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Before He Met JAY-Z, No I.D. Made His Own ‘Black Album’

The Chicago producer's 1997 album 'Accept Your Own & Be Yourself (The Black Album)' isn't on streaming services, but it's a window into his

by Al Shipley
Jul 13 2017, 5:02pm

Back in the dark ages of music on physical media, albums that were "out of print" were inaccessible and hard to find. Now, with wide swathes of popular music history readily available on major streaming services, the albums that aren't a click away can feel increasingly distant. In The Unstreamables, Noisey takes a look back at the blockbusters, intriguing footnotes, and cult classics that you might have to try a little harder to find.

Ernest Dion Wilson is better known as No I.D., a Chicago hip-hop institution who produced the bulk of Common's early work and mentored a young Kanye West. But the 46-year-old journeyman beatmaker, whose name always seemed to fit his relative lack of name recognition, has become quite a bit more famous with the release of JAY-Z's new album 4:44. No I.D. is now the only producer who has ever helmed an entire Hov album from front to back.

Though they likely initially linked up through their common bond to Kanye West, No I.D. has been working with Jay-Z for a long time, producing tracks on several of his albums, beginning with 2002's The Blueprint 2: The Gift And The Curse. In fact, one of the only Jay albums since then that No I.D. didn't work on is The Black Album, where Hov professed that he wanted to "rhyme like Common Sense." And it happens that six years earlier, No I.D. had recorded his own "black album."

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Accept Your Own And Be Yourself (The Black Album) is No I.D.'s only release as a rapper, released by Relativity Records on September 23, 1997. A week later, Common released One Day It'll All Make Sense, his third album for Relativity and also his third with No I.D. as his primary producer. Common's star was on the rise, but it also turned out to be the end, for the time being, of their MC/producer tandem: His next album was on a bigger label, MCA, with a completely different production team, and No I.D. wouldn't produce another Common album until 2011's The Dreamer/The Believer.

No I.D.'s album was well-timed to capitalize on his work with Common, who appears on the track "State To State," but the timing was less ideal in another respect. The album's lead single and only video "Sky's The Limit," featuring a chorus that interpolated D Train's 1982 disco hit "Keep On," ended up coming out right around the same time as the Notorious B.I.G.'s posthumous single that had the same title and hook. The Biggie record went Top 40, while the No I.D. record missed the charts.

Accept Your Own is less a No I.D. solo album than a duo project with another rapper/producer, Dug Infinite, who has verses on more than half the tracks and contributed two beats to the project. But he's clear and confident on the mic, rapping elegantly plainspoken lyrics about breaking the cycle of black poverty on "Sky's The Limit." Chicago rapper Shawnna, then of the duo Infamous Syndicate, appears on four tracks on the album about three years before she signed with Ludacris's Disturbing Tha Peace label and appeared on his hit "What's Your Fantasy?"

No I.D.'s run as a rapper appeared to be a one-off experiment—he never even kicked a verse on any of the dozens of Common songs he produced. And as his production career progressed, the album receded into the rearview. He made a name for himself with attention-grabbing songs like jay-Z's "D.O.A. (Death Of Autotune)" and Big Sean and Kendrick Lamar's "Control," as well as a label executive career with high positions and Def Jam and now Capitol Records. In May, Def Jam rapper Logic released the chart-topping album Everybody, and the track "America" featured a guest verse by No I.D., his first major appearance as a rapper in two decades, alongside conscious rap legends Chuck D and Black Thought.

One of No I.D.'s biggest creative victories during his Def Jam tenure was the 2015 Vince Staples album Summertime '06. Earlier this year, Nardwuar interviewed Staples, and presented him with vinyl copies of Accept Your Own and the "Sky's The Limit" single. "He pretends this never happened," Staples said with a laugh. "He likes to ignore this part of his life because he was young and wild, but I do really like this song and video."

Relativity Records, a powerhouse indie label for rap, jazz and punk in the 80s and 90s, was eventually restructured into RED Distribution, an indie distro arm of Sony Music. Some of the label's higher profile releases, like Common's first three albums, have been kept alive on streaming services. But Accept Your Own And Be Yourself (The Black Album) remains out of print, even as No I.D.'s clout in the music industry continues to multiply.

Al Shipley is a writer based in Maryland. Follow him on Twitter.