While watching his XXL Freshman Cypher verse, it became abundantly clear that, of all the 2018 XXL Freshmen, none seemed quite as talented or promising as Dreamville signee Destin Route, aka J.I.D.
That’s not meant to be shade thrown at the other freshmen at all, but more as an acknowledgement of the kind of potential that J.I.D possesses — of which he knows he possesses. Rarely do we see the word “transcendent” used do define an artist’s potential — unless, of course, we’re talking about Kendrick Lamar — so the fact that the word has been mentioned in the same breath as the Atlanta native to describe his artistic ceiling signaled just how special of a talent he is.
J.I.D’s 2017 debut album, The Never Story, put his masterful wordplay on display while attracting comparisons to Kendrick Lamar and peak-Lil Wayne in the process. It was not just an impressive debut, but also a spark for J. Cole’s Dreamville label. J.I.D leaped to the top of a talented roster that has sought to compete with their TDE contemporaries of the opposite coast. (In a sit-down with Complex, J.I.D stated, in reference to Dreamville’s unspoken competition with TDE: “Dreamville, we gotta step this s**t the f**k up, cuz them n****s is fire.”)
There was never any real doubt that J.I.D — a self-described “intricate lyricist” who has bragged about being a “pure hip-hop” artist and one of the last real freestylers — would deliver from a purely rapping standpoint. This is where most of DiCaprio 2’s strengths lie: within the emcee himself. J.I.D’s exceptional grasp of the technicalities — like flow, cadence, pitch, control, etc.— make listening to him feel like watching a skilled artisan at work. These skills are as plain as day on songs like “Slick Talk,” in which he skillfully distributes his voice into different peaks and valleys, to help accentuate his verse. The ATLien also puts on another grand exhibition of his impeccable flow on the pre-release singles “151 Rum,” “Workin Out” (arguably the brightest highlight of the album) and “Off Deez,” — the latter of which he challenges his boss/contemporary/guest feature J.Cole to keep up with his blistering rhymes.
As he emphasizes time an again, on album cuts such as “Just da Other Day,” “Off da Zoinkys,” and “Skrawberries,” J.I.D is a rapper in its most classical sense. In a time when Atlanta’s musical landmarks are mostly characterized by triplet rhyme schemes, mumbled flows, and auto-tuned warbling, it is certainly refreshing to listen to a rapper who’s M.O. is plain and simple: just rap your ass off.
While DiCaprio 2 is undoubtedly a solid offering, it also undoubtedly displays an artist who is still in the process of realizing his full artistic potential. In a conversation with Billboard, Route said that he approached DiCaprio 2 “just like a mixtape,” which helps explain his crowning this album the sequel to his 2015 mixtape DiCaprio and his tagging the renowned DJ Drama to “host” this album, as if it were a Gangsta Grillz mixtape.
It’s this “mixtape” feel that allows J.I.D to simply flex his elaborate lyrical skills, without having to give a whole ton of thought to the album’s overall cohesiveness/conceptuality or to overly complex storytelling. This in itself is not a bad thing; as I emphasized earlier, J.I.D is a lyricist whose strengths lie in his technical skills. However, DiCaprio 2 might not completely satisfy those who were looking for the Atlanta rapper to do more than just rap. The songwriting on “Tiied” and the hook-crafting/beat selection on “Mounted Up,” for example, signal just a couple of the areas in which he still has a ways to grow before self-actualization.
As he emphasized on Instagram before the album drop, DiCaprio 2 is not J.I.D’s “GKMC.” However, his talent and artistic ceiling remain beyond encouraging; and if you ask me, it’s only a matter of time before he crafts an album as thoroughly “transcendent” as Good Kid, M.A.A.D City.