In hip-hop’s multigenerational macrocosm, the breakout year for every new kid on the block is much like the first day of school.
A fresh slate to either build or blunder a reputation upon. A diversiform selection of peers to embrace, impress, or ignore. A flustered mix of anxiety and excitement among the mentors. A trusted handbook projecting the objectives and goals laid out for each quarter. And goals that either flourish or fail come the end of the year.
Atlanta rap wunderkind J.I.D. skipped the underclass niceties and clout tryouts, zipped a mere half-worn No. 2 pencil and tattered notebook into his backpack, then cut straight to the front of the freshman line to dawn as hip-hop’s star pupil of 2018.
His seat in the underwhelming XXL Freshman Class of 2018 grounded this emergence in a literal sense. In the summer-dawning month of June, the historic hip-hop publication both delighted and disappointed with their annual list, which ushers the top 10 rap talents to watch for the year onto hip-hop’s centerstage and the magazine’s frontpage. Just as J.I.D. clinched a line-leader position of rap’s new era, his spotlight amplified tweet-by-tweet to the top of Twitter’s trending topics on the day of XXL’s Freshman Class unveiling. All unenthused expressions aside, J.I.D.’s presence was only fitting for a publication that champions the most promising births of hip-hop talents. But day-one fans knew better: JID’s face was not fitting for the class’ “We Got Clout” cover line because his gift ranged far beyond mere “clout.” And always had, dating back to his Spillage Village breeding grounds.
One-fifth of the Atlanta-based music collective, the East Atlanta kid meticulously calibrated his sonic IQ with his Spill Vill family. The group was established by two of his close friends (and now Dreamville brothers) EarthGang while the three attended Hampton University. The producer legs of the burgeoning group, brothers Hollywood JB and JordxnBryant gained Spillage Village residency thereafter. The quintet of genre-synthesizers fuse jazz, soul, R&B, hip-hop and funk (to name a few) into their musical molecules. It was here that J.I.D birthed his eclectically-inclined gift of hip-hop. "He fits what I think is going to be the next generation of legends,” J.I.Ds manager Barry “Hefner” Johnson told BET Digital. "He picked a different perspective to tell his story. If you listen to J.I.D, his story is no different—content-wise— from a 21 Savage, or an Offset, or a Future. They just have a different way about doing it. But that's how Atlanta artists are. J.I.D just decided to attack it from a different standpoint."
Thus, that millennial-disgraced taboo, “clout,” wasn’t the elevator he needed to climb on to ascend to celebrity. Perhaps the term (defined by dictionaries as influence and power, but by millennials as a cheap thrill ride to infamy) would be more fitting for Boonk Gang, who rose to fame by filming himself stealing everyday property and hysterically jolting off on his theft victims. Or 6ix9ine, hip-hop’s troll-mastering class clown who (prior to his arrest) used Instagram to instigate or initiate a laundry list of purportless rap beefs. Or SoundCloud sensation Lil Pump, who dropped an unprovoked 30-second “F**k J. Cole” track to rouse the tempers of Dreamville fanatics.
As these same Dreamville fans would know, “clout,” by this low standard, certainly wasn’t what landed him in the earshot and label roster of hip-hop’s North Carolina-bred mahatma J. Cole. J.I.D.’s vehicle to rap prominence is simply talent. Raw, un-clouted, un-cosigned, unbridled talent. Reaching far and wide through music’s seascape to foster it, the 28-year-old salaams psychedelic-funk’s Sly and the Family Stone, rock’s Arctic Monkeys, elec-trip hop’s Little Dragon, and R&B and hip-hop’s Outkast, T.I., Goodie Mob, Mobb Deep, Jay-Z and Nas. Black Star’s rap revolutionary Mos Def (a.k.a. Yasiin Bey) also rolled out a red carpet for him in August 2017. As Dreamville’s first signee to call Atlanta home, J.I.D. doesn’t lean on the Cole crutch nor his hometown’s trap customs. "He values a little bit more of his production,” Barry added. “He doesn't want that same 808s hitting all the time. He picks different patterns and beats and more colorful types production to bring out what he wants to say."
Such meticulous production energizes the slick punchiness of his lyrical disposition that dynamized his debut album, The Never Story. The “NEVER” title track throws out left hooks in its quick-shift flow while tracks like “Underwear” undercuts a slow-tempo beneath freestyle-value bars. Keeping the momentum strong, he diversified those qualities for his sophomore follow-up, DiCaprio 2. J.I.D can chopper-rhyme a spit flow that pivots to a melodic listlessness at the turn of an 808 (“151 Rum,” “Off Deez”). Sophisticated wit and abstract perceptions of everyday nuances feed his lyrical inferno (“TIIED”). Even as a feature talent, like on Denzel Curry’s “SIRENS | Z1RENZ,” J.I.D’s mastery is contagious enough to inspire his peers to push their own pen. “He's the only person in this game that got me to write,” Curry told Beats 1’s Zane Lowe of the July-released single. “His verse was so hard on that sh**, I was like, 'I'm going back in.’ He's a lyricist, for sure.” Prior to the death of hip-hop’s beloved rapper-producer Mac Miller, J.I.D planned to take his handful of hip-hop alliances to the stage as well for The Swimming Tour. The Dreamville envoy would have shared the stage with his producer trustee (who rocked the soundboard for Spillage Village’s Bears Like This Too Much) and the guitar-gifted Thundercat.
Along these lines, J.I.D quietly secured himself a golden year for 2018 right beneath hip-hop’s nose. His up-from-here forecast includes commercial audience crossovers and further genre overlaps for 2019 now that he’s swollen his niche fan base. As the Dreamville standout continues to outwork his class of millennial rap peers, evolving his sonic and lyrical agility, his next grade-skip is more than worthy to land at the front of another class of prestige: 2019’s Best New Artist class.