JID 'The Forever Story' Is Technically Sound But Fails To Break From The Mold

JID 'The Forever Story' Is Technically Sound But Fails To Break From The Mold

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Dreamville at the time of its inception served more as a creative outlet and home for the music of its boss J. Cole than as a proper label imprint. Before its joint venture deal with Interscope Records, Dreamville already had Omen on its roster, but it was Bas’ signing in 2014 that hinted at Cole’s vision to build a true collective. In the following two years, the Friday Night Lights rapper recruited Cozz and DMV singer Ari Lennox to the team, both of whom contributed to the Revenge of the Dreamers mixtapes. The growth was present, but by the end of 2016 it had become clear that in order to compete with the other rapper-helmed labels, Dreamville would have to amass more star power.

East Atlanta’s JID, born Destin Route, was the obvious choice. His early mixtapes DiCaprio and Para Tu proved there was something special (enough for Cole to sign him in 2017), but it was The Never Story from that same year which showed that JID was not only a good fit for Dreamville, but he was among the team’s best. His acclaim further grew with the following year’s DiCaprio 2 which contained songs such as “Off Deez” with Cole and the rabid “151 Rum.”

The 31-year-old MC’s latest effort The Forever Story has finally arrived after a four-year hiatus and finds JID aiming for the throne. Where The Never Story and DiCaprio 2 were more based around the energy of their bar-heavy tracks, The Forever Story leans more into the soulful side of JID’s sound. Unfortunately in the midst of this aesthetic shift, JID loses some of the magic present in his past work.

The album format has never been JID’s specialty. Both The Never Story and DiCaprio 2 paled in comparison to some of their breakout songs. The same is true on the Atlanta rapper’s latest, but aside from a few exceptions, the quality of the individual songs were sacrificed in the name of an overarching aesthetic: without those moments of excellence, the album feels untethered.

So many of The Forever Story’s failures come from JID’s lack of subtlety and his misguided vision of what good art should be. He trades the playfulness, quotable lines and singularity for a tamped-down project which feels like a Dreamville template not unique to JID. The R&B tones of “Kody Blu 31” are well executed, but the track sounds untied to JID, like it could just have easily been on a Smino, 6lack or Saba record. Others such as “Can’t Make U Change” with Ari Lennox, suffer because of their predictability; the format is always the same: the rapper handles the verses and an R&B singer takes the hook. There are plenty of ways to creatively explore the relationship between those genres, but JID plays it safe.

There are some times when JID scraps the cookie cutter mold and leans into more unexpected collaborations and nuanced vignettes such as “Bruddanem” with Lil Durk. JID skates across neo-jazz production, his off-kilter flow poking through the samples. Durk’s triumphant raps break the album’s stupor, a welcome sound so foreign to a typical JID project.

There’s a handful of tracks across The Forever Story which aim to recreate JID’s past hits, but most feel overtly artificial. Part of the brilliance of songs such as “LAUDER” is their spontaneity despite being meticulously crafted. That temporal feeling is lost on “Raydar” and “Lauder Too” with Ravyn Lenae and Eryn Allen Kane. Out of those recreations only “Dance Now” featuring Kenny Mason stands on its own two feet.

Even the album’s highest moments like breakout single “Surround Sound” feel guarded and distant; using a classic Mos Def sample with Yasiin on your album is a flex on paper, but in reality it’s off-putting and distracting when it doesn’t serve an actual purpose. Earthgang comes with a surprisingly fresh appearance on “Can’t Punk Me” but JID dulls the blade with a trite flow and cliché bars. 

Everything about The Forever Story should work. It features excellent artists from legends like Lil Wayne and Yasiin Bey to the new vanguard of Kenny Mason, Baby Tate and Ari Lennox. The production is sophisticated and well intentioned. But the stakes seem low and the risks were passed over for safe, tepid options.

JID raps like a Harlem Globetrotter on The Forever Story; the skills are there, it’s littered with flashy displays of technique and it sounds better than fine most of the time. But there’s nothing on the line: at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who wins the game.

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