By Josh Weiner
“[My] class was a mixture of dem spellin’ bee winners and dem PG killers,” Jay IDK raps in the opening minutes of his 2016 full-length debut, IWASVERYBAD. This line summarizes the rapper’s mixed fortunes growing up quite handily.
On the one hand, the man born Jason Mills was raised middle-class, had a supportive family, and attended college. On the other, Mills grew up in Prince George’s County, one of the most troubled regions of the greater Washington, DC area; attended a dysfunctional school and had several run-ins with the law. The most serious of these was an armed robbery of a pizza store, which eventually earned him a stint in prison.
These range experiences have given Jay IDK (Ignorance Delivering Knowledge) plenty of subject matter for his music. Since releasing his first mixtape, 2014’s Sex, Drugs, and Homework, Jay has touched upon popular hip-hop narrative topics. These include struggling to make ends meet (“Used to have a job but that job barely paid me, Charley’s Grilled Subs tried to minimum wage me”) and the complicated relationship he has always had with his mother, which has only been exacerbated in the wake of his criminal convictions.
As the mixtapes have kept coming (SubTrap in 2015, Empty Bank in 2016), Jay has put in work outside the studio to gather additional exposure over the years. In 2016, he took part in the summertime Trillectro Festival, which has been billed as “DC’s first hip-hop and electronic dance festival.” The following year, he joined Chicago hip-hop star Isaiah Rashad on tour; they eventually made their ways overseas to Europe.
One of his most fruitful career moves was teaming up with Adult Swim, Cartoon Network’s late-night programming block. IWASVERYBAD wound up being released through Adult Swim, and the group also helped producing the visual content for the album, including a video recreation of the armed robbery, which several songs on the record chronicle extensively.
According to Jay, this creative partnership was critical both to advance his own profile, and to achieve the visuals needed “to paint the picture we’re trying to paint for the album.”
Only 26, Jay IDK no doubt has plenty of time left in the game, and seems poised to experiment with new styles and subject matter throughout the rest of his career. “I think the best artists find ways to reinvent themselves,” Jay has told The Washington Post, who described him as one of the region’s most promising rappers. “They find new ways to tell their stories, or they find new stories to tell. It’s all about getting better.”