Categories
Scene

J.I.D’s triumph over circumstance: ‘The Forever Story’

Since signing to J. Cole’s Dreamville Records in early 2017, Atlanta rapper J.I.D (real name Destin Choice Route) has built a name for himself not through the absurd style, vapid lyricism and obscene amounts of bass that defined the “Soundcloud rap” era in which he came up, but through a commitment to two things too often lost in modern hip-hop: honesty and craft. The rapper whose stage name originates from his grandma’s description of him as “jittery” has never lost that same restless swagger from when he was young, and J.I.D’s latest album “The Forever Story” puts on display his most vulnerable, cohesive and thoughtful work to date without losing sight of the hard-hitting beats and elaborate flows that put him on the map.

The opening track “Galaxy” almost directly reflects “Doo Wop,” the intro track to J.I.D’s first album, “The Never Story.” This immediately introduces one of the key themes of the album, which is the juxtaposition of where the rapper sees himself now — sitting atop or near the top of the metaphorical mountain that is the rap game — versus where he was when he first signed to Dreamville or even first started making music. While “The Never Story” served as a meditation on J.I.D’s life growing up in Atlanta and how the mindset of his youth still influences him in the present, “The Forever Story” represents a feeling of triumph over circumstance and an emphasis on who he is and has become.

The first five tracks after the intro are the “hits” of the album, including the two singles “Dance Now” and “Surround Sound,” with the latter featuring an expertly crafted Aretha Franklin sample not at all out-of-line with the themes of the album. “The Forever Story” is a celebration of what made J.I.D the man and artist he is today, and he uses both samples and features expertly to tie that together. Sampling the “queen of soul” along with somber reflection and singing on tracks like “Sistanem” and “Can’t Make U Change (ft. Ari Lennox)” demonstrate how his parents’ music has pervaded J.I.D’s own. Cutting in The Last Poets – a group largely responsible for the formation of hip-hop as a genre — to the beginning of “Raydar” and features from Lil Wayne and Yasiin Bey exemplify the appreciation J.I.D has for the origins of both his style and the genre as a whole.

The emotional core of “The Forever Story,” however, comes from the three-track run of “Kody Blu 31,” “Bruddanem” and “Sistanem.” “Bruddanem” and “Sistanem” delve into J.I.D’s sense of kinship and loyalty toward his brothers and sister, and the comparison of these feelings shows how uniquely important these different kinds of relationships are while still expressing the lessons his family has taught him. The cornerstone (or “feature presentation” as it’s described at the beginning of the track) of the record is “Kody Blu 31,” a memorial of sorts to J.I.D’s friend Kody who died when he was young. The chorus on this track melodically advises the listener to “swang on” in what seems to represent the central message of the album — a message which resonates deeply as a reflection on grief and what it means to keep living.

This record is so lyrically dense that there is no way anyone could explore all of the phenomenal work in both writing and delivery in one review. While there is an impressive verse or two on every song, the standout tracks in terms of lyrics were “Crack Sandwich,” an exploration of the chaotic yet tight relationship between J.I.D, his six siblings and his parents, and “2007,” the outro to the album which dropped as a music video a week prior and does not appear on Spotify due to clearance issues. It illustrates in both verse and voice memos the story of J.I.D’s life from 2007, when J. Cole dropped his first mixtape “The Come Up,” to 2017, when J.I.D signed to Dreamville Records and dropped his first album.

“The Forever Story” easily constitutes J.I.D’s best and most complete body of work to date and safely establishes him as a modern great alongside the likes of Kendrick Lamar and his mentor, J. Cole.

Artist: J.I.D

Album: “The Forever Story”

Label: Dreamville Records

Favorite Songs: “Crack Sandwich,” “Can’t Punk Me (feat. EARTHGANG)” and “2007”

If you like: Kendrick Lamar, EARTHGANG, Smino, Danny Brown

Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5

Brendan Nolte

Contact Brendan at bnolte2@nd.edu

Categories
Scene

‘Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers’: The generational excellence of Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar is one of the most important and influential voices in his generation and one of the artists who defined the music of the 2010s. Starting with 2011s “Section.80,” Lamar has shaped the sound of mainstream hip hop, earning the Compton-born rapper 14 Grammy wins during his career. Even then, Lamar stands out from his peers with his deeply personal and poetic lyrics as well as his sonic versatility, excelling in multiple genres from the West Coast Gangsta rap of “good kid, m.A.A.d city” to the jazz rap and neo funk soundscapes of “To Pimp a Butterfly.” In 2017, “DAMN.” proved to be Lamar’s most bombastic and commercially successful album, and now, five years later, his newest record “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers” proves once more why Lamar is one of the most acclaimed artists in recent memory.

The opener “United in Grief” begins with a woman urging Lamar to “tell them the truth,” setting the confessional tone of the record. And while all his records are extremely personal, “Mr Morale” is perhaps his most revealing work, with the rapper closely dissecting his status as a star and artist, as well as examining how the world and society around him has changed through the last five years. In the second track “N95,” Lamar rails against the hollowness of modern life, such as the overvaluation of wealth and fake wokeness, an idea that he develops on the next track. In “Worldwide Steppers,” Lamar describes both himself and those around him as zombies. In the song “Savior,” Lamar reflects on his position as one of the most prominent Black artists in modern music and rejects his status as an exemplar for others to follow.

Lamar’s family life is another main focus of the album. “Father Time” deals with his broken relationship with his father and how he never felt free to express his emotions to his dad, because “men should never show feelings.” The most powerful song is “We Cry Together,” a simulated domestic argument between Lamar and Taylour Paige. While it’s a song that I wouldn’t ever put on my playlist, the slur-filled insults and the hateful language presents one of the most realistic depictions of a toxic relationship I have ever seen. This demonstrates one of Lamar’s greatest talents — his ability to put listeners in his narrators’ shoes and understand their experiences. Even though I’ve never been in a relationship like the one presented here, I feel sorry for both these people whose love for one another has degenerated into this sickening screaming match. The other hard-hitting familial track is “Auntie Diaries,” in which Lamar discusses the experience of seeing his aunt and cousin transitioning into men and having to deal with his own and his community’s homophobic and transphobic presumptions, finally concluding that everyone deserves respect regardless of their sexual orientation and gender.

Lamar’s production team also deserves high praise, as every track feels lush and expressive. The trap-inspired beats in “N95” and “Silent Hill” show that Lamar can still produce bangers like he did in “DAMN.” There are, however, a few tracks where Lamar’s writing falls a bit flat. “Crown,” for example, feels like a glorified interlude with repetitive piano passages that don’t seem to build up to anything. “Mother I Sober,” while one of the most emotional moments of the record, disappoints in Lamar’s monotone vocal performance and the underuse of Beth Gibbons of Portishead, who takes backing duty.

Overall, “Mr. Morale & the Big Steppers” feels like the quintessential Kendrick Lamar album: dark, confessional and emotional, featuring some of the rapper’s most poignant lyrics to date. And while the album does occasionally slip in quality and is probably not his best, it is still a remarkable musical achievement as memorable as his previous records.

Artist: Kendrick Lamar

Album: “Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers”

Label: PGLang and Top Dawg Entertainment

Favorite tracks: “N95,” “We Cry Together,” “Silent Hill,” “Die Hard”

If you like: Kanye West, BROCKHAMPTON, Logic, Run the Jewels

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5