JID stands at the forefront of a new school of lyricists, many of which deserve further accolades and praise.
At the beginning of the year, I predicted that “Lyrical Hip-Hop” was poised for a triumphant return. As the year-end marker approaches, the idea seems more fact than fiction. We’ve long come to regard a vast pantheon of veteran rappers as the bar to which young writers must ascribe. Artists like Eminem, Royce Da 5’9”, Black Thought, Jay-Z, Andre 3000, Nas, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Pusha T, Method Man, Kendrick Lamar, and J. Cole have earned their positions in the conversation, especially given the sheer depth of their respective discographies. With that in mind, it’s difficult for any discussion surrounding current lyrical greats to break from the comfort zone.
Yet there exists a new class of brilliant lyricists, who have spent the last minute putting forth some truly impressive writing. Dreamville rapper JID stands among them, comfortably occupying a position atop the ladder despite a relatively young catalog of material. A recent invocation into the XXL Freshman annals found masses labeling him the “lyrical” name of the bunch, an award he’d wear with honor, like one who proudly accepts his position as “class clown.” Admittedly, the bar was far from high, given the inclusion of Smokepurrp and Lil Pump, who many have come to view as the death of lyricism incarnate. Yet JID brought a notable sense of prestige, and held it down for those who still place the art form above the antics.
Image via HNHH
Today, JID has brought forth his new album DiCaprio 2, a follow-up to last year’s The Never Story. Though it’s only been hours since the project has surfaced, a preliminary listen reveals an artist focused crafting something cohesive. In truth, the best artists of this generational class often are; it’s becoming a hallmark means of spotting the true contenders. Yet JID’s project reveals the scope of his talents through a variety of different fashions. For one, the Atlanta rapper has emerged as a champion of the "three verse song," a once-mighty structure that has since become somewhat of a dying art. The lyrical dexterity is present on “Westbrook,” “151 Rum” and “Off Deez.” Reflections of self and peers emerge on “Off Da Zoinkys,” the latter finding JID picking up where J. Cole left off on KOD. The hopeless yet occasionally lust-fuelled romantic comes alive during the midpoint stretch, led off by the 6lack & Ella Mai-assisted "Tiiied." And yet, JID’s pen game never falters. It only expands, serving to develop the various aspects of his character.
Those quick to throw out condescending terms such as “lyrical miracle” or “rappity-rap” only serve to reveal their rudimentary understanding of lyricism. Of course, it’s not easy to string words and thoughts together in a coherent, and more importantly, flashy fashion. Yet the truly gifted writers, which is to say those with longevity, bring a wide array of talent to the fold. A line doesn’t have to be multisyllabic to make for a dope lyric. Factors such as cadence, subtext, and delivery can turn a simple line into something all the more powerful; think Ghostface Killah crying out “I can’t go to sleep!” Not exactly apt to make you cry “BARS,” but the game’s truly gifted lyricists understand when less is more. JID is cut from the same cloth. To glean his full potential, one must live with his work, and therefore come to understand his manner of speaking. Make no mistake: “BARS” are but one number in an extensive and complex equation.
JID & J. Cole - "Off Deez"
Of course, a self-respecting lyricist must be able to out-bar the competition when prompted; it simply comes with the territory, the way a professional athlete can dominate a skills competition in a low-stakes environment. One must pay close attention to the toolbox in which rappers store their various references. Those who have truly mastered the art of the “reference” are capable of toeing the line between two disparate worlds: the raw authenticity of the streets and the docile, geek-friendly domain of the suburbs. JID is the product of Atlanta’s Zone 6 (home of Gucci Mane), yet he’s still out here referencing “Zoboomafoo.” Mick Jenkins brings Chicago authenticity to the fold, while stringing together references to “The Hunger Games” and “Pokemon” in one fell swoop. Denzel Curry played a pivotal role in developing the underground Florida rap scene, all while sliding “Sly Cooper” references into this work.
When asked about the game’s best lyricists, it feels easy to fall back on an established name. It’s not entirely unfounded, as those established voices have long solidified their position. But what happens when an up-and-comer starts out-rapping the legends? Many are likely hesitant to give due credit to a seemingly unproven voice, but many “new” rappers can already boast several albums to their name. Perhaps longevity truly is the key, and thus, some may remain skeptical about giving due props before time can run its course. After all, hip-hop discourse is often plagued by the hyperbolic limitation: “of all time.” Of course, such implications are inherently stacked against a newcomer, even if they are out rapping ninety percent of the game. So next time somebody opens the floor for a discussion, consider looking beyond the comforts of familiarity and holding it down for a newcomer.