The pressure was high on IDK’s first full-length record, as an initial guest list even slated Frank Ocean, who was ultimately cut due to management clearance delays. Yet IDK’s style manages to tap into a handful of differently polarized, intricate grooves. Other formidable features like Pusha T and JID do appear on the album, though some verses (JID’s in particular) are fitting but not exceptionally exciting versus what IDK provides. Smooth R&B supported interludes such as “I Do Me . . . You Do You” provide moments of downtime (including a Tyler, the Creator cameo) and soft keys mixing into angelic vocals.
“Cloud Blu” has a bright and clean jazzy instrumentation to it, and while the production is impressive in its own right, the poolside-introspective track seems to shock the audience with its abrupt mood shift and end, preparing them for the first song IDK really appears on.
Coasting in on a rocky, wavy beat of its own, the rapid “42 Hundred Choices” is a firestorm of potential opportunistic gains, sleeping on stretchers and being run up on with assault rifles. “No floatation, bitch I’m drownin’” is its final tagline with string and submarine ping sound accompaniment as the warship of a track departs.
After a short baptismal interlude, “Alone” showcases some of IDK’s firm new bars and hooks. It’s not especially blunt, abrasive or as urgent as many of the other Is He Real? Tracks, though its fuzzy digital beat and bubbly instrumentation climbs become part of IDK’s rooted motifs by the end of the record.
“24” then thumps in with low piano keys and bass notes. Cash accumulation and allocation of the flexed funds are promised, or denied to the foes frowning outside his inner circle.
IDK’s next track “Lilly” is a mantra-like ballad that flexes out an ode to staying spirited and more about the personal grind, compelling listeners to forego chasing “fast hos / it don’t work like that” that seek to use you through showing love rather than true character. The percussion snaps back and forth while the rest of the production introspectively flutters like a shining trinket during the choruses and closes back up into verses with a more ominous energy. It’s almost the length of an album interlude, but its tight composition and construction lend to it feeling like one of Is He Real?’s best songs.
“Porno” first softly teases a sweet-hearted chorus. It quickly shatters expectations with the bursting and explosive verses that are backed by trembling bass notes. Bar after bar plops into the next as IDK deciphers an unhealthy yet overtly sexual relationship like “F*ck her in a ’69, that’s a fuckin’ car,” beat stops included. Pusha T breaks onto the scene to brag of same-night flight booty calls and fast cars. The song closes out on an instrumentally-appropriate upgraded chorus that sounds simultaneously blissful and gentle yet also notorious. JID’s verse that follows isn’t a flop, but it didn’t seem very present, either, as a curtain closer.
“December” is surprisingly jubilant and groovy, the vocal melodies and backing instrumental dipping about and back and forth. The dancy track in honor of a budded romance includes a boisterous feature from Burna Boy and beckons for the one that revives “The feeling, the feeling of December.” Synths and deep drums seem reminiscent of some of Tyler, the Creator’s most recent production. All are fittingly placed after the cozy interlude Tyler features in.
The caressing outro strings, birds tweeting and hanging notes of “European Skies” match its continuous existential and smooth but kind of ordinary drawl. It clips out on an odd, warbly Gorillaz type record-skipping instrumentation into “No Cable”.
“No Cable” wields a blast from the past of a beat that deftly mixes retro vibes, keys and instruments with the new age of rap music. It fiercely combats ideas of assessing others based on their appearances, statuses and pasts or using them while dipping back to his own struggles surpassed. Preceded by a confession to being hesitant in dealing with potentially fearful white people on the streets, he vehemently justifies it with the idea that by turning into the wrong neighborhood, he “could probably be lynched / In 2019, and probably still in 2020 / And probably still 20 years later ‘cause this shit ain’t gon’ leave.” Other issues he extracts as people trying to “change the channel” every chorus range from averting sympathy from drug dealers because of a criminal record, to the universal prejudgment of a crazed bomber, to two women being in love and being conditioned to “change the channel”.
A hectic and almost disorienting digital beat is dominant on “Digital.” It touts a flashback to trapping and gun-wielding, but it comes with its own dilemmas like kids around street violence dying “Nine times out of ten” and the judiciary system’s flaws invoking a reality of “Cop killing me, that’s not a crime / I sell the weed, I’m doing five.” There’s an amount of authority and affluence to be attributed to the song yet it also effectively details some of the hardest problems faced by impoverished communities.
“Michael What TF” sets forth a sea shanty type of wavering beat and matching initial melodies, though the rapping soon diverts to heartfully charge greedy enemies. The final verse or two and the last flurry of bars here are concrete solid and pack a stony punch that’s hard to not bob to over the duration of its brief, curated sail.
“Julia . . .” disavows the fictional and possible with why it isn’t best and affirms everything that he does, with IDK affirming he has always known that he “was something rare,” and has ended up as through his emotional and responsive rationale. It ends on a wandering dialogue about the possibility of red being perceived as blue to a different individual, or any number of colors to other individuals. It’s followed by the final question then that if the aforementioned is true, “Then how, can we say there is no God?”
From its philosophical grapples and political standards to its exquisite production, lyricism and flows, Is He Real? might just have a listener wondering similarly afterwards in any of the realms of components. It’s a twisting, turning journey of digitally grounded tremors beside a variety of melodic bases, like warbled and slick or even seaside. Whether you choose to believe in him or not, IDK has made it evident with his premier album that he is very real about crafting a pool of grabbing and adventurous, full-steam content.
Cory Koehler is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].