Steadily building his profile in recent years through collaborative efforts with fellow members of the Dreamville label headed by J. Cole, JID hasn’t put out a proper project of his own since back in 2018. Arguably the label’s most talented member – certainly, its most technically skilled – The Forever Story serves as a sequel of sorts to his debut five years ago, The Never Story. JID’s music and the structuring of the album itself can often be as dense as his dizzying flows, as the lyrical speedster rapidly jumps between topics and runs through songs with multiple sections and beat switches. While it can become a lot to take in at times, JID might be one of the most consistently engaging rappers out there right now. I could listen to him navigating a verse with his colourful turns of phrase and mind-bending internal rhyme schemes for hours on end, and he certainly displays many of his unique talents across this single hour of content, from emotional tracks about family to aggressive bangers and gun talk. With this narrator at the forefront, it all comes together into one of the year’s best hip-hop projects.
After a soulful intro that just shows how great JID is at singing as well, “Raydar” immediately catapults listeners into intricate flows as JID begins a barrage of syllables, flipping into intense whispers and deep voices over quick hi-hats and big bass hits. If you aren’t paying close and just catch the engaging pop culture references on the surface, you might miss that he’s getting deep into discussions of systemic racism. Demonstrating some wholly unique flows, hearing him never take a breath or slow down as the track progresses through two beat switches – upon which JID takes a couple lines to accumulate himself to the new sound and steadily transitions into a new rhythm – is incredible to witness. Single “Dance Now” was well-chosen, as it stands out among many options as a highlight, and one of the year’s best songs. Sampling a traditional Jewish folk song, it’s easy to picture whole crowds singing the sampled background chant. Fellow ATLien Kenny Mason appears for a melodic chorus, but JID feels like a feature on his own song on multiple occasions, dropping into a gritty, growled during the pre-chorus – which hilariously works as both a dead-serious threat and a legitimate dance anthem – and playing with accents in the verses. JID is always clearly putting in effort, whether it’s running through a variety of “C” words or an incredible bar where he creatively spells out “FAX,” or “facts,” to accentuate his claims. “Crack Sandwich” continues to display his storytelling abilities in the early goings, as JID names all six of his siblings and takes extended verses to tell the story of a physical altercation they found themselves in together – stern gang vocals representing their distant parents included.
The track “Can’t Punk Me” kicks off with a jazzy bassline and a skittering breakbeat that actually matches how fast JID’s flows are moving. It makes for a highly overwhelming experience, in the best way, especially when his voice suddenly jumps an octave for the energetic chorus. It makes sense – the track, and most of his work, makes him sound like there’s a volcanic eruption of energy bubbling under the surface, ready to explode at any moment. The duo EARTHGANG appear on the track for a labelmate reunion, and they certainly hold their own, but it’s a testament to just how good JID is that he stands out here despite some incredible features – the Gandhi diss from Doctur Dot was certainly unexpected and funny. Single “Surround Sound” still holds up with a great Aretha Franklin sample, and while this might clearly be JID’s show, it’s 21 Savage’s year as the two confidently trade verses. “Kody Blu 31” switches gears quickly, opening with a sample of his family singing at his grandma’s funeral before JID shows off some highly emotional soulful vocals – tearful cracks and voice breaks and all – as he dedicates a track to a friend who lost a son and implores them to keep fighting.
The album’s back half kicks off with the companion tracks “Bruddanem” and “Sistanem,” although only the latter seems to be entirely familial in nature. With an appropriate feature from O Block’s own Lil Durk, “Bruddanem” finds JID juxtaposing an orchestral backdrop with gleeful decrees that he’ll stand up for his brothers when it comes to street life, describing a couple altercations when the glitchy synth beat kicks in. “Sistanem,” on the other hand, might be the album’s most powerful track. With a muted sample, a knocking beat and a 6-minute runtime, JID tones down his energy level and takes the time to explain his relationship with his sister over the years as the toxic mindsets and lifestyles of fame threatened to tear it apart. An uncredited James Blake drops by for a couple lines to make it all the more pristine, as JID continues to toast to the importance of family. “Can’t Make U Change” and “Stars” aren’t as explicit about it, but they almost feel intrinsically linked as well as JID speaks about the difficult transition period in maturity while evolving from troubled youth to rap superstar. Ari Lennox’s bluesy vocals and JID’s wordplay-filled 2nd verse are highlights of the project on the former, while “Stars” finds JID pitching his vocals and discussing his influences and approach to his art during some more standout verses, despite a low-key chorus that disrupts the flow and represents one of the album’s only points that feels out of place musically.
A couple more uptempo bangers return in the album’s closing moments. The track “Just In Time” boasts a feature from Lil Wayne, who laces his syllables in a very similar way to JID himself, as the intergenerational icons pass the baton back and forth – the moment of silence before JID returns after the Wayne verse is electrifying. “Money” feels very reminiscent of another 2000s superstar in Kanye West, with a bright and positive sound and a chorus of kids singing a hook hyperfocused on grabbing cash, JID continuing to do what he does best in front. “Better Days” runs through a couple more come-up stories and feels like the only track here that doesn’t add critical info to the narrative, while “Lauder Too” functions more as a theatrical outro than a structured song, but still contains some of JID’s most technically impressive verses on the whole project.
As far as the year’s best rap projects go, this one is right up there with Kendrick Lamar and Pusha T. JID is a truly unique talent right now, and with a couple pop crossovers as the industry begins to take notice, his profile should continue to grow. With even more at his disposal in the future, the sky is the limit.
Favourite Tracks: Dance Now, Can’t Punk Me, Sistanem, Crack Sandwich, Just In Time
Least Favourite Track: Better Days