“I was the tagalong little brother for a time period who was kind of ignored, so when I do anything artistically, I don’t bring it to anybody’s front door like, ‘Hey, this might hurt your feelings a little bit,’” he says. “Nah, you’re just gonna have your feelings hurt. Ask forgiveness instead of permission type vibe.”
The Forever Story follows J.I.D.’s biggest chart success yet, “Enemy,” a thumping, arena-ready single with Imagine Dragons that peaked in the top five of the Hot 100 and has been streamed more than 850 million times on Spotify. “The whole time I wasn’t dropping and time was passing, I knew we had the Imagine Dragons record in our back pocket,” he says with a sheepish grin.
He chuckles when I point out that he’s released songs with Sheck Wes and Mos Def in the span of six months, which would seem like total tonal whiplash for most MCs. It’s reductive to say that he’s trying to bridge trap rap and more traditional lyrical hip-hop–it’s more that he’s trying to get the latter style to operate with the collaborative spirit that’s been a hallmark of Atlanta for the last decade. That’s why he pairs rising Georgia acts like Baby Tate and Kenny Mason with 21 Savage and Lil Wayne, respectively.
“Kendrick and Cole, we’ve been waiting for them to do a project for years. Why do you think that is? If it was Lil Baby and Gunna, they’d have done it three or four times already, but because it’s always a little competitive atmosphere with lyricism,” he says. “I was like, I don’t really care about that. I feel like I’m better than everybody anyways.”
This ability to move seamlessly between styles gives the lie to a common criticism of J.I.D., which is that he approaches rapping like a running back with only one speed (he played defensive back at Hampton University, and says he’s “always correlating things back to sports”). There are moments on The Forever Story where he’s still rapping like a draft prospect shattering records on the agility ladder, but now he’s added a refined, quietly revelatory singing voice too. “Kody Blu 31” in particular is a track Christo says they never could’ve made before J.I.D. took this vocal leap.
J.I.D. has always been capable of carrying a tune (he sought out a professional voice coach when his vocal cords became swollen during a 2019 tour), but here he sings with confidence and heft, trading blows with labelmate Ari Lennox on the wounded love song “Can’t Make U Change.” The first notes of The Forever Story include an interpolation of a melody from The Never Story’s “Doo Wop,” but now, instead of Sean McVerry singing lead, it’s J.I.D. at the front of the mix.
“I just wanted to be able to have that on my Swiss Army knife. I’m still working on it, it’s an ongoing thing,” he says. “It’s like being an athlete and having speed. You’ve gotta keep on curating that speed and chipping away at certain things that make you able to keep running at that high level.”
After our breakfast, J.I.D. stopped by his hotel suite to pick up accessories for his MTV awards set, including a pendant depicting himself as a character from beloved ‘00s cartoon Ed, Edd n Eddy. Rappers getting their own face in diamonds is nothing new—Rick Ross literally has a chain of himself wearing a chain of himself—but J.I.D. says this is the only blockbuster jewelry purchase he intends on making. Despite proving he can go bar for bar with the best of them on The Forever Story, he’s not interested in the traditional benchmarks of rap stardom.
“People want me to diss rappers and be that type of artist, but I diss, like, corporations, family members. Stuff that really bothers me, not other artists,” he says. “I’m just getting over dissing my sister. That’s the realest beef I’ve got in the world.”