DreamVille signee J.I.D welcomes Clash backstage during J. Cole’s 4 Your Eyes Only tour…

The afterparty has been under way for some time now. It’s the final night of J. Cole’s ‘4 Your Eyez Only’ tour, and the crew are looking forward to a couple of weeks at home before heading down under for the Australian leg. J.I.D is in the room, but he’s not fully present. His eyes are transfixed on his phone, extracting ideas into his notes, preserved for a future studio session. “I don’t stop writing,” admits the East Atlanta native. “I’ll see or hear something and be like, ‘Oh shit, I’ve got to capture this moment any way I can.’”

Rewind a few hours and the 27-year-old, real name Destin Route, is sat in his dressing room - a soulless space deep in Leeds’ First Direct Arena’s backstage labyrinth. He drags a backpack to his feet and begins digging for his in-ear monitors, revealing a pile of ruled pads filled with notes from the road. “When we’re in a situation like this I can get to a book,” he explains. “I can just write ideas down that way, or I’ll use voice notes. Conversations often lead to an idea for a song.”

The act of writing has long been an integral part of J.I.D’s life. His father has published “a type of autobiography situation,” but he maintains that his way with words is really drawn from his mother. “She’s witty, so I see myself sometimes when I speak to her,” he says. “We have a conversation and I’m like, ‘Wow, you really know how to drive your point home!’ That’s something I try to do with my music: to get straight to the point in a way that people will feel comfortable.”

The youngest of seven siblings, J.I.D - which you can pronounce either Jid or Jay-Eye-Dee - never envisioned his future as a writer until more recently. The majority of his youth was dedicated to playing American Football, for Stephenson High School and later on a scholarship for the Hampton Pirates at Hampton University, Virginia where he majored in entrepreneurship. His promising professional football career would come to a devastating end, when he dislocated his hip six games into a make or break season. As he worked to rehabilitate, he began losing focus, messing around and eventually being kicked out of college just hours away from graduating. While he’s keen to promote the importance of education, he believes that the college system isn’t something that works for everyone.

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His foray into rap didn’t begin as a serious one. He recorded the ‘James Hall Mixtape’ - named after his halls of residence - at college while he was a football star. The tape received love around campus and soon reached the ears of fellow Atlanta transplants, EarthGang, who persuaded him to consider taking his rap skills further.

After being kicked out of college, he moved himself and a couch - donated by his mother - into a flat with the duo, fuelling his music-making habit through menial jobs at call centres, fast food joints and delivering pizzas. “I literally had equipment that I would record on, and that was my everyday life,” he recalls. “I had a job at Domino’s, delivering out of my car, but that was a waste of time compared to what I really could have been doing.” He regrets that, while he was committed to music, the distractions of part time jobs stunted his acceleration.

Eventually J.I.D would put an end to his career in pizza delivery, finding “other ways” to make rent instead: he admits that these weren’t always the most positive methods, but local live shows soon became his preferred way to keep the landlord at bay. “I knew something would happen with the music,” he reflects, betraying a private confidence. “People were recognising me, and recognising the music.”

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I literally had equipment that I would record on, and that was my everyday life...

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One of these early supporters was Kevin "Coach" Lee, co-founder of Quality Control Music - the label behind Atlanta hit-makers like Migos and Lil Yachty - who almost signed J.I.D early in his career. “Coach K is amazing,” says J.I.D fondly. “He’s got a great ear for talent and an eye for stars. Even when we see each other now he’s hella proud of me.” He still believes that they’d have achieved great things together, but another deal was on the table that was ultimately more attractive to a young man with ambitions of being an “an album artist.”

J.I.D was first introduced to J. Cole by a mutual friend, producer Cedric Brown, on Ab-Soul’s ‘These Days’ tour in 2014, where EarthGang were a support act alongside DreamVille signee Bas. After their initial meeting Cole continued to show an interest in J.I.D’s music, offering advice and feedback on tracks that they’d exchange via email.

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Over this period of development, J.I.D would perfect his sound: an elastic flow that switches from helium inflected double-time to raw melodies, riding neo-soul basslines and booming 808’s interchangeably depending on his subject matter. “It takes time living and getting comfortable in your skin,” he says of his evolution. “When I’m creating I don’t want nobody to be around me. I know it’s going to sound crazy coming out, and I don’t want to think about somebody else’s opinion. I might think about what somebody said to me for the next three days. I overthink and second guess myself a lot - but usually if I’m doing it by myself and I get to the finished product, they love it every time.”

In February this year it was announced that J.I.D had signed to Cole’s DreamVille imprint, and the following month he released his official debut ‘The Never Story’, which is what brings him to be in Leeds this Sunday afternoon.

He compares his nightly sets to the feeling of being the new kid at school who has to go to the front of the class and introduce themselves - although it’s safe to say that there aren’t many school classes as big as a sold out crowd at The O2, which he played a few evenings ago. The challenge is one that he anticipates on a nightly basis, savouring the nuances of each individual show. After sharing tracks like lead single ‘Never’ and A Tribe Called Quest-sampling ‘EdEddnEddy’ with his new crowd, he takes to the sidelines to study Cole, making mental notes to improve his own game - daydreaming of where his current trajectory could take him. “I just like his work ethic,” he explains. “And he’s been in the game for a minute, so it makes sense that he has [such a broad fanbase].”

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I just like his work ethic...

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Nonetheless, he’s admirably honest when it comes to his intentions for escaping the shadow of his mentor’s superstardom. “I gotta flame him,” he says, bluntly. “I gotta do better. If I don’t then it’s going to tell.” J.I.D is more than appreciative of the support from his DreamVille family, but aware that to fulfil his ambition he can’t rely on anyone but himself. “I’ve got goals,” he states. “I’m going to do it within the system, but I’m going to do it my way. I got a good feeling about how things have been lining up.”

J.I.D intends to be one of the greats, but he believes it’s up to the people to define greatness: right now he’s just concentrating on making them feel something. “I always talk about love,” he says. “We wouldn’t even need money if everybody loved each other. It’s like the same thing Jesus said - he was a cool guy! And I’m just going to say it in a whole bunch of different ways.” He pauses for a second, a look of mischief drawing across his face: “And then I have fun too. I’m a fun ass guy. It’s about the vices of life.”

In music and personality, J.I.D inhabits a space between - one that should assist him in having the mass appeal he hopes for. “I’m not the loudest - until I’m performing - and I’m not the church mouse. I’m not the most gangster, but I’m not no bitch,” he smiles, ready to walk out on stage and bring this chapter to a close. “I feel like I’m in just the right spot.”

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Words: Grant Brydon

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