For whatever reason, technical prowess in hip-hop has become a point of occasional ridicule. Many publications have waged war against the “rapid-fire flow,” writing it off as compensation for a lack of deeper substance. The production of “vibe” has become a defining trait, often given more importance than talent itself. In that sense, JID’s recent emergence has found him navigating the game during a wayward era. Consider his induction into the XXL Freshman class, in which he shared the stage alongside a truly zany cast of characters. An outlier, set apart by both his skillset and natural hair color. Yet JID, channeling his inner alchemist, has somehow discovered a formula, settling upon the golden mean of the Skill/Sauce Spectrum.

With a keen intellect and Zone 6 Atlanta come-up, JID brings an interesting voice to the post-trap landscape. Modern sensibilities keep him grounded in a current musical landscape, while the desire to perfect his craft affirms his credibility among purists. Those in tune with The Never Story will likely vouch for JID’s capabilities, and many new fans were gained in the interim. The Dreamville rapper found his upcoming DiCaprio 2 facing the weight of expectation. Comparisons to Kendrick Lamar and Andre 3000 spoke to his pedigree, while simultaneously cloaking his own distinct individuality. Yet the project’s title suggested a carefree approach, a homage to the mixtape era, as evidenced by the stalwart presence of DJ Drama.

Theo Wargo/Getty Images

To say DiCaprio 2 opens on a strong note is an understatement. The Kenny Beats produced “Slick Talk” initially finds JID spazzing in expected fashion until the curtains pull back for the second movement. From that point, gothic harpsichords and theramin wails lead the rapper deeper into “dark banger” territory. Switching up the flow, JID rises to the challenge, doing what many have failed to do in recent years: retain interest for three verses. The streak continues on “Westbrook,” which has been known to cause involuntary mean-mugging in unsuspecting listeners; in some ways, the Ferg collaboration feels like a spiritual successor to last year’s “Hasta Luego,” which pops up here as a welcome “bonus track.” Singles “Off Deez” and “151” cement the top section as the project’s most immediately “lyrical,” in which bangers and bars are free to coalesce in harmony.

“Off Da Zoinkys” feels like a notable turning point, in which JID takes aim at the drug epidemic with a marked absence of condescension. Not unlike label capo J. Cole’s own “Once An Addict,” JID reflects on his own experiences with drugs, all while delivering the message in a free-flowing, solitary verse. Many, including Spillage Village homies EarthGang, have already hailed “Zoinkys” as the album’s crowning moment. From that point, DiCaprio shifts gears, from The Revenant’s infamous “bear scene” to its subdued and introspective voyage across the tundra. Tonally, the project widens the scope of its influences, allowing elements of jazz, lush r&b, and old-school hip-hop into the fold. 

Image via HNHH

“Tiiied” showcases JID’s melodic touch, picking up where Never Story's “Hereditary” left off and expanding on the failed-relationship narrative; this time, rather than blaming genetics, he opts to dive into a more nuanced character study. “Hot Box” finds Method Man entering the game over some notably RZA-esque production, proving the veteran lungs can still out-smoke two of the game’s most promising newcomers. Climactic “Just The Other Day” provides a welcome return to a darker zone, blending tense pianos and smothering 808s; together, they provide a backdrop of hopelessness, perhaps reflective of what a young JID once felt, long before Dreamville. Despite the shift in tone, which often occurs around an album’s latter half, DiCaprio 2 never drags. It remains intensely listenable, with no shortage of impressive lyricism and clever musical ideas; though some artists can get lost in the ambition of their own musical grandeur, JID never sets himself up to fail, let alone falter.

There is much to love about DiCaprio 2; in fact, those who swear by JID’s talents will likely find themselves feeling validated, especially as his name only rises in the coming months. Yet with such promise, lies the burden of ever-waiting expectation. It feels like JID still has yet to truly open up, and as such, the album can occasionally feel bereft of character development. Sure, tales and anecdotes from his come-up have been covered. Yet his creativity allows him to explore concepts and structural alterations unfamiliar to a more limited artist. Though Leonardo DiCaprio took a minute to lock down the Oscar, so too must JID exhibit patience. One tour de force does not a legend make. Yet DiCaprio 2 has positioned him for something truly monumental. It might be too early to count him among the game’s best current lyricists. But then again, there’s no time like the present.