11 Things You Didn't Know About No I.D.

Here are some of the best stories about the producer who helped lay the groundwork for Chicago rap.

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Complex Original

Image via Complex Original

no id

On June 30, the world will finally get Jay-Z's fourteenth studio album, 4:44. A lot has changed in the four years since Jay-Z released Magna Carta Holy Grail. He's weathered the backlash of alleged infidelity famously referenced on his wife Beyonce's Lemonade, welcomed a set of twins into the world, and largely shrank away from music to multiply his portfolio with a streaming platform and a Live Nation deal. Fans and critics alike are wondering if 4:44 will resemble the slick, sage, hustler of yore or the bloated and bland Jay of recent memory. Luckily, Hov has tapped one of the most talented producers and creative minds of his generation to help him navigate this sea of detractors.

No I.D.’s roots run through twenty plus years of hip-hop. He created the foundation of modern Chicago rap with his childhood friend Common Sense. He helped mentor a teenage Kanye West at the insistence of his mother and would go on to produce for Bow Wow, G-Unit, Jay-Z, Nas, Drake, and Rihanna, to name just a few. The last few years he’s been at the forefront of the music industry as a former president of Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint, stints as the Executive Vice President of A&R and Executive Vice President and Head of Creative at Def Jam Recordings, and his current role as the Executive VP of Capitol Music Group. He also is the president of ARTium Recordings, which houses acts like Jhene Aiko and Vince Staples. It’s been an illustrious career, and he’s never lost his ear for great hip-hop. Which brings us to his next project: Helming a comeback album for one of the greatest rappers of all time.

With 4:44 almost upon us, here are some little known facts about the Chicago producer, label president, and visionary to help put into perspective why Jay’s next album could also be one of his best.

No I.D. got his name from his producing partner, Twilite Tone.

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Once upon a time, people received their music news from TV, which seems like an ineffective and horrible medium to curate music. Thankfully, TV is dying and the cesspools that are Twitter and Instagram reign supreme. However, back during the late '80s and '90s BET aired a show called Video LP. In the clip above, a young Common Sense is being interviewed by Madelyne Woods. The skinny man with a pencil thin mustache sitting next to Common is Ernest Dion Wilson. At the 5:15 mark, Dion describes how he took on the name we know him for today.

The first song Kanye played for No I.D. was called “Green Eggs & Ham.”


Green Eggs & Ham is a great book. Kanye West is a great rapper. Despite this, I hope the screenwriter who drafts the inevitable Yeezy biopic leaves one song on the cutting room floor. In an interview with Billboard, No I.D. illustrates what it was like meeting a teenage West:

West’s mom got No I.D.’s phone number, so her teenage son popped up at his Chicago basement studio wearing M.C. Hammer pants and carrying a laptop with his song “Green Eggs & Ham.”

“The music wasn’t good and he was only 14 or 15,” remembers No I.D. “But [West] took the advice I gave him and it multiplied with a new perspective. That’s why I’m betting on the new generation -- I can teach them everything I know and they can expand on it.”

At this point No I.D.’s mentorship of Kanye is a legend etched in stone. The relationship also holds morsels of inspiration for any up-and-coming artist. During an interview on episode 264 of the Apple Radio show Soulection Radio, No I.D. reflects on the evolution of Kanye. The best quote happens around the 1:21:00 mark when No I.D. says, “Don’t ever judge anybody. You don’t know who anybody is period...You gotta humble yourself. Just because you are where you are it doesn’t mean you aren’t talking to someone great.” Who knew the kid with Hammer pants and Dr. Seuss raps would one day rank among the most impactful artists of all time? No I.D. didn’t then, but he does now.

No I.D. only got $1600 for producing eight songs on Common’s debut album.


To help further his career, No I.D. went to Atlanta to learn from Jermaine Dupri.

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In an 2014 episode of the Juan Epstein podcast No I.D. detailed how asking for help from Jermaine Dupri furthered his career. “I was sitting at home one day. Along the path of the Kanye, one of the first places, his first placement we went down to see Jermaine. He got a record on Jermaine’s album with Nas on it. I kinda knew Jermaine socially. I was sitting at home like “Why is he killing me financially? Why is he killing me? I think I’m pretty good. There’s something I don’t know. I think I need to humble myself.” This is how I kept growing and growing. I’m going to humble myself and go work with him. I’m going to work under him.”

Thankfully, the experience paid off. No I.D. would secure his first number one record with Bow Wow and Omarion’s “Let Me Hold You.” In a 2011 Complex interview No I.D. reflected on the success of the record, “It was all over the place, on 106 & Park, on the radio and then it went No. 1. “It changed my whole way of thinking and how I produce. I had been making it so hard for myself, so I’m like, 'Damn—this isn’t that hard at all. I can do these types of records and it’s okay.’”

No I.D. thought T-Pain’s “Buy U a Drank” was more successful than Rihanna’s “Umbrella."

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One of the greatest feelings in the world is firing off a truly incendiary, bold, and scathing hot take. That’s exactly what No I.D. did in a studio full of people as he proclaimed T-Pain’s 2007 single “Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin’)” was bigger than Rihanna’s 2007 single “Umbrella.” When directly asked why he thinks “Buy U a Drank” is more successful than “Umbrella,” No I.D. gives a response worthy of a hot take general, “That’s perception. That’s just what we be perceiving. That’s like great propaganda to say worldwide it's [Rihanna’s “Umbrella”] #1 in Brazil.”

In hindsight, this proved to be false. Rihanna’s “Umbrella” went 6x platinum in the United States, ranked in the top 100 biggest songs of the decade in Germany, U.K., and the U.S., is certified gold, platinum, or multi-platinum in 15 countries, and has over 300 million views on YouTube. By comparison, T-Pain’s “Buy U a Drank” went 3x platinum in the U.S. and has 71 million YouTube views. No I.D. is one of the most intelligent and influential executives in the music industry today, but placing his faith in “Buy U a Drank” over “Umbrella” a decade ago was not a shining moment.

No I.D. helped influence '808s & Heartbreak' through a branding experiment.

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Kanye’s 2008 album 808s & Heartbreak remains one of his most divisive and innovative works. Sparse, cold, and melodically ambitious, it marked an artistic turning point for West and influenced nearly the last decade of rap (Drake, Future, Travis, etc.). Besides the music, Kanye’s fourth studio album was also groundbreaking for its fully realized aesthetic. Everything, from the KAWS designed album cover to West’s fashion choices to its live performances, was informed by a specific blend of '80s nostalgia and a new wave, pop sensibility.

Part of the look, from Kanye’s hair to his clothes, is owed to No I.D., who spoke about his contributions to several 808s songs (“Heartless,” “See You in My Nightmares,” and “Coldest Winter”) in a 2011 Complex interview:

“I was sitting at home in Atlanta—and I’m not saying 808s & Heartbreaks was my idea—but I was practicing a branding experiment. So I grew out my beard and started wearing old sunglasses all the time and I grew my hair out. Kanye would be like, ‘Yo, what are you doing?’ and I’d say ‘Cocaine 80s.’ This is where the group Cocaine 80s derived from—it was a lifestyle.

“Cocaine 80s was my concept, but Kanye dove deep into it himself. It wasn’t ‘Hey, I want to take this style,’ it was more ‘Can I make this work?’ It definitely had its moment though. People started growing beards and making a certain type of music during that era. And the group [Cocaine 80s] is still around now, and I have a lot planned for it.”

Killer Mike gave No I.D. his favorite piece of advice.

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No I.D. helped inspire J.Cole to produce for Kendrick.

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No I.D. has helped mold the careers of countless artists who have come into prominence during the last decade. Big Sean, Jhené Aiko, Vince Staples, and Logic have all cited the importance of No I.D.’s role in their careers as producer, executive, and mentor.

But Kendrick Lamar is one key artist No I.D. hasn’t worked with nearly enough. However, No I.D. did inadvertently inspire J. Cole to give Kendrick a beat that would go on to become the basis for one of Kendrick’s best songs.

In a video for the interview series “The Code,” for Forbes, No I.D. tells the story of how he pushed J. Cole to work with younger artists, which led to “HiiiPoWer.” The part comes at the 14:35 mark:

"J. Cole was like, Man, people won’t buy my beats. Man, I want to get on Nas. I want to get on Common. And I told him, I said, Why don’t you work with your peers. Start there. Then a couple days later he goes, Yo, I got Kendrick Lamar. I’m bout to do a record with him. Man, he’s dope man. I want you to meet him, and he brings them by the studio. It's him and Jay Rock. It’s a quick meeting. But he goes and does the record 'HiiiPower' based off this conversation. Which to me, it's not me doing something. Its me influencing them to do something. And me giving Cole a little insight to develop who he is.”

No I.D. challenged Kanye to make “Otis.”

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Imagine being on a deserted island. For weeks, you’ve gone without food. Then by, the grace of God, you’re saved by Kanye West and Jay Z. As they fly you off the island they mention they’re releasing a collab album. You're excited and you smile, but inside you just want non-musical sustenance. Kanye passes you the juiciest piece of ham you’ve ever seen—the ham tastes like broccoli and Jay kicks you in the balls. This is the best way I know to describe what it felt like listening to “H.A.M.” for the first time. Thankfully, No I.D. seems to have felt similarly.

“I kinda didn’t agree with the direction that Watch the Throne was going because I felt like, Y’all were two of the best that did it as far advancing, pushing the bar, the envelope of what hip-hop can do and is," No I.D. told XXL in a 2012 interview. "And I felt like some of the songs were copping out a little to me. I get the co-productions, but how you gon do an album and you don’t go to the machine and do one beat by yourself?”

This prodding pushed Kanye to produce “Otis,” which is far better than “H.A.M.” and course corrected Watch the Throne into the massive opus we all know it to be today.

No I.D. had to convince Big Sean that “IDFWU” should be the first single 'Dark Sky Paradise.'

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Where would Big Sean’s career be without the overwhelming success of “IDFWU?” Before its release, Sean was floundering creatively and commercially, coming off his disappointing sophomore album, Hall of Fame.

And to think that Sean almost blew it by not making “IDFWU” the first single off his followup album. Then again, Sean has a history of this—he initially didn’t want to use “My Last” as the single for his debut, Finally Famous. Thankfully, Sean listened to his mentor this time and “IDFWU” went on to go four-times platinum in the U.S., and remains one of his biggest hits to date.

No I.D.’s biggest studio pet peeve? Recording.

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During No I.D.’s Soulection Radio interview, the show’s host asks him his biggest studio pet peeve. At 1:18:52, No I.D. says, “I hate filming in the studio….We’re in this era where the digitization of art is diminishing its value.”

If you get a chance to record with the legendary Chicago producer, leave the phone at home.

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