This week may mark a monumental moment in the future of Hip Hop surfacing from the nation’s capital. Awareness of the Washington, DC rap scene has been growing for several years, and now one of the DMV’s skilled young rhymers is planting his flag as a fresh, compelling artistic voice the music world should keep an eye on.
DC star-on-the-rise Jay IDK (Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge) officially introduces his brand of “Suburban Trap” tunes with the release of his debut studio album SubTrap. Arriving in an era when terrestrial radio is consumed by the melodic choruses of Fetty Wap and Rich Homie Quan while traditional Hip Hop fans flock to lyric-based emcees like Kendrick Lamar and Joey Bada$$, Jay provides a unique union between the trap house and the dorm room.
In many ways, SubTrap presents itself as the audio interpolation of the classic HBO drama The Wire. Jay weaves together the tales of several characters entangled in a domain of drug dealing and drug using. The conceptual LP is loosely based on the London born performer’s real life odyssey from incarcerated teenager to computer science major to HXLY TRiBE leader.
AllHipHop.com connected with Jay IDK to ask the rising rapper about his SubTrap album, the established artists that provided him inspiration, and the industry shining a light on DC-Maryland-Virginia at last.
[ALSO READ: Three Questions With Jay IDK]
Can you explain the different personas on the album?
The main character is me, Jay. Then there’s King Trappy III who is me, but he’s my alter ego. Jay is basically selling weed and pills to pay for music. When he starts doing that, he realizes he’s making a little bit of money, but he could make a lot more money if he starts selling coke.
When he starts thinking about selling coke, that’s the whole King Trappy mentality. King Trappy is the big drug lord. Jay IDK is just the weed guy.
Because of King Trappy other characters get created. King Trappy’s the plug, so he has to have someone to sell his drugs to wholesale. That person is Jon Jon. He’s the street hustler who robs and does whatever he has to do so he can survive. Jon Jon has a little brother on the project as well.
Because of Jon Jon, there’s Matt and Ed - the crackhead and the PCP addict. They buy their drugs from Jon Jon. Then there’s Chris who’s the bio student that does drugs to escape reality. Then there’s a secret character named Tyrone, but he won’t be on this project.
Who is “Her”?
Her is the music industry. I speak about the music industry as a girl. She’s pretty much why I’m doing all this stuff. Jay IDK is doing everything for Her.
You set up Twitter accounts for each character on the album.
Yeah, it’s just some creative marketing for the album. Just getting everybody to understand what’s going on.
How do you manage all these different personas? Does it ever get confusing?
Not really. I’ve had an imagination my whole life. I’m an only child. I had imaginary friends when I was little. That’s where all these personas are from.
All of these people are people that I’ve met in my life. I’ve been everywhere from jail to college and in between. Some of them are multiple people I’ve put together to make one character. Some of them even have a little bit of me in them too. So it’s not really as confusing as it may seem.
With you having such an in-depth concept around these characters, have you ever thought about expanding the theme outside of music as a book or short film?
I haven’t thought about a book, but that’s a good idea though. We already started working on - I guess you could call it a short film. It’s really a video, but it’s sort of like a short film as well. We started expanding on that idea a little bit, but we haven’t gotten to a point where it’s super big and every character is in the video. But we’re definitely working on some crazy sh*t.
The cover art definitely relays a message. It shows these different contrasting symbols. What is the connection between the AK-47 and the keyboard?
Selling drugs to pay for music, so King Trappy is on that stoop. The reason why that whole King Trappy mentality comes into play is because of music. That’s basically what I was doing - thinking about selling drugs to pay for music.
There are some fans that take issue with the idea of the heavy use of drug references in a lot of today’s music. Can you explain why it was important to tell that story of selling and using drugs on this album?
I don’t think too many people are doing that right now. I’m not going to say I’m the first person to put substance in Trap music, but at least in this generation, I wouldn’t be surprised if I was. My name is Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge. I like ignorant music, and I like music with substance.
Right now the most ignorant type of music - people could say - is Trap music. Not necessarily because it’s stupid or the people that are doing it are stupid, but more so because there’s not much lyrical content or substance there.
I love Trap music. I love music with substance. So I figured a good way to do this “ignorantly delivering knowledge” thing would be to bring both of them together. The ironic part is that was my life at the time. I just found a way to take that and create this project where I can view both things, and it would make sense.
You can definitely hear the Trap music influence on the album. I could also hear you drawing from artists like Kanye, OutKast, and A Tribe Called Quest. I also noticed you mentioned a lot of rappers on the album. You talked about Eminem, Big L, Dilla, and even Silkk The Shocker. Can you talk about what led to your appreciation for a such a wide range of Hip Hop styles?
First off, you really did your homework. You really listened. When you first said I mentioned a lot of rappers, I started thinking, “I did?” Then you started naming them, and I thought, “Oh yeah, I did.” [laughs]
All of these people that I reference are people that I’ve listened to my whole life. My stepfather used to DJ when he was younger. His favorite rap group of all time is A Tribe Called Quest. He played a lot of this music while I was growing up, and there were times when I got to explore other types of music as well.
There was a time when I didn’t understand Trap music, and I didn’t necessarily like it. As I got older, I started to realize this is still music. These are still stories that people tell. These songs are still good. I started to understand that side of music. So me having an open mind is the most important part to why I’m able to have that wide range.
DMV Hip Hop is having a pretty good year. Wale’s album opened at #1. Shy Glizzy and GoldLink made the XXL Freshman cover. Do you think the DC area is finally starting to get its proper due?
Yeah, it’s starting to. I’ve been meeting with a lot of labels. A lot of people are messing with the DMV. A lot of artists are getting signed out of here now. Every meeting I go to they say, “The DMV is on fire right now." They’re all looking for that next DMV artist.
Do you think these meetings are going to lead to you signing with someone?
It could. It’s literally what makes sense at this point. We really just want to focus on putting this [album] out. We met with almost everybody. I’m not going to say every single person, but we’ve been to almost every office.
So if it makes sense later down the line, that will be straight, but we really just want to drop this project. We’ve been able to build our buzz independently up to this point without any majors. Let’s see how we do when we drop this project.
You were able to build your buzz without any major label backing, without a major co-sign, and without a major DJ putting you on. What advice would you give to other indie artists on how you were able to get to the level you’re at now without having the industry behind you?
My motto is “you don’t need a manager, until you need a manager.” That means you can do so much for yourself. You can get yourself to a point where you’re buzzing before you even need that. If you’re already relying on this and that to do everything for you when you’re coming out, how strong are you really going to be when you’re at a certain level?
I got myself to the point where I was getting at least 100,000 plays on SoundCloud by myself, before I even needed management. From there, I built the team that I wanted. It ain't even about money. It’s about faith and belief in my work ethic that makes everybody say, “I’m not wasting my time. This kid is really serious.” I take pride in my work ethic.
On top of the work ethic, having good morals. With those two together, I think that’s all you need. It’s not about money. If your stuff is together, there’s going to be people to step in and put money on the table. You don’t need that much money to get 100,000 plays if your sh*t is hot.
Over the last year, is there a particular moment in your career that stood out for you?
Recently, a dude from jail who I was real cool with contacted me. I met him in jail, and that’s how I started rapping. When I first got in, he took me under his wing. We were from the same common area and had a common interest in sneakers. We just got real cool. He would listen to me rap and say, “I think you got what it takes.” He would tell me I’m good and gave me the motivation I needed to really get started.
Dude is still in jail, but you know some people can get cellphones in jail. He texted me and said, “I saw you in Hip Hop Weekly magazine. That’s good man. I’m proud of you.” I was just in jail with this guy like two years ago. Next thing you know, he sees me in a magazine. It’s dope. I think that was one of the standout moments in my career.
[ALSO READ: Jay IDK – “Meet King Trappy III”]
Purchase Jay IDK’s SubTrap on iTunes.
Stream the album below.