With The Never Story, Dreamville signee J.I.D makes a debut that sets an impressive standard for other rappers making their first leap into the deep end. This project is an eclectic mix of modern hip hop, jazz rap, and neo soul – and with a voice that sounds like a cross between the melodic soulfulness of Anderson Paak and the masterful nasal flow of Kendrick Lamar, it’s a role that suits J.I.D perfectly. In an industry where a debut release can make it or break it for an artist, The Never Story is a surprisingly good first impression
In many ways, J.I.D takes that classic East Coast boom bap style and adds these little tastes of his West Coast contemporaries to create a sound that is fresh and interesting. This jazz rap revival isn’t anything new – plenty of rappers like Kendrick Lamar and J.I.D’s own labelmate J. Cole have delved into the style – but J.I.D manages to keep it captivating while appealing to a more mainstream sound. His flow fits perfectly over instrumentals produced by J. Cole himself and Childish Major, among a roster of many others, but all of these tracks feel cohesive and feel like they were made for J.I.D.
Tracks like the Scenario-sampling EdEddnEddy and Underwear are catchy jazzy trap tracks, similar to Kendrick Lamar’s 2016 untitled unmastered, but leaning more toward a conventional angle than an avant-garde one. The Never Story balances bangers and more subdued tracks on a knife’s edge – moving from an energetic track like Hoodbooger or the warped and psychedelic NEVER feels seamless as you transition into a more restrained and soulful song like Hereditary or All Bad.
J.I.D’s cadence and flow are relentless. There’s a melodic element to it very reminiscent of both trap sensibilities and the style of neo-soul artists, but J.I.D draws these together with his fast-paced forward thinking bars. His flow and lyricism shine on tracks like NEVER or Underwear, where words and words link together smooth as silk. Even most of these hooks breathe cool too, like the “Melancholy cool / Matthew McConaughey” on Underwear or the “Never been shit, never had shit, never knew shit, never out never do shit,” on NEVER.
Still, there are places where The Never Story seems bare. Shorter songs like the 6LACK-featuring 8701 seem like they have more to say, while some longer cuts like the finale LAUDER fail to move on and go anywhere further. At times, production stagnates and so do J.I.D’s ideas. There’s this skit plotline of what seems to be J.I.D’s girlfriend leaving him a voicemail throughout the album, but it may as well not be there – it adds little to the album as a whole and is only forgettable and obtrusive.
But for the most part, The Never Story is an interesting and satisfying project. J.I.D is quickly proving himself to be the most innovative member of Dreamville’s roster, perhaps even more so than J. Cole himself. With The Never Story, the up and coming rapper has crafted a debut that showcases his flow and hopefully projects him into the mainstream like he deserves.