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Everything that IDK does is high concept, from his name (short for “Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge”) to his mixtapes (2015’s SubTrap, short for “suburban trap” and/or “trap music with substance”). That continues on IWASVERYBAD, a full-length soundtrack LP that serves as his debut album (in the hip-hop world, the distinctions between albums, mixtapes, and even “playlists” have been meaningless for several years).
This time around, the concept is a familiar one, detailing how a middle class kid from P.G. County (born Jason Mills, fka Jay IDK) ended up in jail, turned his life around by rapping, and dealt with a strained relationship with his mother. It shares the day-in-a-life DNA of Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City and YG’s My Krazy Life, but with the middle class perspective of his contemporaries (Chance the Rapper, J. Cole, and Childish Gambino) and his main influence, Kanye West.
The influence of those artists shines through on IWASVERYBAD at almost every turn. Across the album, IDK shares the tumbling consonant flow of Lamar and the too-clever wordplay of Gambino, while also reworking a handful of classic Kanye lyrics and an iconic line from Ludacris’ “What’s Your Fantasy?” (sung here by Shawna, who featured on the original). Which isn’t to say that he’s a biter: Hip-hop is a genre always in conversation with itself, and IDK’s meta references are too self-aware to be swagger jacking.
Beyond the on-the-sleeve influences, IDK is at his best when he’s getting personal. “I’m just a middle class n***a whose class was a mixture of them spellin’ bee winners and them P.G. killers,” he explains, a mix that left him in somewhere in the middle, a “good-home-I-don’t-give-a-fuck trap n***a.” The album opens with a Greek chorus of teachers, cops, and authority figures leaving messages for his mother about his latest misbehaviors, of which there were plenty; he’s not kidding about that title.
The psychodrama that plays out on IWASVERYBAD is how his relationship with his mother strained under the weight of his behavior, a chicken-or-egg game that he explores on the poignant “No Shoes On the Rug, Leave Them At the Door.” Was misspending his youth why his mother came home after work and never hugged him, or the other way around? “I used to think all the time, if I could be a good boy, she’d probably love me a lot.” (Damn.)
He delves even deeper on “Black Sheep, White Dove,” a eulogy for his mother, who passed in 2016; he posits that knowing she was ill prevented him from getting close to her and doing the right thing. That revelation is the final puzzle piece, and even the hardest listener will shed a tear when he wonders, “Mom, where you get them wings from, pretty?”
The narrative of the album may be familiar, but IDK’s bag of tricks keeps it compelling, whether he’s toying with a non-linear narrative, hiding messages in reverse, detouring with a dance floor track, or mixing tracks seamlessly. As for his featured guests, it’s more of a mixed bag: Chief Keef is the perfect pick for the ignorant-as-hell “17 Wit A 38” and Yung Gleesh adds a different DMV flavor on two tracks, while DOOM and Del The Funky Homosapien feel tacked on to “Pizza Shop Extended.”
But overall, IDK and his producers have crafted a sonically expansive record that sits nicely on the rap landscape while offering something personal. Like other middle class rap stars, from Kanye to Cole to Drake, IDK’s need to be taken seriously—on both his tracks and in the streets—keeps his creative fires burning. On IWASVERYBAD, that motivated him to take a familiar concept and make it his own, on his terms. When he says that “they say lyrics ain’t cool no more, I’m like sheesh, I guess after this shit drop I’m might peace,” let’s hope it’s an empty threat.