J.I.D’s second album DiCaprio 2 is a captivating tour-de-force for Dreamville Records’ most animated personality. This is not a slight; he uses his excess theatricality to add some cinematic flair to traditional lyricism that makes it more than just bars streaming through a speaker. Describing J.I.D’s music takes a chalkboard, frayed hair, and five cups of coffee. But over the course of DiCaprio 2, he does his best to get us to understand more about him, his journey, and actor Leonardo DiCaprio. Each layer, depth, and stylistic choice adds to our constantly-changing perception of J.I.D’s manic playing field. It makes it all the more engrossing because of it.
J.I.D’s name comes courtesy of his grandmother who believed him to be “jittery” as a baby. That energy hasn’t escaped him. His rap style is constantly in flux, and he sounds like he’s just downed three caramel frappucinos with double shots of expresso. He’s deft with his rhymes too, but in a different way than rappers like Eminem or Twista, who rely on their speed to offset the quality of blandness in their deliveries. Conversely, each one of J.I.D’s rhymes is packed with cartoonish energy to compliment the swiftness of his delivery.
DiCaprio 2 is a captivating exploration of his rap style’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s tight and absolutely flooring; a cinematic universe with a maze of moving intricate parts and separate worlds, divided only by the last seconds of a song before the listener is thrust quickly into the next. The effect is magical. Though his voice never falters, it feels like we’re hearing an album of different rappers utilizing vastly different flows, an array of personas as diverse as those of the project’s titular inspiration.
Through it all, DiCaprio 2 is a concept album. Album opener “Frequency Change” is bereft with static – J.I.D’s changing the channels, looking for something to become immersed in. Perhaps its symbolic of his place in music; being stuck with the same meaningless rap on every streaming service playlist, waiting to find something inspiring. It ends quickly, with J.I.D deciding to step in front of the mic. From there, we’re thrown into his universe with “Slick Talk,” which makes use of some groovy drum patterns and alien ambience that looks to create a liminal space of atmospheric funk. On this track, as he does in every painstaking second of the album’s runtime, J.I.D’s voice morphs and transforms endlessly. The beginning of each bar sounds nothing like the end of it. He successfully captures the entertaining aspect of the cinema he’s working to emulate.
Make no mistake, his theatricality isn’t meant to be a distraction from lyrical capability, as is often the case with lesser rappers. He carefully chooses every word and syllable, contributing to each verse a feeling composed of the highest grade. He begins his verse on “151 Rum” with “Son of a god, son of a bitch/ Son of woman and man, son of a sun, in a sunken abyss/ Summon a plan, please come with a script” and the alliteration makes the mind spin as his voice strikes like lightning bolts on each “s.” He can also get a little funny, too. On the syncopated cut “Skrawberries,” he begins his verse with “My girl booty soft and it’s shaped like a skrawberry/ Her pussy bald with a tat like Stephon Marbury” and the sheer seriousness of the delivery majorly enhances the jest.
What makes the album flow together as well as it does is the principle that it’s not designed to do so. DiCaprio 2 is a collection of realms, and each song brings a distinct experience. “Hot Box” is a smooth boom-bap track with the subgenre’s aficionados, Method Man and Joey Badass, rapping about smoking herb and everything that comes with it. J.I.D plays off their subtle intensities and decides to make his own contribution more sing-songy than that of his guests. It’s an intelligent choice that shows that he’s as much of a curator as he is an artist. “Just Da Otha Day” is a haunting take on the come-up, using the first verse to explicitly explore the atmosphere that comes with being broke instead of using it as a springboard to talk about his current success. Here, J.I.D practically whispers. He sounds haunted, yet enchanted by the trappings that he managed to escape.
The features on the album, however, are a mixed bag. “Off Deez” is a furiously magnetic anthem featuring his label boss J. Cole who sounds like even he is struggling to keep up with J.I.D’s seemingly endless energy. Over what sounds like a simple loop with some thumping 808s, the two offer verses about critics needing to take a step back from finding faults in their work. Well that’s what it’s supposed to be about – the two really just get into a dick-measuring contest of who can rap better. Cole manages to take the cake, of course, but it’s a close battle; J.I.D.’s energy does make for a more entertaining verse.
Meanwhile, A$AP Ferg on “Westbrook” is utilized in a starkly different manner than the average listener is used to. His commanding chorus is delivered slowly without much need for the punches of eccentricity he typically injects. J.I.D’s quick rapping against it makes for a smooth contrast. But the Ella Mai and 6lack assisted “Tiiied” doesn’t work nearly as good as the other guest tracks, mostly because, well, 6lack isn’t that entertaining of a singer. Although he’s become popular in many R&B circles, there’s a reason he isn’t appearing on that many features. 6lack’s aesthetic works in the confines of his own ominous spin on contemporary trap, but when it comes to adhering to someone else’s standard, it falters.
The blemishes on DiCaprio 2 are far and few between. J.I.D’s ability to keep the listener entertained by his delivery in addition to what he’s saying effectively hides any mistakes that he makes, save for the odd mundane guest plug-in. But largely, DiCaprio 2 is a master class of inventive flows and excellent curation of seemingly random song elements. He can rap in more flows than can be counted on both hands, and he can sing equally as well. Leonardo DiCaprio may not be in his prime anymore, but it certainly appears that J.I.D soon will be.