Ignorantly delivering knowledge. The paradox at the back end of Jay IDK's stage name is a reflection of the artist himself—the Maryland rapper was raised in a middle-class household with a loving family, but went to one of his county's most dangerous schools.
His lyrics and production can swing from incisive and political to reckless, almost savage hedonism. It's a combination that resulted in 2016's Empty Bank, an album defined by punishing production and the rapper's stormy past. "The money take the boy's innocence/the money tell the boy load the clip," Jay raps on album standout "Boy's Innocence."
The quest for cash, and not having what felt like enough, haunted Jay early on. The future didn't always look bright—he was arrested at 17 and charged as an adult, and the resultant stint in prison left Jay with a sleeve of crudely executed tattoos. Though to be fair, they came cheap—"the whole sleeve probably cost about 30 packs of noodles," he laughed.
When we met up in Austin, Jay was ready to get a real, professional tattoo. The ink was going on his inner wrist and read HXLY—hated by others, loved by you. It has become a mantra for Jay IDK's fanbase, to the extent that a few fans even got the tattoo before the rapper. It was time to catch up.
After the ink had dried, we followed Jay to his two shows that night. He's become a practiced performer—Empty Bank landed Jay IDK a spot on Isaiah Rashad's North American tour, and the support was recently extended into Rashad's European leg. Jay spends at least part of his set from behind a plastic, ghoulish face of Ronald Reagan, a move that stems from his 2015 Subtrap standout "The Plug." "The Reagan Era put a motherfucking voice in my head/Saying, 'Trap, lil n***a, trap'/So I'm on the block with my Glock cocked till heart stop/Fuck blood, rather pump crack."
Jay IDK hasn't stopped wearing the mask, or pushing the message. And it's reaching more ears than ever—today brings news that Jay's next release with be a creative partnership with Adult Swim, the Cartoon Network offshoot responsible for some of TV's most forward-thinking programming. "I'm going to work with their creative team to come up with certain visuals to paint the picture we're trying to paint for the album," he told Billboard. "That's all I can say for now."
Get to know Jay IDK above, and listen to Empty Bank here.