Atlanta rapper and newly-signed recording artist for J. Cole’s Dreamville Records, Destin Route, supposedly coined his recording moniker of J.I.D based on a nickname given to him by his mother, due to his jittery nature as a child, and, upon hearing his debut full-length album, The Never Story, it seems that the MC is as jittery as ever. With a skittish edge to his high-pitched, somewhat nasal voice that recalls an inflection like that of Anderson .Paak, The Never Story sees J.I.D hop on a variety of production styles that range from a slightly modernised approach to the classic, East Coast boom bap approach to a contemporary trap sound. Route’s flows, too, are somewhat of a mishmash of other rappers’ deliveries. The likes of Kendrick Lamar, Logic, Vince Staples, J. Cole and Joey Bada$$ seep their way into J.I.D’s performances, which are often jittery in their own way; not necessarily in a manner that’s evocative of, say, Logic, in that J.I.D isn’t relentlessly spitting fast bars, but he certainly retains an angular punctuation to his flow for much of the record that gives it an occasionally off-kilter bounce. All this being said, despite all of these features of J.I.D’s style sounding great on paper, in execution, The Never Story falls short of completely setting the rapper apart from his contemporaries in the way that he could surely achieve. With largely inconspicuous lyrics that don’t take full of advantage of the MC’s left-field delivery, lacklustre hooks that often disrupt the flow of a song, and a mixed bag of instrumentals that vary in how successfully they complement the artist’s performances, J.I.D most definitely has his moments, but inconsistency seems to be a prevalent issue with his debut album. Similarly, as much as Route has an instantly-recognisable voice, this doesn’t necessarily lend itself to establishing a definitive musical identity for the rapper, largely as a result of the fact that he often sounds more like a chimera of his contemporaries than a wholly unique character in himself. As such, The Never Story undoubtedly displays a lot of potential for J.I.D, but the rapper doesn’t quite follow through enough to craft a completely cohesive or fluid release.
Nowhere is J.I.D’s undeniable potential translated quite as cogently as on the first handful of tracks from The Never Story. Although the opening cut, Doo Wop, is a short, a cappella, introductory song, it boasts some of the most striking and rich production on the entire album. The way in which Route’s initial, softly sung performance is suddenly boosted by a triumphant burst of densely textured vocals layers, mixed with a vibrant, grandiose breadth, is impressive in how simple and yet how powerful it is. The thick and dynamic production value continues onto the first full-length song on the record, General, which brandishes a nocturnal instrumental — comprised of a crunchy, shimmering guitar, brooding bass line and plodding drumbeat — that highlights J.I.D’s influence from Wu-Tang Clan more than any other point on The Never Story, with the track being particularly evocative of much of Ghostface Killah’s recent solo output. Similarly, Route also conveys the better aspects of his flow on General, displaying intermittent whiffs of melody and a strong sense of punctuation that heavily resemble Kendrick Lamar’s vocal timbre, whilst the rapper’s general inflection shares a lot in common with that of Vince Staples. What’s more, J.I.D exhibits an admirable amount of diversity in his flow on General alone, whilst nevertheless consistently retaining a feeling of buoyancy that animates even his more languid styles of delivery. The succeeding song and lead single from the album, NEVER, sustains this enticing exuberance of Route’s performances, even during his more laid-back moments, but this time atop a dark, bassy trap instrumental, which features a gut punch of a beat switch, that provides an enticing sense of counterpoint to the MC’s peppy and versatile flow, much in the same way as General. The second single from The Never Story, D/vision, is successful for similar reasons, with a sinister, jazz-inspired instrumental of a swirling bass groove and fluttering keys, and with J.I.D also picking up the pace on his spitting on this track more than at most other points on the record, whilst Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot of EarthGang each bring a great guest verse to the mix. Indeed, in the first handful of tracks alone, there is more than enough evidence presented to warrant paying attention to J.I.D in the future, with these cuts demonstrating a level of maturity and discipline that few rappers attain so early on in their career.
It’s outside of these select few moments, however, wherein The Never Story suffers from a notable lack of creativity, thus restricting the overall extent to which J.I.D’s debut carves out an individual place for the rapper amongst the contemporaries from which he so clearly draws influence. Firstly, on a lyrical basis, there’s almost nothing of note to speak of, with the majority of Route’s bars across the tracklisting being trite to the point of inconspicuousness, whilst the few attempts he makes at wordplay often fall flat. This often comes in conjunction with weak hooks that pale in comparison to the rapper’s verses, both in terms of composition and delivery. The refrain from Underwear, for instance, is based on a particularly tiring pun that becomes all the more nauseating each time it’s repeated, which feels like quite often, given how short some of J.I.D’s verses are on this track. EdEddnEddy, too, despite being a short cut, sees the MC repeat the song’s hook to the point of it becoming tiresome, which is only worsened by the fact that his performance is distinctly less enthusiastic and sprightly compared to the rest of the record. On another note, when it comes to the handful of syrupy smooth, alternative R&B-tinged love songs across The Never Story, for which J.I.D tries his hand at singing, the musician is by no means a bad singer, but his voice merely meets what could be considered the bear minimum expectation from a contemporary hip hop artist. This, unfortunately, means that Route’s style of singing is, above all else, rather anonymous, in that it fails to convey the slight interesting edge maintained throughout his rapping, which arguably squanders the opportunities presented by the stellar production on these types of tracks. Hereditary stands out in the tracklisting for having an especially pretty instrumental, with some dainty, jazzy piano licks, distant saxophone melodies and airy synth chimes crafting a fittingly sugary ambiance, but J.I.D’s crooning is simply passable for the most part, whilst his voice loses some clarity as he reaches into his lower register.
Ultimately, it’s a shame that J.I.D’s potential is only conveyed in small bursts throughout The Never Story, but such moments are so good that one can only be optimistic about where he will take his stylings in the future. The low points of the record are not egregious by any means, rather they demonstrate a significant number of creases, in the form of lacklustre lyrics, weak hooks and an occasional lack of individuality, that would have to be ironed out in order for the artist to completely unlock this potential that he has so potently demonstrated he has. Thankfully, all such points of reservation are easily within the realm of salvageability, should Route apply the same amount of focus and drive as that which he conveys on the best moments throughout the tracklisting. Until then, however, although The Never Story alludes to much better things for J.I.D, the album itself is not quite the project that will completely establish his place amongst his contemporaries.
The Vinyl Verdict: 6.5/10