J.I.D, photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Billboard

After years of relatively unknown projects and quiet appearances with fellow Atlanta artists, Destin Route, aka J.I.D, finally got his well-deserved recognition in March of last year. His debut album The Never Story was unveiled through one of the hip-hop industry’s biggest possible co-signs (J. Cole’s Dreamville Records) and cemented his creativity and clear talent as a lyricist. Across the project’s sub-40 minute runtime, tracks like “General”, “LAUDER”, and his biggest hit to date “NEVER”, breathlessly switch between humor, hubris, and paranoia. And as evident of his 2018 XXL Freshman Class appearance, J.I.D knows he’s better than the majority of his contemporaries-but still has plenty to prove.

Dicaprio 2, the studio album sequel to a 2015 EP, kicks off with a skit featuring sporadic channel flipping that sets the cinematic tone of the project. 2 may not be a concept album, but its doubling down on its predecessor’s mixtape roots adds to the project’s bubbly personality (when asked about the cover art, J.I.D drew his parallel to Dicaprio as “I’m also an artist giving my true sentiments”). On “Slick Talk”, produced by Kenny Beats (who recently helmed the production across Vince Staples’ excellent FM!), J.I.D greets the listener with a laid-back delivery that leads into an early beat switch, the latter portion of the track swathed in a high-pitched and kick drum-defined instrumental. Route reiterates his talent by effortlessly switching between different vocal speeds and deliveries, with his line “I’m from East Atlanta like Gucci and Travis Porter/But my story is similar to the hare and the tortoise” speaking on his relatively late entrance into the mainstream rap circuit. He turned 28 earlier this year: being much older than his SoundCloud contemporaries but right on track for the mid to late 20s breakout material of the likes of Kendrick Lamar and Drake. “Westbrook” features a braggadocios hook from A$AP Ferg and pitched vocals from J.I.D throughout the track, amping up in the track’s closing half for a fiery result. Single “Off Deez” is easily Route’s most impressive technical performance on the entire project, hitting with an entendre-filled, rapid-fire delivery that feels impossible to reel in (“Eastside guy, but I been worldwide, D.I.Y, T.I.Y, I’ma try, I’ma die for what I believe in”). J. Cole jumps in later in the track, rapping in possibly the most frantic performance of his career to keep up with his label signee. Above being an essential addition to any gym playlist, “Off Deez” is one of the best rap tracks of the year.

The album’s second single “151 Rum” follows directly after, characterized by an airy instrumental and a paradoxical mix of melancholic lyrics and flamboyant delivery; while “Off da Zoinkys” carries as a clear emotional high point of the project with J.I.D harkening back to lost relationships affected by drug addiction and the impact of the Reagan era on inner-city neighborhoods. The instrumental on “Zoinkys” is one of the strongest on the project due to its uplifting piano loop and transformative gospel vocals. “Workin Out”, which was debuted last month on the excellent media platform COLORS, is far and away the most subtle song on Dicaprio 2. Accompanied by a loungelike piano, J.I.D vents on newfound pitfalls with fame including lack of recognition, romance, and family matters (“Since you winning, you a object of ridicule, Objects appearing closer than you ready for, Obviously you don’t know what’s ahead, But that’s the reason you can work ’til you dead”).

“Skrawberries” is another highlight of the project, characterized with a buzzing jazz instrumental produced by Cole and the late Mac Miller. The smooth chorus from BJ the Chicago Kid adds to the R&B love-sickness of the track, while J.I.D flexes some of his sharpest wordplay of the album (“My home girl rap, and she feminist, Hold it down for the women, I call her “Feminem”). “Hot Box” feels like a quintessential intersection between old and new school boom-bap, with Route enlisting contemporary Joey Bada$$ and Wu-Tang legend Method Man. As expected from all parties involved, each appearance on the track feels smoke-sesh nonchalant while remaining lyrically impressive, with Method’s being my favorite. The hilariously named “Despacito Too” acts as a powerful closer to the album, with its claustrophobic and restless instrumental creating a cryptic sonic palette (“I can be a dream, yeah, or I can be a nightmare, Born on Halloween night, it seems like a light year”). J.I.D ends the project discussing his premeditated rise to focal point of hip-hop, jabbing with, “They saying, “What you wanna be J.I.D? What you wanna be kid?, A doctor, a lawyer, exploring the coral reef sh*t?…Oh you gon’ be a rapper with your dumb*ss, Just because you used to bump Caz”, before finding his lyrics eclipsed by the insatiable beat.

While Dicaprio 2 continues to grow on me with subsequent listens, there’s the noticeable feeling that the project could have been further improved upon. Apart from weaker cuts like the aimless “Mounted Up” or the paint-by-numbers R&B cut “Tiiied”, the project’s embrace of the mixtape format leaves the end result lacking cohesion. While The Never Story isn’t as lavishly produced as its successor it still flows together near seamlessly, while the latter feels like it tapers off after a relatively front-loaded opening half. However make no mistake: Dicaprio 2 remains one of the strongest conscious rap offerings of the year carried by outstanding production, exuberant wordplay, and J.I.D’s undeniable hungriness towards reaching the pinnacle of modern hip-hop.

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