November 9, 2018Feature

For District Issue 004 we caught up with rapidly-rising rapper IDK, featuring a shoot by Elsa Brightling on the streets of NYC. The Maryland artist arrives in Dublin to play alongside Denzel Curry on December 18 in The Academy.

“Now I’m at a point where I can survive, so now I have to maintain…”


A couple of days before our interview was scheduled to take place, IDK put up a series of videos and photos on Instagram showing the world his brand new BMW. One caption read, “Just got my first car since I got out of jail. Just wanna say thank you to my team and my fans for making this possible. Mom and my Dad would be proud”.

When I Facetime IDK (Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge), real name Jason Mills, he’s sitting comfortably in his new vehicle, with a kevlar vest on and a juxtaposingly friendly smile. He explains to me what exactly the new purchase represents.

“It’s basically the beginning of my career as a successful artist, not just an artist trying to figure it out. Before I was literally working to survive, just to even be alive. So money was never a thing I even thought about. Now I’m at a point where I can survive, so now I have to maintain, so money is a lot more important now because I have to keep up with what I’m putting myself into financially. But I still have to have that same hunger of someone who doesn’t have everything.

“I’m getting my mindset for that new beginning in the next couple of weeks because in May I start recording.”

That record is now complete and you can listen to it below.

It’s a significant moment for an artist who certainly hasn’t had it easy during his 27 years on this planet. The stint in prison helped Mills to realise he needed a change in direction. That shift in mentality could have easily been hampered by the fact that his mother passed away when he was released, but he used the negative energy he was feeling to propel his career and focused his attention on having the perseverance to succeed.

“Believing in yourself is the first step, obviously, but patience is the hard part. That’s why you have to take the small wins. Say for you guys [District Magazine], you get the interview you want to get, or someone acknowledges you, or you get the right person on your cover. These little things help you keep going if you really want to be huge. You have to take all of that little shit and embrace it. Don’t ignore it, because if you ignore it then you’re only going to see the big picture, and when you only see the big picture you might end up feeling like you’re not progressing.

“I know friends of mine who are artists and are way bigger than me and they still have that problem. They’re like, ‘Man, people are sleeping on me’, I’m like, ‘Dude, you have 1.8 million followers and two platinum records, and you’re talking to me saying people are sleeping on you?’ So that made me realise you’re always going to feel that way, it’s never going to go away as long as you want more for yourself. Even when you realise that, embrace the little wins, keep going hard, you’re still never going to be satisfied until you’re number one. And even when you’re number one, you won’t be number one forever. So you have to then try and figure out how to stay number one.

“So just have fun doing what the fuck you do, man. That’s the most important thing.”

“It’s basically the beginning of my career as a successful artist, not just an artist trying to figure it out. Before I was literally working to survive, just to even be alive."

Speaking of talented and successful peers, IDK has already worked with some of the most sought-after names in modern hip hop. Chief Keef, MF DOOM, Del the Funky Homosapien, Masego, Saba and Michael Christmas are just some of the artists he’s recruited for features but it was after he started touring with A$AP Ferg and Joey Bada$$ when his most fruitful collab came to be. IDK met Denzel Curry several months earlier in Florida.

“We linked up at Rolling Loud in Miami and from there we got kind of cool. Then after that he hit me up saying we should do a song. Then I came in and linked up with him and boom, that’s how the tracks happened. Then we just became friends naturally.”

The Maryland rapper explains that he likes the nature of collaboration, evident through the output of HXLY, the collective he spearheads and describes as “a group for individuals that aren’t afraid to be passionate about what they love despite the fact that other people might hate it”.

I was curious as to whether it was Mills’ involvement in this crew that gave him his ‘give-no-
fucks’ attitude or if that way of thinking already existed.

“HXLY definitely helped me not give a fuck about other people’s perceptions. That’s something people struggle with a lot and I’m not at the point where I completely don’t give a fuck about what other people think. Not yet. But I definitely will be and that’s going to be an important thing moving forward for me and I hope other people can embrace that as well and understand that it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s something that I’m working on and will get there.”

In an interview with Hot 97 a couple of years ago IDK remarked on how seriously he was taking his process and career. He even mentioned that he had brought a legitimate business plan to labels and agents. It’s clear those plans have worked for him, but what’s even more apparent is that the artist is always two steps ahead of himself and everybody else.

He has previously expressed his desire to get into directing feature films, a natural progression as he’s already heavily involved in the visual process of his music, most recently taking the reins on the video ‘No Wave’ featuring Denzel Curry. The finished product took the honesty of his music and gave back a rawness on screen, something Hollywood desperately needs.

The film industry in the US is traditionally white-washed, with filmmakers being predominantly Caucasian. Artists like Donald Glover, the driving force behind ‘Atlanta’, and Jordan Peele, the acclaimed creator of ‘Get Out’, are paving the way for a more inclusive era of visual media.

“When I’m like 35 to 40 years old I think that’s what I’ll get into, making music here and there. I think it’d be easier to paint a more vivid picture, but it’s not really that, it’s just another passion.

“Jason Mills is the person that does a lot of the behind the scenes work like co- production, direction, videos, all of that. It’s still me, but it’s a different version of me. That’s who I’ll be when the time comes to make movies.”

Despite a slightly less clear allusion to what’s in store, there’s a knowing confidence in IDK’s voice. He’s very much in the moment, but assured of his future. With his rocky past in mind, he’s under no illusion of how difficult the road ahead will be but he’s got a plan and he’s sticking to it. And so far it’s working.

IDK plays The Academy on December 18 alongside Denzel Curry.

Words: Eric Davidson / Photography: Elsa Brightling 
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