Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr IDK may seem like the wrong moniker for an artist who clearly knows his stuff about hip-hop. But the Prince George’s County-based rapper, whose real name is Jason Mills, deploys the acronym to mean Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge. While this redefinition is a little juvenile (next thing you know, some performer named LOL is going to try to convince us that it means “Loyalty Over Love”), the name does effectively communicate Mills’ blend of old-school intelligence and Kanye-Kendrick ambition. On his major label debut, Is He Real?, IDK puts together a cohesive yet diverse group of songs that examines matters of God and religion. It’s the kind of LP that even old-school hip-hop heads can appreciate. There’s no Auto-Tune or mumbling or recycled lines about ass and trapping, just lyrical, wordplay-heavy rapping. However, it also reveals Mills’ annoying tendency to consider himself the smartest, most original kid in the room, when this is decidedly not the case. This propensity is most obvious in the album’s skits, where Mills tries his hardest to get profound and falls flat. “I Do Me… You Do You,” for example, begins as an honest conversation with Tyler, The Creator about the existence of a higher power but ends with this head-scratcher: “Telling us today that a man built Noah’s Ark is just as crazy as us telling a caveman we built robot bitches we can fuck.” Say what now? Even worse, the disc concludes with IDK attempting to argue that human lack of knowledge about what the color red really looks like demonstrates that God could be real. This conclusion comes off as part of an exhausting, late-night discussion at the worst kind of frat party. This is especially frustrating because the album’s final rapping, which comes right before this skit, goes out on a note as shocking and tragic as one can possibly imagine: “Since my auntie told me the truth, I’ll never be the same/ When she died is when I heard my stepfather gave her AIDS.” The couplet, which refers to the slow decline in his mother’s health that led to her death, is unnervingly real and definitively provides the raison d’être for the album’s heady questioning. It’s also a gesture back towards Mills’ stellar 2017 mixtape, IWASVERYBAD, which provided a compelling glimpse into Mills’ true-life trajectory from upstanding student and family member to juvenile delinquent. IDK is still best when he gets personal, and it’s to his credit that Is He Real? does its best to expand upon the promise of his former work. Shooting the shit about the Bible (“Porno”) and heaven (“European Skies”) may not be his forte, but Mills is pretty convincing when he talks about pew-bound fantasies of stealing purses from fellow congregants (“42 Hundred Choices”). His takes on blackness and contemporary life in songs such as “No Cable” are also entirely compelling (“Why every time I see a white person I question myself, like/ ‘Am I gonna scare ’em ’cause I’m black?’/ But when I put my white voice on and ask him for directions/ He just gives ’em to me with a dap”) and on par with equally frank early Kanye tracks like “Never Let Me Down” and “Crack Music.” The LP, particularly its front two-thirds, also shows IDK’s musical chops. Mills, on production or co-production duty for every track, is especially gifted at employing instrumental textures to strengthen transitions from one track to the next. The soaring R&B background vocals of DMX prayer “The E in Blue” wind their way into a devilish organ pattern at the beginning of “Alone,” while “Porno” goes from tongue-clicking trap to ‘90s-style slamdance and jazzy breakbeat in just over three minutes. Such moments reveal Is He Real? to be a capital-A album, a collection of songs that only makes sense when heard together and in proper order. But IDK comes across like a rookie athlete whose awareness of his own talent trips him up a bit. In other words, this is a debut that really feels like a debut, a first time off the bench for a kid that, with the right coaching, will go on to be a great.