Note: this interview was conducted back in April 2017 and never published. Sharing here on my personal blog as I reflect on the past 12 months. Enjoy!
J.I.D is Leading the South’s Lyrical Reawakening With Ferocity, Humility and Grace
The Dreamville signee is en route to be your new favorite rapper.
Words by KC Orcutt
For an artist who just freshly stepped into the ring and dropped his debut album a month after announcing his new record deal earlier this year, J.I.D, a rising emcee from Georgia, certainly rolls deep.
With an eager entourage filling the hallway of BET Networks and keeping a careful watch on the rapper’s tight-knit itinerary, it became clear that the 26-year-old East Atlanta native pays special attention to the company he keeps. With an eye on his future but his mind in the present, J.I.D, born Destin Route, is the type of artist who can testify to the importance of trusting the process when it comes to being a creative, as well as how, in order to succeed, sometimes all you need is the right people in your corner.
With the release of his first studio album, The Never Story, earlier this March, a month after announcing joining J.Cole’s Dreamville Records roster, J.I.D makes the kind of introduction that doesn't fall on deaf ears. His unique combination of soulful production, a cunning flow and vibrant storytelling chops are qualities that are swiftly leading him toward greatness. His work is chock full of the exact ingredients needed to get fans talking about the music first and whatever else second; something that feels increasingly rare in today’s age of fast-paced social media and short attention spans.
In the project’s 39 minutes, the rapper, whose moniker J.I.D is inspired by his grandmother constantly pointing out he was a jittery kid, whets the palate and raises excitement for what he himself knows will be a long, fruitful career in music. He says it has been that way since he first started rhyming and began chasing after it; following dropping out of Hampton University in 2012. Shifting his goals without apology from an athletic career path (he was an All American football player in high school), he turned to music to save him from the temptation of the streets after straying from continuing his education.
“As soon as I started, I knew,” J.I.D says. “As soon as I decided I wanted to do music, because it was like kind of abrupt decision, I knew I had to be all in. I didn't really listen to others and I was stubborn about it because I knew it was what I wanted to do. That's the only way I'm going to get to it, if I just keep all that chatter from the outside away from me and just do what I could do.”
While inking a deal with Dreamville has indubitably helped certain open doors for him, J.I.D humbly understands that while that is true, it is his talent, work ethic and gratitude-laden persona that allow him to stay in the room once he enters. In fact, when you catch him in conversation, Cole's name is far from the tip of his tongue, with the rapper keeping mum on the details regarding their friendship and working relationship.
As legend has it, the North Carolina heavyweight and the Atlanta upstart first linked following J.I.D joining Bas, EarthGang and Ab-Soul on tour in 2014. Cole’s friend and producer, Cedric Brown, introduced the two and a friendship blossomed long before business came into the picture. J.I.D’s 2015 EP, Dicaprio, likely didn’t hurt the situation, with the strong release organically being met with local praise and in turn, a building momentum. While Cole's coveted co-sign holds weight in the music industry and means the world to J.I.D, he's increasingly focused on carving a lane all of his own.
“I feel like when people listen to the project, they will know they're getting something authentic and from a real, deep place,” J.I.D says, of his debut record. “I don't want to be seen as only one way or boxed into one style. I just want to be a good artist overall, a good overall person and that's what matters at the end of the day to me.”
While some artists may feel that everything fans need to know about them is woven into their music, such an ambitious claim is actually proven true when it comes to J.I.D. The project is a melting pot of eccentric influences and Southern comfort, with drastic switches in soundscape and cadence alike, taking listeners on a ride that feels as genuine to his youthful energy as it does his old soul.
However, as he spits on The Never Story, despite not acknowledging himself as an artist until he reached his twenties, he always knew he was different, rapping, “I knew in diapers you and I was nothing alike at all / I do or die, you do it to die, I'm really making calls. / You couldn't kill it and take it out of me.”
Throughout its dozen tracks, the project is littered with fierce lyricism ("NEVER," "Lauder" and "D/Vision") strangely playful ("EdEDDnEddy," "Underwear") and shines as sincerely profound ("All Bad," "Everybody," "Hereditary"). Considering the dynamic display of his talents, it doesn't come without merit that he's garnering comparisons to the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, OutKast and his label boss alike. As further exemplified by the fact that he was slated to open for Jazz Cartier and Tory Lanez on separate tour runs a year apart, as well as being recruited to sing backing vocals for DJ Khaled's "Jermaine's Interlude;"is versatility speaks at a volume that audiences are not only responding to, but are increasingly intrigued by. However, as much as this is a blessing, J.I.D doesn't intend on getting lost in the fame that comes with recognition.
“I don't really pay attention to what people are saying,” J.I.D says, before diving deeper into exactly how he allows feedback from fans to affect him.
“I read it, I see it but it doesn't really gauge how I move next. I read this once in a book, 'Once a man does he works, he takes that moment and enjoys it, but moves onto the next.' If you dwell on the opinions of everybody else, you're gonna be f**ked. You can't go off of what everybody else feels, because what if one day, those same people who gave you praise no longer f**k with you. I'm happy and I'm thankful, but at the same time, I'm doing my work and I'm moving on because it's all small pieces to the big painting.”
As much as J.I.D may not pay attention to what the blogs and tweets that bare his name may be saying, he is still very much a student, despite rapping about getting kicked out of school on his track, “General.” In fact, he even shares that Cole gave him a book recommendation, before backtracking just as quickly.
“There's a book I've been reading, I don't remember its name right now but it's by an Asian genius. [Cole] recommended it to me and I've been reading it; it's amazing,” he begins before pausing, and laughing. “I actually don't want to give y'all the name of the book because I'm keeping its secrets with me.”
In addition to keeping his nose in a book while on the road, J.I.D also explains how he's always gravitated toward a diverse range of sounds and is interested in expanding his wealth of music knowledge, adding that his favorite band at the moment is Little Dragon.
“I'm big on other genres,” he declares. “I love hip-hop and I love all that, but I listen to other genres of music. I listen to a lot of Little Dragon, I listen to a lot of D'Angelo. I grew up on Sly and the Family Stone, the Arctic Monkeys, just like different sounds. There's a million ways to make music and different ways to draw inspiration in whatever I want to use.”
Surprisingly enough, the oft soft-spoken rapper doesn't have much of an interest in collaborating with the aforementioned artists, even though fans can catch direct wind of his well-rounded taste and the influence it has had on his creativity with every spin of his project.
“I never thought about it because I'm such a fan,” he says. “I feel like I'd rather absorb their work and just move on. I'd rather meet them than do music together.”
Of his creative process, he shares he has begun slowly letting more people into the studio with him, saying that has changed since he first making music. “Up until recently I've been recording myself and I just be by myself,” J.I.D explains, keeping his calm demeanor relaxed. “I plan on changing it up because I want to make more collaborative efforts. That's how you come out with the best product. I want to get Grammys and stuff like that and I want to work with great people to take it there. We've had a lot of conversations, arguments and fights and all that but that's how it comes. We've had every type of argument you could have [laughs] but it's all a part of getting to the final goal.”
“There's just good people over there,” he adds, referring to his new home at Dreamville. “Just good, genuine people and everyone's hella musically inclined. It's ideal."
His 6LACK-assisted track, "8701," further lends insight into his artistry and his intentions within it. As evidenced throughout his album, his debut project succeeds as doubling as his handshake, with little disconnect between the artist on stage and the man on the street. The song is equal parts a threat (“Your best s**t ain't better than my worst s**t, yeah / Don't call me underrated, you ain't heard s**t”), an introduction (“Work like a vet and know I don't work for a check / But I'ma run it up, you can bet,”) a reflection (“As I reminisce, I'm doing well") and a reminder (“You can be whatever you gon' be / But you can never, J.I.D the monster”), with the emcee himself at the very center of it, orchestrating the philosophic, melodic track to balance his story with the direction of his vision.
Born on Halloween, the rapper carries himself like a textbook Scorpio would, backing up his mysterious wisdom and raw insight with his eclectic taste, all while on an emotive quest to discover what being an artist means to him, specifically in the year 2017.
“If you're not reflecting the times, you're basically lying,” he says, shocked at the suggestion there is any other way to going about things. “If stuff is going on right outside your door and you just, shun it off, I don't think that's like true artistry. I think artistry is being sensitive to your surroundings. Being sensitive to everything around you and absorbing it and making it into something, that's how feelings are seen through music. Everything has to be organic because otherwise it'll have to be about money. I'm really just trying to just do my thing.”
As he wins over new listeners with every passing day, he also is making sure that he represents the side of Atlanta he knows, one that he explains differs from Gucci Mane's perspective, despite the two growing up in the same neighborhood.
“It's all the same stuff, just told by a different person,” he says. “But I wouldn't try to compare, either. I love it all. I listen to all of it. Everything that comes out of my city, is what I love about my city. I want everything to flourish and make the whole scene look great. I also want lyrics back. I want everybody to know that the South still has something to say.”
His go-with-the-flow approach speaks to the trust he has in the bigger picture, and while he has his parents' blessing and his hometown behind him, it's almost awe-inspiring to remember that J.I.D never dreamed of being a rapper until life had other plans for him and left him with no choice and a purpose alike.
"I'm really just taking it all in right now," he says. "I'm still in the moment. I wouldn't say it's been surreal, but just people buying and enjoying the music is what makes me happy. I'll be hitting the road and I'm just going to keep making music, bro. I'm trying to bring the best out of myself as I can, just be a good person and make good music. Take care of the people I love. That's really all."
With 2017 already blessing the spitfire emcee with The Never Story and onJazz Cartier’s Secret Garden tour, alongside fellow up-and-comer, Levi Carter, J.I.D’s future is looking bright as hell.