Music Reviews

IDK Fails To Find A Recognizable Sound On The Up-And-Down USEE4YOURSELF


Genre: Rap

Favorite Tracks: “Shoot My Shot (feat. Offset),” “Peleton,” “1995,”  “Hey Auntie (feat. Slick Rick)”

USEE4YOURSELF is a pivotal album for Maryland rapper IDK. While Wale’s career found a quiet stride, he couldn’t remain at the heights his early buzz portended, and similarly Goldlink never quite capitalized on the success that “Crew” hinted at. This all leaves IDK and Rico Nasty to step up for the DMV, and with more attention on him than ever, competing priorities arise on the final product. No one could accuse IDK of lacking commitment; themes of familial and romantic love and childhood trauma pervade the album, a stronger and more compelling theme than most muster. There are also attempts at genuine hitmaking, some of which stick the landing. Unfortunately the strength of IDK’s writing doesn’t always match his ambition, resulting in an admirable but inconsistent project.

Despite some avoidable missteps, IDK deserves commendation for an honest exploration of own genesis, one rooted in his complicated relationship with love. This is a foundational topic for IDK, one he’s touched on in past work like his conceptual 2018 album IS HE REAL?, but we get more explicit examinations here. The serious portions of the album are an impressive risk, particularly in a genre with some regressive ideas about masculinity and parenthood. Many songs feature references to these central themes, but “1995,” “Hey Auntie,” and “Cry in Church” devote whole concepts to them. These emerge as mostly effective tracks, but the album is undercut by some derivative sounds and underwritten bars. There are trap cuts, club anthems, love songs, even a bouncy Neptunes cut, but it’s hard to feel like IDK has a recognizable sound of his own.

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Stylistically, IDK is finding his strengths over time, particularly an ear for catchy melody and cadence. His eclectic choices and inflections owe a noticeable debt to Kanye West; their voices are like Ghostface and Bronson in this regard—similar enough to hear moments where they are indiscernible. He also shares Kanye’s tendency to oscillate between eye roll-inducing punchlines and fleeting-but deep-introspection. He deploys a gimmick where he cuts off the bar, as if to leave an obvious clue as to the end of the bar five or six times across the album, like on “Shoot My Shot.” “Like Yeezy when I see it I’ma hit it on sight / Like Kendrick Lamar, we gon’ be Al-,” he raps. He even deploys it to punctuate the album’s most shocking revelation, the sexual abuse of the rapper as a child on “Hey Auntie.” While these lines land, the frequency feels like a crutch, and the impact is cheapened when one remembers that Kanye did this bit in an extremely high profile spot on 2018’s KIDS SEE GHOSTS, with a sharper punchline that actually references the cut word (“If I get locked up, I won’t finish the sen-”).

“Red” deserves special mention, guilty of indulging too many ideas and still coming off underbaked. The track is musical clickbait, teasing the most left-field collaboration of the year between Westside Gunn, MF DOOM and Jay Electronica—IDK’s A&R has strong connections, the guy has a longstanding knack for somehow locking down big features. The result is a mess of sound, structure and discordant voices. IDK builds the chorus around the millionth recycling of “roses are red, violets are blue,” and he brings no variation or new interpretation to extremely tired tropes about gold-digging and sex (“is the head right? / brain like encyclopedia”, “you like an uber when you ride I’ll buy yo ass a -”!). The DOOM feature is a joke, a throwaway set of 2.5 bars, and the track closes with an unwanted Jay Elec anti-vax diatribe of a verse. Most cuts fare slightly better than “Red,” but are often undercut by questionable choices. “Peleton” is a gorgeous offering, with a grandiose vocal sample and some decent singing from IDK, but a tender missive to his unborn daughter stands in contrast to the chorus which, well, “She call a n—- Peloton / Say she wanna ride the bike.” “10 Feet” features some interesting passages and a soulful T-Pain feature, but is led by an annoying processed voice that sets a sour tone for the track.

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For every impactful lyric or elegant sound on USEE4YOURSELF, there’s a cringey rhyme or an unorganized concept, which holds the album back from true cohesion and greatness. There are pieces of an excellent album in here, one that I believe IDK has the capacity to produce. He’s displayed a unique willingness to be frank and to try different sounds and styles, and all should admire the bravery and effort on display as IDK grows.

Corey Guen
Corey is an East Coast lifer, Nintendo fanboy and proud beard-haver in spite of his Chinese heritage. He writes about music for Merry-Go-Round because listening to it and arguing about the Celtics are the only things he's managed to stick with for more than a few years.

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