IDK, formerly known as Jay IDK, is a Maryland rapper making his commercial debut with his album, Is He Real?, via Warner Music Group.
IDK has never been a groundbreaking rapper, but his brand of lighthearted, playful trap music makes for some fun songs across his mixtape catalog. He has a solid command of flow, a decent grasp of lyricism and a knack for writing a catchy chorus.
Listening to the album’s first track, it’s clear IDK is aiming to outdo himself. That isn’t surprising considering most debut rap projects boast a layer of heightened ambition, production value and variety than their less-developed predecessors. Is He Real? is more than just a shift in stylistic exploits, though.
Uncannily reminiscent of the opening diatribe on Kendrick Lamar’s latest album DAMN., “Cloud Blu” contains a slowly paced but engaging conversation between IDK and a child, talking about the wonders of the afterlife. Also similar to Lamar’s track, the song abruptly ends, not with a gunshot, but the child’s voice turning demonic and saying, “You wake up from your dream because God isn’t f------ real.”
The ending statement could be nothing else but a calculated tease for what’s to come: A conceptual dive into existentialism, God and the mystery of how the world came to be. Or at least, that’s what it seems like.
IDK kills most of the momentum from the opener in the first half of the album. “42 Hundred Choices” continues the album’s tread into unsettling territory with a hellish trap instrumental. It has all the fundamentals of a stout song and some good bars with imagery, but its painfully short runtime cuts it down from promising to underwhelming.
With a runtime of 36 minutes from 14 tracks, the album is fleeting, which is typical of the disposable trap music IDK used to indulge in, but mystifyingly tight for a conceptual record.
The next four tracks — while far from terrible — are forays into familiar topics that barely intersect with the theme the album is pointing to. IDK isn’t writing nonsense, but there’s not much here that separates him from any of his more relevant contemporaries. “24” is a generic trap tune with a knockoff “HUMBLE” instrumental, and while “Lilly” is more focused, the lines comparing a girl who wronged him to Satan come off as hackneyed, bitter and amateurish rather than poetic.
The album’s most popular track, “Porno,” is elevated by two high-profile featured artists at the top of their games, and is centered around sex. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but the song could have been much raunchier, with more chemistry, and higher impact. Instead, listeners are delivered a rather disjointed tune with no strong hook and a merely decent set of bars from Pusha T and JID that are scarce in quotable lines.
The album turns it up a notch once the song “European Skies” begins. The track, like some of the cuts prior, gives off strong Kendrick Lamar and Section.80 vibes. The song is able to supersede the somewhat distracting comparison in a way the previous tracks couldn’t because of its very dense and captivating verse.
“No Cable” continues the trend of quality songwriting and lyricism with an introduction from GLC, who also appeared on a Lamar track. Beyond this, the song is a thoughtful meditation on the mindset of people who metaphorically “change the channel” to ignore societal problems.
The track is also a rare exception where IDK goes into multiple solid, topical verses. The additional bars delve into his struggling mindset as a black man who instinctively gets nervous around white people who may antagonize him, but he also realizes that many white people are not bad.
Taking all songs from Is He Real? into account, the meditational, soulful rap cuts make up the best moments. Case-in-point, the closing “Julia…” serves as a tasteful tribute to IDK’s late mother, and it gives context to the vindictive flip offs to his stepfather that IDK alluded to earlier on the record. The track eventually fades into a skit that insufficiently wraps up the concept of God’s enigma. Similar to J. Cole with KOD, writing a conceptual hip-hop record proves to be beyond IDK’s reach at the moment.
Despite being more mature with lavish instrumentation and decent vocals, the release loses the playful ignorance that made IDK shine in his previous works. Furthermore, the album leaves the listener unfulfilled as IDK struggles through an underdeveloped narrative that makes this project nothing more than a head-scratcher.
Though Is He Real? aims to make a bold statement, it falls way short of what it wants to achieve in many respects. The lofty expectations the album set for itself are enough to make the project interesting upon first glance, but IDK still has a long way before he develops a consistent sound and theme in his music.