J.I.D is in the right place at the right time. On Monday, the 28-year-old Atlanta native dropped DiCaprio 2, the follow-up to his 2015 project, DiCaprio, and his latest since 2017's The Never Story. For many fans, DiCaprio 2 is a long time coming. The first DiCaprio let it be known that J.I.D can rap circles around your favorite rapper's favorite rapper, and The Never Story solidified his proficiency in spinning enthralling tales out of dreary life experiences. But instead of being buried like most intense, underground lyricists, J.I.D is standing in the light—largely due to his signing with Dreamville in 2017.
The J. Cole-led label is one of the first entities that comes to mind when someone asks you to name a dominant rap label in 2018—but according to J.I.D, being one of the best isn't enough. “We competing with TDE,” he said during a recent interview at the Complex office in New York City, referring to Top Dawg Entertainment, home of Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and SZA, to name a few. “That's what needs to be known. Dreamville, we got to step this shit the fuck up.”
As both a hip-hop fan and journalist, I was taken aback by his candidness: The streets have been whispering about the assumed rivalry for years, but nobody from either camp has come out to admit it. Per J.I.D, the competition isn't that big of a deal at its core. “Niggas take themselves too seriously,” he said. “Everybody's so sensitive about shit. I don't care. This shit is just fun to me.”
In addition to talking about what it's like being the latest artist leading the charge for Dreamville's hip-hop takeover, J.I.D spoke with us about his favorite song on DiCaprio 2, why Willow Smith is one of his dream collaborations, and what the damn deal is with Leonardo DiCaprio.
You dropped DiCaprio 1 a few years ago, and now DiCaprio 2. What's the deal with DiCaprio?
He's one of my favorite actors. When I made the first one, I was super broke. I was struggling, but I was doing dope ass shit. I always watched his movies and stuff when I would take a break from recording or getting off of work. I would relax and watch. But he didn't have no Oscars or whatever. He didn't win any awards at that time period when I made it. So I was like, boom: I don't have no deal. It's like symmetry there. There's a duality there that I can play with. It wasn't too deep. I wasn't trying to make it too deep, but I was like, “Alright, he ain't go no awards, I ain't got a deal, I'm broke.” Whatever, whatever. This one is like, “He got his [award] and now I'm signing.” So this is going to be the last time I do it, but it was just a cool little thing at the time.
What's your favorite genre of movie?
I don't know, because I'm kind of like a connoisseur. I like all type of different things, so it's probably dependent on my mood that day. Today, I would probably like... I need some comedic relief or something. Some satire type shit.
Aside from Leonardo DiCaprio, have any other movies influenced the way that you write?
Yeah, all movies for real, for real. It's all made to bring out a feeling or teach you something. So with music, I would probably say Apocalypto. You ever seen Apocalypto? Mel Gibson movie. It's ridiculous. Crazy ass shit.
You use a lot of clips in your songs from movies and TV shows. Is there anything you have not yet used, that you're excited to put in a song?
The way clearances and samples and shit is set up, it's damn near impossible, bro. Like, reaching out to Hollywood. How I did the first DiCaprio, it was mine. I was pulling from everywhere. I was getting stuff from movies. I was getting stuff from interviews. Everywhere. And it was fine, because it was just put out for free on SoundCloud. And wherever else you put it. But now, that deal, labels and shit, everybody wants their piece. You can't just sample anything. So I kind of held off on this one. I kind of held off on this DiCaprio and used real stuff that seemed theatrical and different. You'll see.
You've been touring quite a bit. Do you have any interesting tour stories?
So, you can't tell everything... [Laughs]. We lost a homie in Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona, Spain is like Miami on heroine and meth. Methamphetamines. Go to Barcelona, Spain. I really love it there. But we lost a homie.
Alright, imagine you're on tour. It's like a group. You've been with your friends, so every morning y'all wake up, y'all eat breakfast together... We smoke, we chill, we make sure everyone's accounted for, because we got a show. We lost a homie. Went to the club around 12:00. He was there til 2:00. He left at 2:00 a.m. We didn't see him until 8:00 p.m. However many hours he was unaccounted for. Phone off. Like, missing in Barcelona, Spain.
So first off. I got to tell this story. This is fire. Let's go Complex. So, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. We went to Barcelona, Spain. First time here. See a Gucci store. Alright cool. All the homies go in there. Gucci Gang, Gucci Gang, Gucci Gang, Gucci Gang. Best record, Lil Pump. We go in there. Buy fly Gucci shit. It's dope, cool. Bet. Let's go to the beach. The beach is lit. The beach is, like I said, it's Miami, but everyone's naked as fuck. Old people, fine women, old men, just everybody, just naked just having a good time. So boom. We got on Gucci at the beach. Looking like some foreigners like, looking like you can't be from here. People have no clothes on, but y'all have on the most expensive shit.
So they got people on the beach selling towels and drinks. They come through like it's some crazy Miami shit. We staying at the W. The W's like one of the top 5 hotels in the world. I swear, it's like on the edge of the beach. You can see the whole beach from it. It's just the W sitting right here. Big W sign, beautiful. But we sitting here on the beach in a towel and people keep coming up to us. We're like, “Why they keep coming up to us?” Of course we look like we have all the money in the world because we have on Gucci at the beach. Who the fuck wears that much? I'm talking about long pants, t-shirts, flip-flops with socks on the beach. You can't miss us. So everybody kept trying to come up to sell us stuff. Like bro, we just trying to chill. Like no, y'all look out of place, because we have all the shit.
This is the daytime before we lost homie—because we drank Absinthe. If you don't know what Absinthe is. Bro, that shit will change your life. So, homie drunk the Absinthe in the club later on, two o'clock. Remember I said two o'clock, missing til 8:00 a.m. First off, I don't think he even know where he was at, because he lost his phone. He FaceTime'd our manager at 8:00 a.m. from the police station. Said he left his phone in a cab in Barcelona. Fuck. I guess the cab driver was a great person because he took his phone to the police station. So he said he went to the hotel with a girl, but I don't know. It gets tricky here, because we got kicked out of the hotel at like 12:00. He said he woke up at like 2:00. And I'm like bro, they would've came and got you. This is the W. This hotel is moving fast. Like they're trying to get their shit sold.
I think some mischievous shit happened. Because he called the homie Zeke from the police station. Said, “Oh man, I just lost my phone.” He brought it up here. He was DMing me on Instagram. Like nigga, I get 500 DMs a day. I didn't see that shiit from a random whole 'nother page. And we found him that night. We had a show at like 12:00. It was late. That's like 10% of that story I can tell y'all. That's like PG-13 version, but yeah.
Thank you for sharing.
That was a long story, too.
That was the rap version of The Hangover.
Losing people is crazy.
Let's talk about DiCaprio 2. What can we expect?
DiCaprio 2 is way better than the first DiCaprio, first and foremost. That was my goal. I wanted to make it better than the last, like a better sequel. Sequels usually don't be better than the original, you know what I'm saying? I don't know if that's just a movie thing, because Friday was the best Friday. But, the movie I just watched, what was it...It was a great movie, with the mom and the dad and the little kids and they all superheroes. What is it called?
Incredibles. That's better than the first one, I think. Do you all agree? People are sleeping on it. But it's really good. I saw it on the airplane. But yeah, the sequels are never better, or sometimes never better than the first one. I heard they're coming out with an Avatar 2. That should be tight. So this one is way better than the first and it just feels different. I didn't use many clips, but I used real life stuff, which made it way more relatable. And everything I said was real vivid. I was trying to do a different writing style.
What's your favorite track on the project?
I love all of them. It's like asking who is your favorite kid. But today, my favorite kid is a song called “Slick Talk.”
What is the hardest thing about putting together a project?
First off, it's a team effort. Nobody on Earth does a project by himself. So you have to make sure your team is intact. They have to be in the mindset of like, alright this is a project that we're giving to the people. So it has to be judged in a non-biased way. But that's really hard because you're already invested into it when you work with somebody.
So the hardest part would probably be, I don't know, I think people lack at completely finishing a thought. Being an album artist, those people are the most successful. When somebody gets a complete thought in an album and it feels organic and relatable and shit, that is something you can't really judge. You can't can't guage how people are going to feel about it. So that's the hardest thing about it. Just trying to make something that invokes feeling.
What's the vibe like in the studio for you?
Oh, my stage is lit. My studio session is lit. Of course, you got your vibrations. All of that shit. But it's always creative. And there's always good people in there. Like with good energy and shit. It's dependent on the type of song you make. I remember I made a song like “All Bad,” and that session had emotion. Nobody was like super sad but it was emotional. And it brought out the emotion in that song. Then I did another song with like hella people. It was like hella people in the studio and we made a big ass song. It was love. You could feel it through the track. It's just always good vibes. If I manage a studio, I'm probably by myself, if I'm not in a good mood.
What is like being signed at Dreamville?
It's cool. [Laughs]. I take shit with... I like everybody over there. Everybody's good people. Cole is great. Bas, Cozz, Omen, EarthGang, Lute, Ari. I think I said everybody. I think that's everybody and that's all. It's like a family feel. Good connections. Everybody trying to compete to make the best product. I'm trying to be platinum ASAP. Fast.
Do you feel like you're settled in with the label?
No. I'm never settled. I'm not even comfortable with where I'm sitting in this chair. [Laughs]. I'm never comfortable. I try to make shit uncomfortable because that's when I bring out—pressure makes diamonds.
We competing with TDE. That's what needs to be known.
So is there any type of grooming going on? Do you feel like anyone's got a hand in helping you to figure this shit out?
This my team. We came into the Dreamville situation with a mindset of what we wanted to do, so my team is more important than a lot of stuff: We come up with a lot of ideas, present them to the people that work with them. And they're like, “Ah, this is amazing.” They don't ever say [anything else] because it's always great ideas and we think shit out. We just really competing with TDE. This is a whole other thing: We competing with TDE. That's what needs to be known. Dreamville, we got to step this shit the fuck up. Them niggas is fire. We gotta step it up, fast. I don't even know any other entities that I give a fuck about. I feel like I need to step my shit up to catch them niggas. That was a random side-note.
Thank you. I appreciate your honesty.
Fact: Everybody knows it, but nobody says that shit.
Why do you think people are afraid to have that conversation?
Niggas take themselves too seriously. Everybody's so sensitive about shit. I don't care. This shit is just fun to me. I'm not even supposed to be here. I'm a nigga from the hood. I'm from [Zone 6], I come from a big ass family, bro. I be just happy to be involved with cameras and boom lights and shit. This is cool, my nigga. I'm just happy to be here, and try to make great art for people to enjoy and shit. Help people out.
For The Never Story, there was a low-key rollout, because you were on the cusp of being known. What was it like to work on DiCaprio 2, when there's anticipation?
The anticipation for this one made me keep working on it, to make it for people enjoying shit like that. It's different when eyes are on you. I made a [XXL] freshman cover and all of that shit, so it's like, "Oh, he's dope." But now, they'll see what's coming next. It could be on some sophomore slump, curse-type shit. People want to see you fail more than... No, let me not say that. I feel like negative things bring more attention and shit like that, so when some shit is really dope—really, really dope—that shit gets twice the attention as some negative shit.
I feel like [DiCaprio 2] is super dope. It's going to get big attention. You can tell it's been crafted, it's been worked on. I hate, "Oh, this is the forthcoming album and dadadada." It's just music nowadays. People are dropping whatever. It's hard to put a label on shit, as far as packaging music goes. I'm just trying to make the best shit. I think it's going to be dope though, 'cause I got all the eyes on me that I ever wanted. Not ever wanted, but I got eyes on me now. So now, I can show them proof.
To go back to The Never Story, last summer, [J. Cole's manager and Dreamville Records president] Ib tweeted that it was recorded the whole time on the wrong side of the mic and you said, “Facto.”
Can you talk about what happened and how you found out?
I record myself. Even this project, the last project: I record myself. I'm in the engineer credits for all my shit. And it's going to be like that forever. And I'm trying to get extra better with it.
So, we had a mic set up by some dude in 2013, 2014, and he put a preset on there. We had the mic and we just traveled with it. I don't know the ins and outs of everything—I had presets. I go up there and press record. I put on my filters and shit. So when we sent it to the engineer, he's like, "Bro, why is it sounding like this? It sounds like it's coming out the wrong end." I was like, "Bro, I don't know." And lo and behold: It was just the wrong shit. It wasn't literally upside down, but I guess the input to it or something. I don't know the technicalities of it, but it was fucked up. But it sounded good! It was never recorded backwards or however. All them shits were just recorded that way.
Good to know. So J. Cole has completely transformed—physically, mentally, emotionally—since he first came into the public eye. How do you see yourself changing as you progress throughout your career? Either your style, or stylistically, in your actual delivery?
That's a good question. Change is definitely everyday. It's an ever-changing world. Everything changes, so I really don't know. I just hope I become a better person, a better man. I didn't come into the game like, "This is what's lit about me." I didn't come into the game young as fuck, where I could fuck shit up. I came into the game with a sound mind.
After 25, you're cooked. You're 30. You're 50. So boom: I came in the game, 26. Same age as Em[inem], JAY-Z and all these great niggas. That shit is kind of like, it's good for when I'm making good decisions with my money. I can still fuck with some money, crazy and ratchet and do all the fun shit, but at the same time, I know how to make my shit triple up. It's really cool.
I think my change is going to be boss-level-up shit, and I'm going to be doing movie shit. That's why did DiCaprio. That's why all this shit is film-based. My end goal is me trying to get into film and writing and directing. I don't want to be an actor too much. I'll do some Tarantino shit, and step in and say "nigga" a few times, but I don't want to be an actor. I just want to put the art together. Don't say "nigga," Tarantino. What the fuck?
Somebody had to say it.
Yeah, fact. I'm not going to let him say that shit, either. I'm not letting him slide. You get a good gut punch from me, then I'mma sell you this script.
You recently tweeted, “I'm going to keep three-verse songs alive.” Was that in response to the Joe Budden Podcast episode with Pusha-T?
Yeah, because I watched it and I was like, "Yo, this is tight." But I got three-verse songs, so it's like a fact. Even on this project: Three-verse songs. The last song on the project is a three-verse song. And I had two on The Never Story that was three verses, so I'm going to keep trying to do that. Because people aren't dumb, but the world is getting dumb. People are like, "Give me a minute song and say the same words." "No, nigga—listen to all 500 of these fucking words, right now."
I feel like music with a purpose is necessary.
I know you said it was on some troll shit, but do you feel like three-verse songs are necessary for hip-hop?
I feel like music with a purpose is necessary. Three-verse songs, just for that to be singled out: That's weird to me. Bro, make a song. This is a song. We shouldn't be like, "It should be one verse." It should be like, "This is the music." If you get the idea across, if you get the people feeling that shit, then your job is done. I don't care how you get to the end result. You just gotta get there. Sometimes, it be overdone, but at the same time, sometimes it can be just what you needed to hear. How many verses is [Lil Uzi Vert's] “New Patek?”
That shit is like 5.
That's what I'm saying. Uzi's a genius. What are people talking about? Go Uzi.
Do you feel like you need to change anything about yourself, the way you rap, in order to become a bigger artist?
If people don't fuck with me, then I'm just not for you. I really don't care about if it's going to break: It's going to happen. If it's meant to be, it's going to be. But I'm not gonna make my shit like, "Oh, I'm trying to get on the radio." Nigga, drop me. I don't give a fuck. I wanna put my heart out there, and be that. I want to be my art, type shit. I don't want to have to conform. I want to work with people I care about, that I fuck with. Understand their story, what they stand for.
On that note of working with people: J. Cole is "Mr. Platinum, no features." Do you ever feel pressured to work with fewer people because of that? Or are you just like, I'm doing me?
J. Cole went platinum with no features? That's fucking crazy. I'm playing—I don't care. That nigga do him. That's fire. It just depends. Never Story had like, three features. I've always been like that. I only work with people that I feel like are good people. I wouldn't just do a feature like, "Oh, Young Oxycontin, single verse." Fuck that, nigga. I'm not doing no verse with this nigga just 'cause he's popping. I want to meet you. I want to talk to you. Let's damn near have a meal. Let's make a conversation and turn it to a song. Don't send me no shit just because this is what it is.
So, no. I don't feel pressured. I feel like collaborations are dope. And doing shit alone is dope. It all comes with a package. Everybody works on a project together. It's not just always one person. It's a collective thing, and that's what's dope about it, about putting projects together. That's why it's stressful: 'Cause it's a whole team of people that got your back. They want you to succeed, so alright—I gotta put my best foot forward. In that aspect, if you get features, features are cool. That's my final answer. I be rambling.
Do you have a dream feature?
Willow Smith. Just because our birthday is on the same day and we're like, the same person. Willow Smith and probably Alex Turner from Arctic Monkeys, and D'Angelo. And if I could bring Prince and Michael Jackson back, I would ask them to sing a hook or some shit together.
To me, the production that you rap over is dark, brooding, some kind of tension there—but your voice is kind of bright. Is that a conscientious decision to be like, I want to counterbalance this?
Damn, I never thought about that. No, it's not like a... my producer is that guy over there. His name is Christo. He's amazing. He's a sicko. He's a fucked-up guy in the head, so his production is probably just the thought in that. I just try to stay away from Christo. He's crazy, man. He's a crazy person. I'm actually scared of him. I'm talking shit. [Laughs]. No, niggas don't think about that. We just be trying to make good music. I like dark shit, anyway. My birthday [Halloween]... I just like dark shit. That's just probably my ear combined with his genius.
Sonically, I get an East Coast vibe sometimes. Are you heavily influenced by East Coast rap?
Yeah. I'm influenced by all rap, really. All stuff—I grew up listening to a lot of different genres—but of course, hip-hop is our shit. I'm influenced by great shit, that's all. That's all I be searching for. I be searching for the shit that's like, "Oh this works, this is great. I want to be close to that. I want to understand what that is about."
What was the first album you bought?
It had to be Aquemini or Lil Wayne, Tha Block Is Hot. It's one of those, but I think it was Aquemini.
Which track did you practice the hardest to memorize?
Whew. I still don't know it. It's on Aquemini. It's not "Chonkyfire." What the fuck is the name of the song? Oh: "Return of the 'G.'" You know that song? "It's the return of the gangsta, thanks to..." [Mumbles] Nobody knows how to do that besides him. I don't know what the fuck he's talking about. I know what he's talking about, but I don't know how he... that shit is ridiculous.
Alright last question: What kind of statement are you trying to make with this album?
My fans wanted this shit. They like to hear me rap and shit, so this is what it is. And this the Gangsta Grillz—we got DJ Drama on it. It's just a nostalgic thing. It's cool.
I didn't do it like, "Oh shit, people say I sound like Lil Wayne," or some shit like that. I didn't do it like that. I did it my type of way. I didn't want to jack the beats and rap—I can do that all day. That's going to come. But I did all original songs with people I fuck with.