Photo credit: David Morrison
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Welcome to our interview with IDK. Writer and rapper from Maryland’s PG County, who’s released four projects in four years, but told us that his real debut is what he’s working on currently and will put out next year. So in a way, everything you’ve heard from him so far and everything we get into in this conversation is preliminary.
You’ll hear about his roots in Go Go, to which I relate, the moments when he realized he had a gift, what he learned as a student of the game and his relationship to his listeners. Ali started us off at the very beginning, when IDK was in elementary school.
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: What up?
IDK: What's up?
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: So do I call you IDK or do I say Jay?
IDK: I mean, my friends call me Jay, so you can call me Jay. That's cool.
ALI: I want to follow the rules – on names, specifically. Welcome to the show.
IDK: Yeah. Thank you.
ALI: What's been going on in your world?
IDK: Honestly, I just been – right now, currently, I've been making a lot of music. My goal is to create my debut album – what I like to call my debut album. And this is probably the most important thing musically for me in my whole career. So it's like, I've been taking my time just kind of getting in the studio, thinking of concepts, thinking of what I want to really address in it, and putting it together right now. It's the very early stages though.
ALI: Can we go back then and – the beginning of your career.
ALI: How did everything begin for you?
IDK: The beginning of my career, let's see. How far back should I go?
OK. The first time I ever ever thought about rapping and thought I could rap had to be like the sixth grade. My sixth grade teacher, reading teacher, she gave us a bunch of words, and we had to make – they all rhymed, but we had to make a sentence with them all. And I remember everybody was doing their sentence, and then I did mine, and the whole class was laughing. I don't remember what I said, but it was, like, clever, and everybody liked mine. And I was like, damn, I'm kind of good at poetry or whatever. But I never really –
FRANNIE KELLEY: Did she think it was – was she like, "Write a poem?" Or was she like, "Write a rhyme?" You know what I mean?
IDK: I think it was a poem.
IDK: Honestly. But I may have made it more of a rhyme, like have some rhythm and all that stuff.
FRANNIE: I was just wondering if she was one of those teachers who was like, "The way to get the kids is to" –
IDK: Yeah, nah. That was before all that, man. They wasn't thinking like that back then.
IDK: I'm not that old, but I mean – you what I'm saying? Like, nah. But pretty much that was the first thing. Then seventh grade I did – I used to want a North Face jacket so bad. And back home in the D.C. area, North Face was, like, the shit. If you had that jacket, you know what I'm saying?
FRANNIE: I remember that. I'm from D.C.
IDK: I wanted it so bad that I made a song about one. And it was like – it had a hook, everything. And then I went to the lunch table and had somebody beating on the desk, and I rapped it. I wrote the lyrics just like how it would be on like Rap Genius or something. I wrote it down, and then I was giving it to people. I guess that was first single, if you want to call it – but you had to read it though.
FRANNIE: You wrote the – you gave them out – like, you photocopied it?
IDK: Yeah. Yup, yup, yup.
FRANNIE: That's amazing.
ALI: So did they read along while you did it or did you – how did –
IDK: No. I actually did it – performed it live in the lunchroom, the cafeteria, for everybody, and they liked it. So that was my other run-in with rap. And then I would go back and forth like – I was always an artistic kind of student. So I would go back and forth with music and rap and all that.
But then when I turned maybe 19, 20, I used to get in a lot of trouble, and I went to jail. And it was like my third time in jail. And when I went there, everybody was kind of doing their own thing. I was a tutor, and I was a barber. So I used to help people get their GEDs and I used to cut hair, so everybody knew me. But not everybody knew that I could rap. And not even me! I just kind of was bored, and I would just start writing rhymes and stuff. And then other inmates would see me writing, and then they'd be like, "Yo, Jay, I didn't know rapped. Spit something. Blah blah blah blah."
And one day, one of the inmates, they had the Jay-Z – I think it was The Black Album. I don't know which one had all the instrumentals. I think it was The Black Album. And they put it in, and they were playing that, The Black Album. They was playing the instrumentals from there, and then they were like, "Yo, spit." So I took my book out and I was just rapping my stuff, and everybody was messing with it.
Because I wasn't really talking about, like, killing people and all that stuff, or violence or none of that. I was just talking about some other stuff, like some cool –
ALI: Like what?
IDK: Like clothes, and trying to be fly, and, you know, just swaggy type of stuff like that. And some real stuff too, more deeper things. And so everybody liked that about me. And I remember this one dude was like, "Man, you got that different style like Lupe. Man, I think you could make it." He literally said that to me in jail, and then here we are today.
ALI: I'm just wondering when you were in sixth grade, that was like 2001.
IDK: Nah, probably a little later than that. Maybe like 2003. Maybe – nah, like '03 I would say. '03, yeah.
ALI: So what were you listening to then?
IDK: This actually might've been 2004. This was Eminem, Kanye, 50 Cent. A little bit of Nelly cause of the "Air Force One" song, then I got into his album. That's basically what I was listening to. But that whole Aftermath thing, like Em, 50, The Game, all of that type of stuff, that's what I was really into.
FRANNIE: Anything DMV specific?
IDK: At that time, Wale wasn't really – he might've just started to come out, but he wasn't really out yet. So it wasn't nothing – only thing in the DMV back then was go-go music. And that's all I was – seventh grade, all I was listening to was go-go.
IDK: Yeah, I wasn't really listening to rap like that. Seventh, eighth, ninth grade was probably mostly go-go.
FRANNIE: So I went to eighth grade and high school in D.C.
IDK: Oh yeah?
FRANNIE: Yeah. It's really hard to explain go-go to people who aren't from D.C.
IDK: Yeah, yeah.
FRANNIE: Like how everybody listens to it, and a lot of the time, the way that – it's PGC that goes all go-go at night on the weekends?
IDK: PGC – maybe not no more, but it used to be like that.
FRANNIE: Oh really?
IDK: 93.9 too.
FRANNIE: Oh yeah?
IDK: Yeah, they all definitely play go-go.
FRANNIE: Yeah. And the way also that go-go will take popular songs and redo them completely, and that's the way a lot of people in D.C. hear those songs for the first time.
IDK: Right, right.
FRANNIE: That's the other thing about go-go. When people try to put it into other music or translate it, it doesn't really work.
IDK: No. I won't agree with that. It hasn't maybe worked in the past, because of maybe – I feel like sometimes the influence of it isn't subtle enough.
FRANNIE: Yeah, I get what you're saying.
IDK: Like with what I do? If you really listen to my music, there're lots of elements of go-go, especially in my live performance. But it's very subtle, so if you don't know that it's go-go, if you not from where I'm from or none of that, you might not notice it.
But even in my song, "Maryland Ass N****" on IWasVeryBad, the hook from there is from Backyard Band. They got it from another – they got it from 50 and G-Unit, but I got it from them, so I do it like – I do stuff like that. And that's kind of how I implement go-go.
FRANNIE: I mean, you can hear it sometimes. Beyoncé's band actually, especially on the –
ALI: Yeah, I was about to say Beyoncé – what was it, "Crazy In Love?"
IDK: Yeah, yeah. Mhmm.
FRANNIE: But yeah, I totally hear what you're saying, that the influence does exist, it's just kind of a secret.
IDK: Right. A person who really does it a lot is Yung Gleesh.
FRANNIE: True. True.
IDK: He has a lot of go-go influence in his – the way that he raps and the way that he does his hooks. But if you don't know about go-go, you might not catch it. And that's more the modern go-go. See, the stuff like Beyoncé and all that, that's like the traditional way go-go used to be.
FRANNIE: That's like Rare Essence vibes.
IDK: Right. But the new go-go is totally some other stuff, like the bounce beat and all that.
FRANNIE: Can you describe it? First of all, what exactly you do to put that sense or flavor in your songs, and also what modern go-go is?
IDK: The way that I might deliver my hooks, the repetition in the way that I deliver my hooks sometimes. Like, let me see a song – or sometimes it's in the beat, slightly. Like I said, "Maryland Ass N****" if you really think about it, it's almost like there's a cowbell in there like they would do with a go-go band. The bounce of it is almost like a go-go bounce beat.
I do that type of stuff all the time, and that's sometimes what I flock to musically period. I don't even know – I don't even realize it sometimes, until it's like, "Oh yeah, this is from here," or, "This is that." Yeah.
FRANNIE: Yeah, "Lock It" is the one song that just makes me feel like at home again.
IDK: Yeah, yeah. I feel you. I feel you.
FRANNIE: I was just going to ask about PG County. And how people – I think people know that it's kind of a distinct culture and community from D.C. and from Baltimore, but I don't know if they know how. What are the things? Like, soft shell crab is big in Baltimore and D.C., but I don't know about PG.
IDK: I never was a crab person, so I don't know about crabs and stuff.
FRANNIE: OK. But what are the things that people are – they like there that people don't like elsewhere?
IDK: Go-go. New Balance.
IDK: 990s, 992s, 991s. Helly Hansen jackets. It's a lot of stuff –
FRANNIE: The Cowboys.
IDK: Alright, man, I don't know – I don't really know about all that. It's funny, cause that's the rivalry of the Redskins, and it's so many Cowboys fans. It's so crazy. It's a lot of traitors in the area.
FRANNIE: Well, I mean, I was a Washington fan as well, so I'm on your side with this. But I think D.C. was the last team to integrate.
ALI: I didn't know that.
IDK: Wow. OK. Well, that makes sense. I'm a Redskins fan because I'm supposed to be.
FRANNIE: Oh, I understand.
IDK: I don't even – I don't watch football like that and none of that. But it's just like – it's one of them things where it's like: that's what I'm supposed to – even though they lose every year and they're not that good, I still have hope.
FRANNIE: Listen, I am the same, and it's more – it's more a personality trait than a choice.
IDK: Yeah. I feel that. I feel that. That makes sense.
FRANNIE: God dammit.
IDK: But PG, though – PG though is a beautiful place for me. I like it more than anyone else in this world. I grew up there.
FRANNIE: It's beautiful.
IDK: I think it's the richest, predominantly black county in America – or wealthiest, something like that.
But this doesn't mean everything is wealthy. It's definitely got its areas where it's not all the way there, and that's the dynamic that I had to live with. It's like, if you go to PG County public school, it's going to be a bad school. It's not really – I can't think offhand of a good PG County school. All of them are pretty bad.
And the situation I was in was I lived middle-class in a good, predominantly black neighborhood, new development-type of neighborhood. My parents went to college, all of that stuff. They wanted me to do the same thing, but I went to DuVal High School, which is one of the worst schools in PG County.
And I never really got good grades and all of that stuff, so when I went to that school – I remember the first thing somebody told me before. It was like, "Damn, you going to DuVal? Well, look, DuVal's not that bad – as bad as you think. It's the choices you make. You hang, you chill, you mind your own business. You do your thing, get your grades. You'll be alright. But if you hang out with the other crowd, that's when things happen."
And I remember him saying that to me, and I did exactly what he said don't do. Because that's who I kind of just gravitated to. That's who I could relate to, not doing so well in school. And then I didn't like school, so I would skip class, and when you skipping class, who you going to see? Other kids skipping class. And usually it be kids from the other neighborhoods, you know, like way more hood.
ALI: So was it the academics of the school or was it just the environment that was –
IDK: I think the environment and my lack of interest in academics. It just was – I would try to do good, but my focus just wasn't there. It was just – I just couldn't be focused on doing the right thing. As a result, I ended up – I got kicked out of three – four – three schools? Four schools. I got kicked out of every school that I went to, pretty much. I went four different schools.
I went to DuVal, and then they told me to leave before they expelled me, cause if they expel me, I can't go to no school in the county. Then I went to Bowie, and Bowie was in a better neighborhood, but because of gentrification – see, PG is like – when everything gets gentrified in D.C., people move to PG. That's kind of how it was.
So all of those kids from different hoods in D.C. are now living in Bowie and going to Bowie High School, and that school had like fights every day. I went there. I think I got in trouble for stealing a projector or something. I don't know. I was just doing dumb shit.
ALI: So what do you think that those kids who are exactly like you, just feeling bored, not really connecting, what do you think that the schools can do differently for people like you?
IDK: Man, implement music or something. I'm like, if you build a studio in school, and it's big enough and has enough rooms for kids that are aspiring artists to come in and really do their thing after school, and then maybe you have to have good grades or something like that to do that, I think a lot of people would be motivated to really get their shit together. Just like sports. But everybody's not athletic. Everybody's not good at sports. Some people are good at making music. So I feel like that is a good way to keep people busy and out of trouble. That's just one for sure.
ALI: All it takes is one.
IDK: Yeah. Facts.
ALI: What are some of the things that you focus on now? You're working on your debut record, and you have a lot of music out there. What are some of the elements that you really want people to get from your music?
IDK: People gotta understand, with me, my biggest thing and my whole thing is duality. My name, IDK, stands for Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge. Ignorance and knowledge are two things that don't necessarily go together. I grew up middle class. I was supposed to go to college, supposed to live my life this way. But I was in the hood. I was in the streets. I was hanging out with these other people that – it's not really my life that I grew up in. That's the duality of two things that don't really mix together. That's who I am.
That's why my music is so diverse. It's like, I got different sides of me. I mean, even – let's even go even deeper. I'm a Gemini on top of all of that stuff. You feel what I'm saying? So now it's like, these two sides together – that's my whole life. Everything about me is duality. Everything is two things coming together, and I think people need to understand that.
With this next project, I'ma make it a lot more clear in terms of that, with me. Like, letting people know: this is what you get when you come to me. I'm not the type of person you put my album on and you're going to listen to it and get one thing and that's what you want from me and that's it. You – I'm for the person who likes diversity and different things and has different moods and don't want to just listen to one album of the same thing. That's what I'm for. And I'ma make that very clear in this next project.
FRANNIE: Yeah, I mean, you've said – so much of your autobiography is out already. If somebody's listened to your music, they don't need to go to a Q&A to find out where you come from or whatever. But I was wondering if, in what you're working on now, you're interested in talking about not what exactly happened – you know how Chuck was like, "Oh, rap is the black CNN," or whatever?
FRANNIE: But that's, like, done kind of, the facts of the situation or whatever. What's interesting and untold is how all of that made everybody feel and makes people feel now.
IDK: Yeah, facts.
FRANNIE: Is that what you're thinking about when you talk about duality and –
IDK: The way I make music is a lot more selfish than I like to think sometimes. And the reason why I say that is cause I literally just give you what I feel, what's inside of me, what I'm thinking, and I let you do what you do with that.
FRANNIE: Right. Yeah, I get that.
IDK: But a lot of the times, because of whatever's in my head and the way that I think and how conscious and how deep sometimes I could get, I end up educating people by just trying to be myself and put it out in my music. So I don't necessarily try to be like, "Yo, don't do this. Don't do that. Be good. Dah dah dah." I don't do that. I just tell you my story or whatever I'm going through and let people learn from that.
FRANNIE: Is it fair to say that some of the emotion that you have around these stories that you're telling comes through in the music, like the production and the –
IDK: Yes. I'll put it like this: every song that's going on my next project, every beat, I have to feel chills when I hear it. I have to feel something when I hear it. It don't gotta be the most deepest song even. It could be some – I got some stuff that's more funny than anything, but it's deep. I feel it in the beat. And so that's kind of what it is. The beats always bring that stuff out of me.
Before I used to write my rhymes when I was in jail, I started by listening to stuff on the radio and memorizing the beats in my mind and writing to the beat that I memorized. And then sometimes I would just write, free write on some poetry shit, and then try to fit that into a beat.
But I make the best music when I hear the beat, and I don't even write to it right away. I'll sit on that beat for like two months. If it's special enough to me, I'll literally sit on it for a while and write it piece by piece until it's like – I say what I want to say. I did that with, on my last project, "Black Sheep, White Dove" and "No Shoes On The Rug." I kind of took my time on those two songs, because the beats, they were too special for me to just go in and do my thing. You know?
FRANNIE: So you think it's like you have to live with them for a little bit?
IDK: Yes. The important songs I gotta live with. If I really really like the beat, like a lot, I gotta live with it. Yeah.
ALI: What challenges you the most in your music? Because you put into it in terms of flow, lyrics. You put a lot into it. It's not really, I don't think, matched with the majority of your contemporaries. A lot of other people are real slow with it. There's a lot of space. But you fill it up, and there's a lot of rhythms involved. What pushes you?
IDK: To be honest, it all depends on the beat and how much I gotta say. Sometimes the beat don't be enough. It really just depends. For me, I am cool with sometimes slowing things down and making shit more simple and sing-a-long-able, depending on the beat. It'll bring that out of me, but sometimes I feel like I want to say something and I need people to understand it.
More recently, I did that with the "Trippie Redd Freestyle" that I put out. That one was – I had things that I wanted to address, and I wanted to also let people know, I'm not somebody you could fuck with when we talking about this pen game and the way that I write and rap. It was my chance to kind of show people like, "Look, man. I don't know what you think about me, but before anything, I'm a rapper." And I kind of like to do that every now and then on certain songs.
ALI: What puts you in that particular zone? Are there people that's coming at you? Are there things like comments or stuff that you read?
IDK: Yes. I study the game, right? And I study people like Drake. One thing I like about Drake, you don't really see him address a lot of things through press. You don't really see him say a – it almost looks like he's secluded from what's going on in terms of the perception of him, but then every album he'll put one of those songs where he kind of addresses everything going on. And it's like, "Damn, you must look at all your comments, cause you really know what people think about you." And he comes at it like that.
Me being a student of the game, I study all the greats, all the best people now and before. And with that, it was kind of my version of what Drake would do when there's a lot of pressure and there's a lot of things. For me, with the XXL thing, it was one of them things where everybody felt like I should've had it and I should've been on it. And for me, I wanted my fans to understand that, even though I didn't get on it, I'm better than everybody on there and y'all should still rock with me-kind of thing. I was just – I guess you could say I was in my bag when I made that.
ALI: I get it. I see it as being motivational.
ALI: If you looking at that. But as I'm listening to you and thinking about what you're saying, it almost makes me feel like Drake or – not you in particular, but if the comments and the way you address it becomes your focal point, it almost to me sounds like you're imprisoned by it versus being free from it, creating away from that. But I guess maybe some people need that sort of thing to be the motivational source of their art.
IDK: Of course. With me, every now and then I'll make a song where I really rap, and I try to do it better than the last song when I really rapped. But when there's no motivation, it's not easy. A lot of what I do and what I make is driven by some type of emotion or some type of urge to prove to myself and everyone that pays attention to me that I believe in myself. With that song, it was literally kind of like that.
All of the comments and stuff, those are going to be there. And to be honest, I don't know if everybody feels this way, but when you see things like that, see what people are saying about you, the more you see it, the more it doesn't bother you at all. Right? But it's great to address a lot of that stuff in your music. If you are the type of person that can keep your composure until you're in the studio and you write it, and you put the song out and you make the video and you don't say shit else anywhere else, I think that's a test of patience.
And I'm proud of myself that I could not be responding back to people, each person, and going on Instagram Live – cause that's the easy thing to do, just go on Instagram Live and say blah blah blah blah. "I should've been" – but I felt like I accomplished by doing what I feel like the people that are the greats have been doing.
ALI: Yeah, I get it.
FRANNIE: Yeah, so that's like the new competition in a way.
IDK: Right! That's really it. Cause, I mean, to be honest, a lot of rappers nowadays don't really want to go bar for bar on a record. It's usually yelling at each other on Instagram and all this stuff, or tweeting. So it's like, if nobody's going to challenge you that way, then shoot, I guess I gotta holler at the people in the comments or something.
FRANNIE: Yeah, and I mean, I don't mean this question or comment or whatever to be really about XXL in particular, but there's also – in the past, criticism also came from outlets and publications that were kind of charged by the audience with explaining things or critiquing things or making connections between things, and from my point of view, that has largely disappeared. There is not quality music journalism, especially concerning hip-hop and, to a slightly lesser extent, R&B.
IDK: There's a lot of reasons though.
FRANNIE: Yeah. Well, what do you think – what are those reasons?
IDK: I think one of the reasons is people – kids not reading that stuff for real. They just want to see a video interview. You gotta understand, because of social media, information is like this. You don't need to go to a blog and then read all the way down until you find the piece that you wanted to get.
You could literally just go on the Internet, on Instagram Live, no outlet, no nothing. If your audience is big enough, you put a video up, and then WorldStar and Akademiks and all these people gon' cover it, take it off, rip it, put it on their page. And now the whole world knows what happened, or your story.
So people that's trying to do journalism, I feel – I understand where they might be at, trying to write a really good story that not a lot of people might pay attention to.
FRANNIE: Well, I'll say, from the point of view of working at an outlet for almost ten years and knowing people and asking about people's numbers, those stories did very well. Those stories outperformed journalism about rock, folk, indie, jazz, all that. People want to read about hip-hop. There are so many stories. You could never run out of stories if you're talking hip-hop and R&B. So I don't know. I totally get that that's how we all we receive our information, but I don't think it's true that people don't want to read. I think it's that they want to read better things.
IDK: Well, I guess I was speaking more about kids. I guess there is a lot of people that still want to read, but a lot of what's going on right now is driven by the younger generation. So that's why I refer to them.
FRANNIE: Yeah. I guess I also don't even mean good things have to be read. I mean, there can be better interviews done, far better interviews done.
IDK: Right, right. Facts. Facts facts facts.
FRANNIE: On video or wherever.
FRANNIE: And I think the ramifications of that are that it limits the market for music that's a little bit thornier or has a lot of duality in it, has some layers to it, isn't just sort of an album of the same song 13 times.
IDK: Well, you gotta look at it like – I look at journalism as form of art.
IDK: I look at a music as form of art. I look at, like, even the cover arts as a form of art, right? And just like you said, journalism is starting to lose quality because the time is not being put into it. It's almost the same climate with music.
IDK: Even some of the cover art, it's like, everything is not really being packaged as something of quality.
FRANNIE: Just, like, thought through all the way.
IDK: It's just like, how quickly can you get it out. You feel what I'm saying? I understand. Just the music economy period is a little bit fucked up right now.
FRANNIE: Yeah. It's like the attention economy all over the place.
ALI: Well, what does music mean to you?
IDK: For me, man, music is – it's one of them things where – I think, for me, it's like, I'm able to really say how I feel and put it out there and let people take that in and say they – tell me that they feel the same way. It's my way of almost knowing that I'm not the only one, especially the more popular my stuff goes. Cause I'm really making music about how I feel. Nine times out of ten that's all I'm thinking about.
And for me, they gave me a platform where I could literally just talk about what I did today or what I did yesterday or what I think about this particular thing. And then I get to put it out, and then the world can judge it and say, "Yeah I feel the same way." Or there's kids that feel that way, or I can influence other kids or other people like myself.
I mean, to me – for me, to be blessed with this gift, I thank God every day that – I could've been born something else. I could've been born with a different gift, but I have this gift. It means a lot to me.
ALI: So connecting with people who may feel that they're lost, don't have any identity, is really important to you?
IDK: Yeah, I mean, it got more and more important when I started seeing that it was actually happening. People hit me all the time about my music.
Like, let me even break it down. I was on tour, and I went to the merch table to see some of the fans, and a grown man, like probably older than me, came up to me crying. He didn't tell me why. It wasn't like, "Your music touched me." None of that. He just – he was like, "Wow, man." He was waiting for me the whole time, and then when I came there, I gave him – he gave me the CD he bought, and I signed it.
And when I'm signing it, I could see him in my peripheral like, "Oh my god, this is crazy." And then dude – like, I gave him the CD, and he stared at me for a minute, and tears was forming in his eyes. And I'm just like, "Damn. Whatever I did, this dude really feels where I'm coming from."
And that, to me, it's a beautiful thing, man. Cause it's like, everybody can make music, and some people can make really good music, but how many people can make music that makes people do that? No shame, no nothing. Literally OK with – not even OK. Can't control it. You know what I'm saying?
ALI: Can you project for a moment – just to entertain me, cause I've been here almost 30 years – 25 years into the future, what would you ideally feel complete?
IDK: Wait. Complete like what?
ALI: Like as an artist. For you, for you personally.
IDK: For me? For me. OK. Perfect. Twenty-five years from now – like, what I would be doing?
ALI: Not necessarily what you'd be doing, but just what would make you feel –
IDK: Man, a lot of music that's impacted a lot of people, enough to have a lot of platinum records, Grammys, certifications, awards of the art that I make. I would've hopefully have helped out with a lot of people's careers and building to them to be what I wanted to be and what they want to be.
And the most important thing is really impacting as many people as possible with the music that I'm making. If I'm impacting people with the music that I made before, and I know I'm getting better, and I'm getting bigger, so my push is getting stronger, I just want to keep that going until it really can impact the world. I want to be able to say something and immediately millions of people hear it – and either feel it or don't feel it, however they feel about it.
But in 25 years, I probably – I'll be like 50-something. I don't know if I'll be still rapping, but I'll have my hand in music for sure. Whether it be production, however I do it. That's definitely something I see.
ALI: I might not – I don't know if I'll be around another –
FRANNIE: Oh my god.
IDK: You'll be around.
FRANNIE: Look at you. You'll be around. It's fine.
ALI: Only the creator knows best, but definitely hope that you achieve your goals and even more beyond that.
I want to switch for a moment and ask a question, because some of the people that we've interviewed lately, they have expressed when it comes to the music that they're making – and people I find really talented and dope and respect, and some I'm questioning, but I respect their artistry and don't judge that aspect – that the music is such a fantasy, what they're saying. And part of it is true, but ultimately it becomes a character. Do you feel that there should be a complete freedom to do that, or it should be as authentic as possible.
IDK: Freedom to be a character?
ALI: For the music to just be completely false, liken it to a movie.
IDK: I'll put it like this. I think that you should be able to do whatever the fuck you want, but at the same time, sometimes when you do something that's false, you could give people an unrealistic expectation for themselves.
They were talking about drugs somewhere the other day, and it's like, some artists don't even really be doing the drugs that they say they do. But kids see that and think that it's real, so they think they could do it, and then they overdose. And then somebody's gone, because somebody's exaggerating and people believe that.
Another thing, this is not even music related, but a lot of women look on Instagram and see some of these girls on Instagram like, "Dang, that's the level of beauty I want to be, and this, that, and the third." And they're comparing themselves to people that aren't even real. These people use Photoshop. And you thinking, "Damn, someone can be like this?" But then you're really beating yourself up when you might beautiful, but you beating yourself up because of something that's real. And you don't know that it's not real.
I feel like the same thing with music. You should be able to do whatever you want, but I think it's wrong if you have a big audience and you're lying to them to the point where you're affecting their life. Like, you can actually get someone killed because of that. You know what I'm saying?
IDK: And I think that's what is going on a lot right now, like I said. So I see both sides. I see you being able to have the freedom, and I don't think no one should stop that. But I do think artists should really be thinking about what they're doing when you have a large audience.
ALI: Yeah, I think so too, but I totally get people's journey and having to get to that conclusion based off of just after experiencing or coming into contact with something that their music destroyed.
ALI: I personally try be a responsible artist, just cause I know this music is going to be here well beyond me, and it's going to be speaking to people, and I want it to be speaking something that's going to be helpful.
IDK: For sure. And then that's why I'm saying a lot of people not necessarily thinking like that, so it's just – I just hope people start to realize what power they have.
But there's also something to be said about the people listening to it. Because people want to be like something that's almost not real too. We glorify superheroes and all these – or Barney and all these fictional things growing up. We're programmed to do that as kids. So then when you see a human being that's –
Like, a lot of artists, people don't really see as a human being. They seem as something above that, so when somebody say they did eight Xans and they still alive and they're good off of that, people feel like they want to chase that, chase being like that, just like when you was a kid and you wanted to be like Superman and be like all of these other things that's not real.
So I think it's a two-sided thing definitely, but – cause it's almost like, if you don't portray yourself to be this thing that's not real, people don't want to be like you or flock to who you are. You're too regular. So it's two ways to look at it definitely, but I still think the right thing to do is just really just be yourself. I'm blessed to be myself and still people want to be like me or whatever the case may be.
FRANNIE: Yeah, I mean, I think music journalism can be an intervention in those two ways also.
FRANNIE: So it's not people broadcasting their thing all the time. There's somebody there to sort of interrogate it and be like, "But like, all the time? It's like that all the time?"
IDK: Yeah, facts. Nah, that's real.
FRANNIE: Are you sober?
IDK: Yeah, I don't smoke or drink.
FRANNIE: How long –
IDK: I did drink the other day though. Ferg, at the end of the tour, bought us all Cristal, and I used to see rappers talk about Cristal all the time, so I had to do it, breh. I had to do that. Forgive me. I know I say I don't drink, but that one was like, c'mon. I had to try it at least once, before I stopped drinking. Now I could really stop. But yeah, I'm sober though.
FRANNIE: Yeah. I have found, in doing this show for like five years, so many more people are sober than you would think, and I think it really does a disservice to people who are just starting out to not know that that might be a really important component to your creative success and your business success.
IDK: Of course. Man.
FRANNIE: It's like, "Don't lose focus."
IDK: I got an advantage over a lot of people because I don't smoke or drink – truthfully. Some people use the smoking and other drugs to – it's almost like a cheat code to create, I guess.
FRANNIE: Right. Which I respect.
IDK: Right. But for me, the long term effects of all that stuff is definitely not worth it, and I feel better when I challenge myself on a sober level to make my art just as good or even better than the people who have some of those things that enhance their mind.
I don't like to do stuff before I go on stage, none of that. I never liked that, even when I did drink. Because I don't want to be performing at an older age and feeling like I need liquor or need this and that to perform well. I could just do it just based off of me. And a lot of people can't necessarily do that. So I like that. I like the challenge of it.
FRANNIE: Plus you could be Ali's age and look like him.
IDK: Yeah! I'm trying to look young, man. You feel me? I ain't trying to be looking all old and all that stuff.
ALI: Yeah, I'm boring, and I've never smoked, so, you know. And here I am. But talk about performing, cause when you just said that I saw you kind of light up a little bit. You like the stage?
IDK: Yeah. I'm a performance person, man. That's my strongest part of my artistry probably. Even if you don't like my music, if you come to the show, it's very hard to not like it, long as my DJ don't fuck up or nothing like that. Then we good. Nah.
ALI: What do you love most about live performance?
IDK: My crowd control. Like, I been doing this so long with, man, places where it was like 50 people, five people, ten people, a thousand people, 5,000 people. I've been doing it and repetition so much that I found out how to capture a crowd that don't even – nobody gotta even know me. But I know how to get your attention, and I know how to get you to move.
I just – and I love that, cause not everybody has that. I know so many people who be having like 18 billion streams and selling out this, that, and the third, and you go to their show and then you just be like, "How did you even get that?"
IDK: And that's important. That's like the most important thing, is your show.
ALI: Stage is most important to me.
IDK: Most important.
ALI: Cause that's it. That's you touching the people.
ALI: You're having a one-on-one with the people, and if you can't do that, man, I don't care how many hits you have. I know great, rich rappers, and I don't care to see them. Cause it's just like, "Oh, you relying that radio button to really just push this moment" –
IDK: Push everything.
ALI: – "to go get the purpose at the end of the day. But you not really just touching the people, being really intimate and vulnerable and in the moment with the people." So it's important.
IDK: Yeah. So that's my thing. That's my thing. If you come to my show, I got that on lock, and I got control over that. And I just want to get better and better at it.
ALI: Who are some of the people in your camp that challenge you the most?
IDK: I'm not even going to lie, I'm not even joking, I challenge myself probably the most. I just am that type of person. I put it like this. I went on Melrose the other day, and when I was walking, a lot of people were like, "Yo, Jay! Duh duh duh duh." And that happens to me a lot, but I'm still in this box of, "Nobody knows who I am, and I need to get better at" – I don't know.
And I love it though, to be honest, because I see a lot of people that's the opposite. And then it be like, they think they're something that they're not. I don't let that shit get to my head. But I'm always like, yo, I'm not at the top tier of where I want to be at. So it's like, if I'm not there, I almost don't see a lot.
So I'm always constantly challenging myself. How can I do better? If I drop a song and that joint didn't go ten times platinum, there's something I needed to do better. And that's kind of how it is with me. I probably challenge myself the most out of everybody in my crew, and then I reciprocate that energy to them and challenge them all day long. I'm that guy. I'm that guy for sure.
FRANNIE: I really really enjoyed this interview.
IDK: Oh yeah. Thank you so much.
FRANNIE: Thank you so much for coming. Thanks for making time for us.
IDK: Yeah, nah. Thank you for letting me come here, man. I was looking forward to this for a while. So I'm glad I came.
FRANNIE: That's awesome.
ALI: And moving the time, because I know we were going to do it a little bit later –
FRANNIE: Yeah, that too.
ALI: – but then my schedule got moved, so, you know.
IDK: I ain't tripping, man. I wake up – I wake up already at eight a.m. So it ain't nothing for me.
FRANNIE: That's you and Pusha T.
IDK: Oh yeah?
FRANNIE: The early risers of rap.
IDK: That's what's up. That's my dude.
ALI: Thank you, man, and we're going to continue to watch your journey and looking forward to that debut, that big record.
FRANNIE: Do you have a sense of timing?
IDK: Next year.
IDK: I'ma take my time on this one.
ALI: Yeah, it's the most important record. I mean, you've got a lot of material out there, but –
IDK: Of course. They could live on that for a little bit. I'll put out some singles here and there, whatever whatever.
But when I come, just know I'm coming. I'm not fucking around with this one. I've already made enough of the mistakes I needed to make on the other ones, in terms of knowing what I should do, what I shouldn't do. And I'm not even talking about musically, just musically, just the way that I put it out and present it to the people. Now all of that was trial and error, this – I'm in the game now. Like, I'm about to be in the game for real, and this is my chance to finally show people what I got. So I'm excited about this one.
FRANNIE: Thanks again.
ALI: Thank you. Word.
IDK: Thank you. I appreciate.
ALI: Yes indeed.