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J.I.D Wants to Turn His Life Into a Movie: 'My Memory Is Damn Near Impeccable'

People 3/9/2023 Brenton Blanchet

Giovanni Cardenales / @bxlyfe J.I.D poses for a photo backstage during his "Luv Is 4Ever Tour" © Provided by People Giovanni Cardenales / @bxlyfe J.I.D poses for a photo backstage during his "Luv Is 4Ever Tour"

Two steps is all it takes for J.I.D to turn New York's Terminal 5 into something that looks like it has a pulse of its own. One hand gesture is all it takes for him to make it stop.

As the Atlanta musician, 32, walks down just two platforms on stage at his Luv Is 4Ever Tour, a sea of 3,000 fans sway in every direction to "Never," a 2017 track that he credits for putting him on the map. When he's finished, J.I.D throws up a handheart for a "heart check" — a call-and-response move that lets him know fans are still with him after rapping every verse, screaming every chorus and bumping into everyone else within a 10-foot radius.

Even outside of the concert setting, the "heart check" is reciprocated. "They definitely not just fly-by-night or fair-weather fans. They really tapped in and care about my emotional health and how I feel about certain situations," J.I.D tells PEOPLE before the show. "Because they know the industry is treacherous and stuff like that. And everything around it is pretty... It's not the easiest thing. It's like walking on earth, or walking into school and saying, 'Hey, everybody love me. I want to be famous. I want to be the most popular kid.' That's our job, essentially, to make people like you. That's a crazy thing to actually try to attain is for a person's approval."

Giovanni Cardenales / @bxlyfe J.I.D throws up a handheart during his "Luv is 4Ever Tour" © Provided by People Giovanni Cardenales / @bxlyfe J.I.D throws up a handheart during his "Luv is 4Ever Tour"

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Speaking with PEOPLE at his hotel room before the show, the Dreamville spitter reflects graciously on how his fans have championed — and motivated — him. Nearly six years since the release of his debut album The Never Story, they've helped him join the exclusive billion-stream club on Spotify, uplifted him as he earned critical love for his third studio album The Forever Story (the prequel to his debut), and were there well-before he reached this new level of fame, one where he's now become an answer on Jeopardy.

After baring his soul on The Forever Story in August — for an album that largely touches on his youth, family history, football career and those moments that drove him to become a game-show answer — J.I.D is bringing his stories on the road. And it just so happens to be the perfect place for fans to hand him makeshift Grammys, celebrating an album that the Recording Academy itself neglected to.

"That's how you know you did something right, when they let those words take up a piece of their mental capacity," he says of his supporters. "Like, 'Oh, you know this. You studied this, you practiced this. You probably had homework, but you know these words.' I think that's cool as hell. Just the love, the reciprocation on both sides. That's what does it for me every night."

During his first of two nights at Terminal 5 — which he played alongside his tour mate Smino, a live band, and a special appearance from Brooklyn native Joey Bada$$ — J.I.D opened up to PEOPLE about the current moment in his career and how the love for his work continues to evolve, even beyond the heart he makes with his hands.

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What was it like to be an answer on Jeopardy?

I saw a tweet saying, "Bro, I don't know if I'm tripping, but I think you were just an answer on Jeopardy." I'm like, "What? Let me see it." And then the person said, "I didn't record it," whatever. The next five minutes, my phone just starts going crazy. Like, "Bro, oh my God, you were the answer, da da da." It felt like it was all at once. The notifications kept going off and stuff like that.

And the fact that the guy knew it immediately, he knew your name right off the bat. You got to find that guy.

Oh, we found him already. He's coming to the show.

Does it feel like a big win to you?

It feels like a big win. Everybody lost their mind. My parents saw it. I know all of their friends were geeking out about it. So it was just something I was like, "Oh, this is something I couldn't even put on a bucket list." This is something I never expected to happen. Because I know the universe is aligning for certain things for me.

You tweeted it out yourself. Your approach to social media, at least when it comes to being involved in conversations about yourself, conversations with fans about your music, freaking out about Beyoncé tickets — Is that something that you think about or is it something that just comes naturally to you to have that involvement?

I think it's natural, at the same time, I try to just... Twitter's like the wild, wild west. Social media is. I heard Kanye say one time, he's like, "They said we would have flying cars by 2020, but..." He pulled out his phone. He was like, "This is our flying car. I could be in Japan right now if I wanted to, just through my phone." And that kind of opened up a perspective for me. But at the same time, nobody knows anything. So I just try to just play the common ground, make jokes, troll a little bit. I used to be a crazy super troll before I was this artist. And I had witty things to say online all the time. So I don't know, I just try to play common ground and just be a part of it. Don't try to be above it, kind of thing. You know what I'm saying?

And that, again, is a way that fans can connect with you very personally. And I feel like this album too, in a sense... The first time I listened to it, my thought was if I ever interview J.I.D, this is a journalist's dream, because there's so many questions I don't have to ask because you're so vivid in your descriptions. Do you feel like even fans almost understand you better because of this album?

100%. I can tell just by... The level of intention that I put into it, I can see it being reciprocated when they sing these words, or singing to the top of their lung capacity, something I wrote. So it feels like they resonated with it. It feels like I did the job, essentially.

And how do you feel your life has changed since this album came out?

Everything's just been going up. Like I said, just stepping stones. So I just want to make sure everything I do is bigger than the last time I've done it, and everything follows suit with that little method or whatever. Just more opportunities and just more visibility and more eyes on the music. And that's just really what I wanted to see me in that regard, as opposed to just being social media viral. I'd rather you open up. "I actually want to see him in this festival concert," or "I want to play this song every day because it gives me a different outlook."

Giovanni Cardenales / @bxlyfe J.I.D during his "Luv is 4Ever Tour" © Provided by People Giovanni Cardenales / @bxlyfe J.I.D during his "Luv is 4Ever Tour"

I'd imagine that's something that you miss with the pandemic, just being present and having people interact with you more in a personal way outside of online.

That's why this album had to be a little bit more personal because it's like we already are... Humans need to be around people. That year was disheartening for everybody just because we are people, so we like to have these interactions. But I think this project, with me being so vulnerable with it, kind of peeled off a different layer, a deeper layer. You know what I'm saying? It's like, "All right, you're going to hear the music, I'm going to tell you these stories, but I'm going to give you the precise location where I was and who I was with, all of this stuff. And I'm going to talk about my sister. I'm going to talk about my mom, my dad, and things they went through and stuff." And it's going to give you like, "Oh, he's dealing with some of the same things as me." You know what I'm saying? A big family. I know a lot of people may have big families. It's just relatable things that I was just trying to attach to the project's ecosystem.

Did any members of your family or old friends reach out like, "Hey man, I had no idea you went through this or experienced this?"

My friend was mad. On the song ["Kody Blu 31,"] the line was, "I'm about to swang on Terry Payne because he said my sister a ho." Terry Payne is a friend of mine. I played football with him all my life. He's my dog. He hit me. He was like, "Dang, bro, why you said you about to swang on me? I never said that." But I was like, "You know I only said it because I was talking about another Terry and his last name didn't rhyme with the scheme," because the whole rhyme scheme was "swang" and "hang." And it was that little rhyme scheme right there. He remembered after I said it. I was like, "Bro, you remember, you know who I'm talking about." He's like, "Oh." "Bro, I just had to use your name. Sorry." It's s--- like that. That was a little moment that the homie reached out. Like, "Dang, bro."

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Is there anything that you feel you've learned about yourself throughout the process of making The Forever Story?

My fearlessness. I'm trying to dive deeper into that, of not thinking about it, just creating and moving around. I thought about a couple of things I doubted, back on some of the stuff that I was speaking on the album because I was like, "Oh, this is too personal, may hurt feelings." But now that I think about it, I think the further I go with that, it will be even better to release. It would be more therapeutic if I don't hold back.

People have described this album as an autobiography. Could you see yourself writing a memoir someday?

For sure. For sure. I like stuff like that, too. I know I got a lot of stories to tell because I just lived a bunch of life before I even decided I wanted to be an artist. And that's kind of beautiful about it because my memory is damn near impeccable. And I can recall a lot of situations that meant a lot to me and were pivotal in my journey. I'll do that. And I'll probably put it in the form of a movie, too. I'm big into directing and all of that stuff. I want to make sure I tap into that before my time is, you know what I'm saying?

And this album is a prequel record. Do you have any favorite prequels or sequels in film?

That's why I did it like this. My whole drive for creating projects and making them like one and two, Forever and Ever. I love Friday, Next Friday. You know what I'm saying? I love, randomly, all the Sharknados. I used to watch Roots, the movie, about slavery. I used to watch some s— over and over. Because the ongoing story, the ongoing journey in music is attractive to me. I think that's cool to keep a story going.

Do you think there's a cinematic nature to your art?

Just because I watch movies and stuff. Just because I'm such a fan of that side of art. At least I try to.

When people write memoirs, or dig into their past, they're often going through physical archives. Like opening up a closet, looking at old football records. Did you find yourself doing that at any point?

Yeah, bro. I was going through a lot of old stuff. I was actually having a lot of conversations with family members. And there's people who were close to me, specifically... The song on the album that's called "Crack Sandwich," I'm talking about the detail, fighting situation. I just remember I was... It could have been Thanksgiving or Christmas. And we were just sitting there talking about the whole story, how everything happened. I just remember pulling out my phone and like, "Uh" and recording it so I could have the actual details. And then I actually used some of those recordings on the actual record. So you hear my sister saying what happened and giving, and then you hear my mom and my dad talking about the fight and all that stuff. I'm like, "Yeah, this is a cool moment." So it was stuff like that. Yeah.

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Since you're active on Twitter, you've probably seen a lot more conversations of people saying that JID — at this point — has solidified a very detailed and strong discography. I guess, do you see those conversations yourself?

Yeah, I do. I see people comparing me to people I should never be compared to. And not in a positive way, like comparing me to DMX or Andre 3000. That's why Twitter is the wild, wild west because you could just say anything and it could be a topic of conversation. But yeah, I see a lot of conversations around the project and people saying that it put me in a different position with it. I still got goals to go forward. This project, it's helping open up the door for the rest of the stuff I'm going to be doing. So I like how intentional it was. And it was so serious, to the point like I have to have fun on the next one. Because I was a little stressed. I was going through emotional s—. I was digging up old traumas. I was dialing backwards.

So it does a number on you, too?

Whupped my ass. It's hard to perform it every night, you know what I'm saying? I'm ready for the next album cycle. The [setlist] stretch from "Sistanem" to "Kody Blu 31," I'm cooked. And then "Working Out." I'm cooked. Yeah. I'm an emotional wreck at that point. 

Somebody tweeted about "Van Gogh" and people started talking about how that record in particular was under-appreciated. But do you feel like this album, The Forever Story, has almost amplified conversations around your past work? 

I think it definitely gave you a, "Oh, let me check this out. Where did The Forever Story come from?" I appreciate that. That's hard to me, if people would even actually do that, just go check out the previous music because they were impressed by this one. But yeah, I just try and put the work out there and just keep it moving, bro. Keep going forward because it's a lot of stuff that I got to say.

And even in the realm of getting your flowers, I saw last week that during a meet and greet, a fan handed you a Grammy for Best Rap Album. What did that mean to you? And that was detailed, too.

It was perfect. It looked just like a Grammy. It was just plastic. And it was perfect just because my fan base knew we deserve something, but you can't really say what you deserve. So I didn't really complain about it. I just accepted what he gave me and it just made me happy as hell.

Is there something poetic in that, where if the Grammys didn't recognize it, you have a fan base that loves your work so much that they can go out there and make one themselves?

Yeah. Take up your time, spend your money to go do that? That lets you know you doing something right regardless. You got a Grammy in the streets.

Do you think it's gotten easier to be in your position?

For me personally? Yeah. For certain people it doesn't work like that. I guess I've just been blessed, but for me it's got a little bit easier because I have a great fan base. And my supporters, I can't compare anything. I think I have the greatest fan base. It might not even be the biggest, but I just think the attention and how they care about me and the stuff that they do, it's like, "Y'all the best."

When did the conversations about doing a joint tour with Smino start?

We was just working on our albums around the same time and just threw it out there. It was like, "Bro, you just want to tour together? Let's go ahead. We already cool. I think our fan bases are clashing. It'll work."

On this album, I think you tweeted it yourself, you can have a song where you flip a sample from "Ms. Fat Booty" by Mos Def, and then you can have the man himself on the record. Or you can talk about your admiration for Lil Wayne throughout your career and then have him on the record. What's it like to not only have this "autobiography," but have people you admire be a part of telling your story?

Even another one I would say is James Blake as well. He's on the album. So it's the full circle moments that make everything feel like, again, I'm going in the right direction. And it's just a blessing for real because not a lot of stuff happens like that in this industry. I see a lot of stories of things that fell short. And not at this point have... Of course things don't happen every way you want them to, but at this point it's just been blessings. You know what I'm saying? But I try to keep my energy pure and just try to be genuine with everything that's going on. That's a rare thing. 

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What's been the best feedback that you've gotten on tour? You have fans handing you stuff, but is there anything that someone's told you about this album and what it means to them that's spoken to you?

One of my fans said, "Every time I see you, it's gotten better. Tremendously. Exponentially." I think that's so cool. From seeing me like 2017 to 2018, 2019. And they said they saw all of these shows. And then, what year is it? 2023? A 3-year gap. It's like, "Wow, you elevated even more?" I appreciate that. Even them paying attention to little things we added, little nuances on the screens, the live band, all of that stuff. And just being able to provide that experience for fans who seen me come up, and I'm just doing better every time. I think that's good. That feels good.

Jordan Rose at Complex, when he interviewed you, he wrote about how you discussed "checkpoints" in your life on this album, and you'd associate them with different albums that came out, whether it be J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar. Do you hope, someday, that The Forever Story can be that checkpoint for somebody else?

That would be great, that would be great. I would love that. Just because it's the full circle moment for somebody else, if I could do that. That would be full circle for me to see if, oh, "You think this is a monument. This is a pivotal part for you?"

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