Rapper turned Harvard ‘Music Business’ professor, IDK has finally dropped his long-awaited album, USEE4YOURSELF. IDK has had a smooth transition into the mainstream from his days in the underground –then going by the alias Jay-IDK– and has maintained a cult following that continues to grow with each release. His 2019 album, IS HE REAL, elevated his career enormously. This album was saturated with bangers that related to the album’s theme of questioning God’s existence. Throughout, there were discussions of IDK’s childhood, family life, and trauma that is used as a means to explain why he is the way that he is today.
Now, on USEE4YOURSELF, IDK continues to dive into these topics, doing so on songs that not only hit harder, but have a more mainstream appeal. Songs like “PradadaBang” featuring Young Thug and “Shoot My Shot” featuring Offset are destined to be hits. Between IDK’s delivery, hard-hitting trap beats, and features from these superstar artists, I will genuinely be surprised if these songs aren’t played at every bar, club, and party in this upcoming post-pandemic year.
In addition to mainstream appeal, this album has a specific overlap that I believe defines hip-hop today. USEE4YOURSELF showcases standard popular trap production, alternative hip-hop features that reflect IDK’s roots, and clever bars that appeal to any hip-hop head. On this album, IDK checks all the boxes that hip-hop fans could want and successfully encompasses what hip-hop truly is in 2021.
Throughout this album, there is not an extended moment that isn’t high energy. This is especially true for the captivating first leg of the album, where songs are seamlessly transitioning from banger to banger. IDK accomplishes this while still maintaining the reflective and sometimes heavy content of his lyrics. Although USEE4YOURSELF is less of a conceptual album than IS HE REAL, there is an overarching theme of keeping it real. This is either present when IDK discusses strong opinions and feelings he has, or just how he acts and feels towards specific types of women. IDK utilizes his verses as chances for his audience to get to better know and understand him as a person. IDK shares his mentality and outlook on songs like “Dogs Don’t Lie” where he says “I feel the bad reviews coming, these bloggers giving me sixes, my confidence says a hundred.” The sentiments range from flexing, to dirty talk, to even his outlook on his personal relationships with his mother and stepfather on songs like “Hey Auntie” and “Cry In Church.” On these songs, IDK wishes that his mother would have put the same energy into loving her son as she did into enforcing religion. These topics were also addressed in the last half of IDK’s 2019 album, IS HE REAL. Structurally, there are a lot of parallels between IS HE REAL and USEE4YOURSELF. Now on USEE4YOURSELF, this is executed with a better-realized style from IDK and in an even more captivating way. I am sure people will criticize IDK for not changing his artistic direction on this project. However, I’d argue that this is okay because he definitely grew and developed his style.
Although this album stays consistently enjoyable, there are points of this album to critique. It seems obvious that the budget for this album was high, and much more expensive than IDK’s previous albums. This is apparent in the expensive and extensive list of features, as well as incredible beats and the many samples used in them. There is nothing at all wrong with a high budget or any of the listed expenses, but I can’t help but wonder if these expenses were all worthwhile or even effective. For example, some features, such as Swae Lee’s, were not necessary and either didn’t add anything or even took away from the song. Some samples were not creatively utilized on songs like “Puerto Rico,” where I found myself anticipating a catchier flip of the vocal sample throughout the duration of the song.
An extremely notable song on this album is “Red,” featuring Westside Gunn, MF DOOM, and Jay Electronica. This song has one of the most interesting beats on this album and some of the best bars. The MF DOOM feature is unfinished due to his passing but was teased six months before in April 2020. However, there is another instance of ineffective budget use and that is the addition of Jay Electronica’s feature. Jay is a Grammy-nominated and extremely talented rapper who sonically does not lower the quality of this song. However, his sentiments in his verse are quite controversial. Jay spits “You stick with Dr. Fauci, I’m runnin’ with Dr. Wesley, I’ve never let the CDC come and finesse me, I never let the fake news from the press distress me.” With such a frowned-upon take, IDK’s decision to not omit Jay’s feature is a reflection on IDK.
Despite slight issues, hiccups, and eyebrow raisers, this album will without a doubt be enjoyed by many. There are hits and bangers throughout this project. The singles that built anticipation for this album’s release fit perfectly with the context of the rest of the album. IDK did not change his style much on this album; rather, he grew and further developed his sound and execution. I look forward to seeing IDK’s success with this album.