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IDKSpeaks with Purpose

by Megan Armstrong

“The period before something is me thinking about what I’m going to say, and the period after is me accepting what I said,”

He’s grateful for the “wisdom” his 30s have given him so far. Despite gearing up for his 65 Tour, he’s most excited to pass on game to BIPOC youth this summer through his No Label Academy, returning to Harvard for a second year.

“We’re still kids, man, until we turn 30,” the London-born, Prince George’s County, Maryland-bred polymath says. “I think we’re still figuring out so much, and even when we turn 30, we’re still figuring out things.”

IDK hopes to encourage his No Label Academy students to never outgrow their curiosities. They couldn’t ask for a more authentic messenger. Just ask Dave Chappelle, who threw IDK a 31st birthday party at The Peppermint Club in West Hollywood, California.

“He saw something in me from the moment we met,” IDK says. “On the way to the Lakers game prior to the birthday party, he compared me to Martin Luther King, Jr. in the sense that the things I’m doing and the lane that I’m carving are extremely unique, and the fact that I’m one of a kind. He’s down to get behind anything real that matters, and he believes in artistic expression in the same way that I believe in it. He forces dialogue, and the dialogue he forces is important, even when people don’t see it right away.”

F65 got its title by combining the “F” in Formula 1 with 1965, the year Malcolm X was assassinated, “taking the concept of racing to talk about race and color of skin.” May 2022’s Simple, executive produced by Kaytranada, served as the F65 appetizer — IDK reveals that Simple track “Southeast to Paris” featured audio from a 1965 Formula 1 race — inviting people to consider difficult realities for those living in Simple City, Washington, DC, by juxtaposing dense lyricism with a dance-heavy sonic palette. F65 follows that blueprint, expanding from the acute pain felt in Simple City to stirring up conversations around global disparities.

One F65 song in particular would likely fly over listeners’ heads if not for how pleasant it sounds: “‘Rabbit Stew’ is a play off the cartoon All This and Rabbit Stew, one of the censored cartoons deemed too racist for TV. To have white kids singing ‘Rabbit Stew’ not fully understanding what that means, it’s just an awareness thing. That’s my letter to white people.”

But Chappelle’s favorite track from F65 is “Mr. Police,” a jazz-laced portrait of the Black community’s interactions with American police. (The song was co-produced by Hey Arnold! composer Jim Lang, responsible for introducing him to jazz within his favorite childhood cartoon.) IDK stands for “Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge,” but only ignorant people would describe IDK as ignorant. He knows whereof he raps, sings, and speaks.

Born Jason Mills, IDK spent time in jail three times and did one prison bid as a teen. He often refers to his final seven-month prison sentence as the best thing that’s happened to him. While incarcerated, he discovered his artistic abilities, rapping for his fellow inmates. His commitment to reaching people by any means necessary has strengthened with time.

“[I’m] using the world around us and the things we consume as a canvas to paint the things we need on,” he says.

A young IDK dreamt of having his own Nike sneaker; his “Free Coast” Air Max collection arrived this spring. The colorways incorporate the flags of Ghana and Sierra Leone to bring awareness to the transatlantic slave trade. (His father is from Ghana, and his mother is from Sierra Leone.)

“What message am I sending? What story am I telling? What can someone learn from this product? If it doesn’t have that, I’m not interested,” he says.

His Coachella debut this April was performed in a custom Lanvin racing suit — complete with a helmet and bedazzled gloves — with the same goal.

“It’s the irony of F1 maybe not being the most inclusive, and then painting how to be inclusive on a product that [is worn] for their sport,” he says, nodding toward Lewis Hamilton as embodying “pieces of the Black story in his F1 story.”

IDK doesn’t strictly operate in metaphors, however. He doesn’t intend to make bold statements or release groundbreaking music, though following his heart often puts him in that position. Take “Pinot Noir,” his F65 track featuring Jucee Froot and Saucy Santana that he deems “the song of the summer.” Including Santana was met with homophobia, which IDK dismissed by pointing out, “I don’t have to be a gay rapper to put an openly gay rapper on my song.” He heard the beat and intuitively knew Santana was right for it.

IDK always trusts that voice inside of him. He estimates four or five of F65’s 22 tracks came to him in dreams. His mind is constantly whirring at a pace that would put Formula 1 cars to shame.

“I’m not overwhelmed by my mind; it’s when the distractions are there — that’s overwhelming,” he says. “I don’t do laundry or fold my clothes. I barely wash my dishes. I take all of the miniscule things out of my mind so I can focus on what my true capabilities are.”

IDK’s iPhone lockscreen is a photo of Chicago Bulls-era Michael Jordan as a constant reminder “to want to win.” Only, his wins aren’t tangible trophies.

“I have to be one of a kind because there’s people that are ‘bigger’ than me — have more streams and money and fame than me — but aren’t able to accomplish what I’m able to accomplish,” IDK says. “I’m learning that more and more. And accepting it.”

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