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.
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