IDK has something special on his hands. IWASVERYBAD, the DMV rapper’s fourth full-length project, has been rolled out slowly to make sure fans and newcomers hang on to every word. Instead of dropping it all at once, the artist formerly known as Jay IDK rolled out the album episodically over the course of three weeks. And in an age in which one album can be dwarfed by another, if not three, in just one week, the separate deliveries have kept the budding artist in the conversation for weeks.
Of course, none of this would matter if the music itself didn’t come correct. But IDK has come through with the captivating story of his youth: a kid born into the black middle class who still couldn’t resist the gravitational pull of gang life. Both his mother and stepfather went to college, but he became the first person in his family to go to prison. It’s the first time IDK has told this story, and he does so with remorse and without glorification. While he’s bringing his fans deeper into his life than ever, IWASVERYBAD serves an even more important role as a sort of penance to his now-late mother.
“No Shoes on the Rug, Leave Them at the Door,” is the turning point of the album, when IDK transitions from the gritty details of his robberies and philandering to finally feeling the love from his mother that he couldn’t see before—a sharp turn from the haunting, Chief Keef featuring track “17 With a 38” that precedes it. While he always felt like a disappointment, his greatest fuck-up, landing in prison, brought his mom’s unwavering love into the spotlight. She makes sure her only child is doing as well as possible behind bars, peppering him with questions like, “Do you need a couple dollars on your books?” and “Do you have enough covers on your bunk?”
This dichotomy, this change-of-heart over the course of an album makes for one of the most exciting new projects of the year. And to learn more about the man behind it, we brought IDK into the office for an interview and photoshoot featuring his new merchandise.
How did you come to decide to put your album out in three parts with Adult Swim?
I just kind of wanted to put my music out different. I noticed that when you usually put out an album, it’s on the last day of the week. All the hype is that weekend. And, after that somebody else new comes out. So, I just figured if I break my album up in different pieces, every week that it comes out, my album is out. As long as I’m using the same cover art, you know, all that shit, it is pretty much the same. It’s like, you see the cover art again, and you see the album again and again I wanted the repetition.
And I used Adult Swim, because the concept I had was to call each own episode, and I wanted some type of TV component to it. I ended up shooting visuals for it, as well. And, that’s in the works. That will come next year.
You’ve got a lot of lines on the project calling back to Kanye’s, and you had an Instagram post about his albums influencing you. How do you think he has impacted you?
When I was in the fifth grade, that’s when I first heard about him. And, then I used to watch his stuff on … His stuff used to come on MTV and BET with “Through the Wire.” I really liked “Through the Wire.”
What was the first one that got you?
(Sings “Need some Luther Vandross, a little Anita…”) What was that song again?
Yeah. That one, he said, light skinned friends look like Michael Jackson. That rhyme. That’s the one. Then I listened to the album. My step dad used to have all the bootleg albums, and I listened to it from front to back. I just could relate to it the most. I liked the lyricism. I remember being young but understanding a lot of the things he was saying and seeing how clever it was. And then from there I’ve just always been a Kanye fan.
You guys kind of have a similar background. You also talk a lot about your middle class background.
Yeah, that’s why I could relate to him the most. I mean, I don’t know for sure if I can say that. But I think that is subconsciously one of the things.
I don’t know if I’d call it remorse, but you definitely have this mentality on the album of moving on from all the street shit you got into. When was the turning point for you?
When I went to jail the first time, that’s when I kind of was like, “Alright, man, this isn’t for me.” You know? I mean, I don’t need to be here. I need to get away from this mentality and this life.
So that was a rare case in which prison actually did what it is supposed to do.
For me, I’m one of the very few that got it. A lot of people, for the most part, it doesn’t do that for most people.
Why do you think that you were different?
I don’t know. Maybe my background? Maybe where I came from? Some people are born into a mentality where that’s all they know. At least me, I had another side that I understood. And I saw how life was on the other side, so, it made me, in time, want to go back to that side.
And then you had your mom asking, “You say what I was saying?” as you rapped on “No Shoes on the Rug.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Exactly. I wrote a letter from jail apologizing for everything.
What did that mean to her?
She definitely wasn’t sure if I was bullshitting or if I was serious, but, I still have it too. I have all that stuff.
When did she pass away?
Last year. March.
How did you deal with that? How did you grieve?
I don’t know. I guess I put it in my music and just worked harder, despite all the other things.
Do you think her passing was part of what inspired you to finally tell this story?
Of course. For sure. Because it just happened, timing wise, it just made the most sense for me. Yeah. 100%
What do you think she would think if she could hear this now?
You know, she didn’t listen to my music a lot because I curse in it. But she definitely supported me. She told everybody else to listen to it, so I think she would be proud.
If you still have a relationship with your stepdad, what does he think about it?
He is proud too. He just texted me just now. My uncle and him want to come to my next show. So I need to make sure I give them tickets.
What are your priorities are now? What drives you?
Just wanting to be the best. I want to be the best. Go down as one of the greatest rappers of all time. That’s mostly what my drive is. For some people it’s money and things like that. For me, I don’t even think about that, because, I know that money’s going to come with what I do. You know what I mean? With trying to be the best, I just try to be the best.
What do you think makes someone the best?
Definitely having some type of message in what you sing. Talking about something. You know what I mean? You got to have a lot of influence with people. And I think using that influence to tell people, educate people. Whether, it’s just being real about a situation … You know, that could save someone’s life? Or just actually trying to preach. I mean, I don’t really try to preach, I just kind of try to just tell it like it is. And that’s the way I can educate people, you know?
I think one of the things that makes you stick out is that, even when you’re on your street shit, you’re honest about your mentality. You don’t make yourself out to be a killer or something.
Oh, 100%, yeah. I just wanted to be cool, man. I was just trying to show people I can do the same thing as you. Even though I’m not from the hood, you know what I mean?
Why do you think it’s important to now be honest about that?
There’s people going through what I went through right now. You know? So, I feel like I went through that. I think … I don’t know if I can say I think it’s important. I know it is important. But I don’t do it because it’s important. I just want to tell the truth and be real. See what I mean? That’s just what I felt like doing with my music, just keeping it a hundred and just telling the truth.
What was the thinking behind your merchandise?
The concept comes from me being in jail. You know, when I was in jail, I used to work a job, that like, you can get paid $30 an hour for [on the outside]. I was getting paid $30 a month.
What were you doing?
Sanitation, working at this warehouse. A few different things. I was a tutor, as well. I felt like I was getting robbed. I felt like a lot of people were getting robbed. Like, I know we’re in jail, but it’s like, damn! You’re allowed to put somebody in jail and make them work, pretty much like a slave. There’s loopholes in [the law] that let you do that.
With this merch, I was basing it off my experience in jail. Everything’s going to say DOC on it. I’m going to make some of that money back that they made off of me. I also want to donate some of the proceedings to education in juvenile facilities, so I can actually give back at the same time, so I’m not just making money.
Why did you take it literally? To recreate what you had to wear in there?
I thought that it would look cool. I’ve never seen anyone do it. People took a stab at the army stuff. Everybody was wearing boots, camo and all that stuff. Nobody’s done it with jail stuff. Nobody likes to wear jail stuff, but I was like, I’m going to make it look cool. I’m going to make it fly.
- Photography: Sean Carneiro / Highsnobiety