Critics and fans alike have acclaimed J.I.D since he emerged on the rap scene; he is so often hailed as the savior of lyrical Southern hip hop that it’s easy to forget that he still needs to prove it. He made it into the most recent XXL freshman class and has drawn a lot of comparisons to Kendrick Lamar, which is mainly due to both of them having that same wispy, sagacious voice and being technically skilled. However, this comparison is unwarranted: J.I.D has the rapping skill of Lamar but lacks the personality or artistic edge, and the actual music they make is not that sonically similar. While J.I.D is clearly one of the more talented rappers to come up in recent years, on DiCaprio 2 he continues to be held back by a lack of cohesive artistic vision.
J.I.D proves on DiCaprio 2 that he is a deft lyricist. He pivots with ease across the project between punchlines (“Got a couple abortions, now that pussy’s a haunted house”) and aggressive braggadocio (“Lame n****s, I gotta put it in layman’s terms? / I’m finna murder you n****s, you better spread the word”). But it’s not all great: “Slick Talk” at times feels like a tepid reenactment of Lamar’s verse on “Control,” especially with the line “I got a lotta shit to say, but I’ma keep my list short / I know alotta your favorites not gon’ fuck with this part / When I’m done, please know that I was trying to diss y’all / ’Cause if this is a competition, then I’m setting this bar.” This is awfully similar to the verse that set the hip-hop community on fire about five years ago, but without the benefit of being innovative or interesting.
There are some notably good songs, especially around the middle of the album. “Off Da Zoinkys” carries an anti-drug message with desperate, anxious gospel production. While J.I.D’s stance against substance abuse certainly contains some banal platitudes (redolent of labelmate J. Cole’s project KOD), he manages to weave in some lines that will feel familiar to anyone who has ever tried to look out for a self-destructive friend: “Told my n***a if he leave a pack of ports around me, I’ma take em / And throw ’em away/ He smoke ’em around me, I’ma break ’em / And we almost had got into fightin’ / I’m talkin’ ’bout dead that, finna fade it / But shit, but maybe I did too much / But fuck it, I love my n***a, I’ma save him.” The next song, “Workin Out,” is subtle and balanced, both sonically and lyrically. Over a jazzy background of a snaking piano line and bubbling bass, J.I.D discusses with tasteful restraint feeling overwhelmed and dissatisfied with his life. After an unwelcome interregnum (“Tiiied”) J.I.D returns to form on “Skrawberries” with a little help on the arrangement courtesy of the late Mac Miller (BJ the Chicago Kid assists as well, his hook smooth and soulful). “Skrawberries” is the best track on the album, a refreshingly harmonious and smooth beat after the jagged and antsy first half of the album. J.I.D discusses his relationship struggles with artistic detachment, a unique theme for him that he addresses well.
J.I.D’s technical superiority, while impressive, can be counterproductive. At times his dextrous flow feels more like a technical exhibition than a musical statement. He has a tendency to camouflage his frequent lack of message with rapidfire rhythms. Even though J.I.D spits fire, it leaves you cold.
The main problem with DiCaprio 2 is that it feels like a collection of singles — there doesn’t seem to be an overarching artistic goal or message. This isn’t a bad thing if you just want some songs to bump in the car, but for someone with the technical ability, support network and momentum of J.I.D, it’s not enough. J.I.D is surprisingly old, releasing his debut album The Never Story at the age of 26. While he is certainly talented, one has to wonder whether he has the time to still be releasing stepping-stone albums at the age of 28.