“I’m not finna have a break until I get what I want.” It’s clear that J.I.D has an aversion to even the idea of relaxation. Since last November, aside from studios, the Dreamville rapper has spent the bulk of his days in and out of artist trailers, tour buses, hotel beds and airplane seats on the road for his two-part Never Had Sh*t Tour with his labelmates, EarthGang. A chilly Secret Solstice Festival appearance here in Reykjavik, Iceland marks the end of 34 tour dates spread across 13 countries. The hope is that after such a trek, one would carve out some well-deserved R&R, no? No. When asked about taking an actual breather, he shakes his head immediately. This brief sit-down in a locker room before show time is one of the few moments of rest he’ll even permit himself to have. “It’s already understood with my management and whole team. I’m not gonna stop until I get what I feel like I deserve and what we deserve.”
What J.I.D, real name Dustin Route, is getting at is how with small professional building blocks of his own, he’s adding to the framework of his label’s 2018 takeover. Consider his set here in Reykjavik, more than 3,300 miles away from his native Atlanta, as one such moment. An international spectrum of fans—even a handful of black Americans peppered the lily-white Icelandic crowd—is packed against barricades of the fest’s intimate Gimli Stage to witness the firecracker wordsmith bring The Never Story, his critically acclaimed studio debut, to life. Although soft-spoken when he’s not at the mic, J.I.D commands a stage with the effortless cool of a rap elder statesman, blowing back wig caps with his lyrical acrobatics (“LAUDER,” “Hasta Luego” and new song “Mounted Up”) and prompting three-mosh pit encores of his breakout hit, “NEVER.” By set’s end, Gimli bookers couldn’t hold back their rave reviews about Dreamville’s silent assassin.
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But to be honest, even before this last round of European globetrotting, he stoked major flames with his inclusion in the 2018 XXL Freshman Class and accompanying freestyle, arguably the better of the bunch. J.I.D is particularly proud of being the first Dreamville artist besides Cole to make the coveted list (despite his hilariously disinterested facial expression in the group shot). “Everybody on the cover is super talented and they deserved to be there,” he says firmly, but if he could curate his own roster of worthy peers, Jaden Smith, Lil Baby, Gunna, Bhad Bhabie, Tierra Whack, Rico Nasty, EarthGang and Lou the Human would make the cut. “Hip-hop is way better and it’s in a great place. Even me being on the cover is a step forward, in a sense.”
His most recent step forward, and probably the most surprising is a talent he keeps close to his chest. Just one day after his Reykjavik performance, the official trailer for The Hate U Give, the film adaptation of Angie Thomas’ 2017 novel starring Amandla Stenberg and Issa Rae, aired during the 2018 BET Awards. The clip’s undercurrent song was J.I.D’s, written and performed exclusively for the film. He beams at the accomplishment, proud of the Hollywood route he’s slowly and quietly setting up for himself. While no one was watching, J.I.D has been scribbling away at his notepad writing scripts of all sorts. “Dramas, comedies, thrillers. I’m a movie buff so it’s all the same to me. It’s just all another emotion, another feeling,” he says. Contributing to the score of The Hate U Give will hopefully warm his music fans up to the idea of his name being mentioned with the Spike Lees and Boots Rileys of the world. “I’m trying to get involved in [films] right now so it won’t be weird when I’m like oh, [‘I have a movie’].”
As far as his next album is concerned, the project is “already done,” carved from an accumulation of 400 self-recorded songs sitting on his hard drive. However, only time will tell when it will drop. The assumption is that it will arrive in time for the collective’s first annual Dreamville Festival in September, but J.I.D is particularly sensitive about sharing the fruits of his labor before they’re ripe for consumption, even around his own tribe. “I’m reclusive when it comes to me giving art away because I get real sensitive about that and critiques,” he says, noting that he prefers near solitude during the recording process. Premature feedback—and he absolutely reads and considers reviews and fan chatter on social media—can easily throw him off his game. “The easiest way to get me upset is to critique some sh*t before I’m done with it. [That’s] with anybody, whether it’s [J.] Cole or goddamn Mary Magdalene or whoever.”
All we need to know is that J.I.D’s moment is coming with plenty of ammo, whether we’re expectant and ready or not. “[When] people weren’t giving a f**k about who I was, I was working,” he says. “I was like, alright bet. Imma have all this loaded. All these guns loaded so whenever I start to pull the trigger, it’s gonna be non-stop.”