On his last project, J.I.D. seemed to be in search for his winning formula. It led to an endeavor that, despite its few flops, was all the better for its exciting twists and turns. On Dicaprio 2 that thrilling escapade feels more like a distant memory as he opts to stay in his now established lane instead of pushing beyond it. There’s this subtle shift towards songs that are more or less rapped all the way through. On paper, and more importantly in isolation, this approach can pay massive dividends, but when one approach is followed so closely, unavoidably some will rise to the occasion and while others are immediately forgotten.
“While the trap undertones may be firmly embedded, the tracks where the production looks beyond hip hop are when Dicaprio 2 truly reaches its potential.“
And that’s the main issue with this album. Things slowly start to bleed together, to the point that you can hear an entire song and it leaves almost no impression. “Hot Box” features one of the many piano based beats on the record, but just kind of plods through, almost to the point of boring you into submission. It’s the kind of beat that demands a more tempered, bouncier delivery, and Method Man comfortably slides into that natural groove. His verse eclipses the other two around it and transforms his one-off feature into an essential moment for the record. J.I.D.’s trademark bars are not lost on “151 Rum” but that’s entirely it. The beat is slightly annoying, the sloppily mixed bass doing no favors, and the long-winded “hook” fails to even remotely break up the song in any way. There’s a complete disregard for progression of any kind, and you’ll be hard-pressed to discern any notable differences from one minute to the next.
In general the production goes back and forth between cauterizing the wound and slowly picking it back open. One of the album’s best, “Just Da Other Day,” has some impeccable attention to detail, adding in these small hints of keys that light up the song and along with sparkling synths make it feel like a hazy memory in the distant past. “Workin Out” may fall back on another looping piano, but at least the bass and horns give it a retro feel that slightly differentiates it from the pack. But then there’s the keys assisted “Westbrook.” It tries to break away with some dark ascending synths, but even J.I.D can’t save it from being one of the least exciting tracks. The track should be rattling your speakers, but instead is mixed just a little too low to have an impact of any kind and quickly fades from memory. But again, it’s not that all of the production is necessarily poor, but rather suffers due to the underlying issue of uniformity present throughout the album.
While the trap undertones may be firmly embedded, the tracks where the production looks beyond hip hop are when Dicaprio 2 truly reaches its potential. “Tiiied” pulls in some glitch elements that complement the ever shifting relationship J.I.D. details and the encompassing strings completely fill up the upper register. “Slick Talk” parallels last year’s “NEVER” with him coming straight out the gates before mixing up his tempo after the mid-song beat switch up. The spacey production leaves him plenty of room to weave in and out of flows (“I’m a father now, and you are my child/Or you aren’t my child, I’m on “Maury” now/And I’m talking loud, the results are found/You are not the–wow”). It’s a microcosm of what a J.I.D. album could and should sound like, pairing his exhilarating wordplay with the dynamism sorely missed on other tracks.
Just as this project can dazzle at times and dull the senses at others, the features fall in line and mirror that behavior. J. Cole tops the list with his verse on “Off Deez,” delivering a crucial change of pace over a paranoid trap beat. The chemistry between the two is undeniable, and it makes for a rare moment where the music not just demands but commands your attention. On the opposite end, A$AP Ferg and Joey Bada$$ try to break up the madness of the choruses but at best end up being a throwaway addition with the latter in particular really dropping the ball. As for the others, they fall somewhere in the middle, where they each provide some much needed reprieve from the machine gun rapping of their peers but don’t quite do enough to really steal the show.
It’s not hard to see that the real highlight of this album is none other than J.I.D. He may not be able to salvage everything, but with him rapping it’s hard not to be ensnared by his illuminating narratives. He’s never been one to stray away from injustice, and project best “Off Da Zoinkys” plunges headfirst into the hip hop community’s as well as his own affliction with narcotics. He’s not judgemental (“I ain’t trippin, I ain’t sayin it’s wrong/but it’s some other shit we can be on) but just wants to see the people around him live and prosper (“I just need all my n***** to wake up”). Many have touched on the subject matter, but his poignant stream of consciousness marries honesty and understanding in a way few have been able to capture.
There are many moments on this record worth remembering, and yet they’re still so hard to cling on to. Consistent exploration and execution are an essential yet constantly at odds partnership. From an engineering standpoint, there are not many red flags and the album plays fairly well from start to finish. But when these songs are brought together, the sum of their parts ends up feeling more like a creative slump rather than a fresh consideration of new ideas. The Kendrick influence is plain to see, and until J.I.D. is ready to take that and expand beyond it, he will continue to be seen as the entertaining upstart who hasn’t quite put it all together. Even still, Dicaprio 2 may not be a major creative breakthrough, but with its clear-cut approach and commitment to accessibility, it will no doubt satiate fans until that advancement inevitably comes.