as if I were in a euphoric state. I don’t know how else I could have conveyed that.
Are there plans, besides the continuation, to do more things film wise?
I don’t think a lot of people understand the dynamics of what I do as an artist. People know me as a rapper and some people don’t even know all my music, but know I can tell stories or I can be a little more lyrical. Some people might see certain songs and that’s what they judge me by. I want the world to understand that when it comes to art, all the way around, that’s something I’ve always been serious about.
Kristin Corry is a staff writer for Noisey. Follow her on Twitter.