After working extensively with Strange Music and Tech N9ne for several years, JL signed with the independent juggernaut and began working on his first project for the label. When thinking about an appropriate title for his debut album for the imprint, he thought about an acronym he created in 2012, soon after he started working with the Kansas City company: DIBKIS (Do It Big, Keep It Strange).
“When it got to the point where I’m making my first album with Strange Music, Do It Big, Keep It Strange is exactly what I want to do,” JL explains. “For me, the album is like the definition of DIBKIS. I’m finding the balance in all of this from the mainstream to the underground to strange things. When I talked to Tech about it, he felt the same way. He said, ‘You can’t call it anything other than this.’”
JL keeps it strange on DIBKIS cut “Saturday,” which features Tech N9ne, The Popper and Marley Young. Partnering with one of his labelmates, one of his main musical inspirations and one of his longtime collaborators makes “Saturday” a special posse cut.
“I love collaborating with people and making music,” JL reveals. “Marley Young, who is on the hook, is somebody I’ve been making music with for 10 years. Bringing it full circle was really important for me. When I think about The Popper, he’s a Kansas City legend that I grew up listening to with Veteran Click back in the day, and Tech N9ne, of course. These are guys that influenced me and I love putting all of these elements together on a track. I like to play team ball. I’ll throw an alley-oop to my guys because they can do some special dunks.”
That type of teamwork carries over to the inspirational “Out Da Hood.” This cut, which features E-40 protégé Nef The Pharaoh, documents JL’s ability to overcome obstacles and become successful. “It’s important for me to mention these things because I have to look back and see where I’ve come from,” he says. “I really am out the hood and to a better place at this point. I’m speaking for the hood and it’s a song for the hood. I wanted to make a song that people could feel. Everybody that has done something and has pushed past their circumstances can relate to that.”
People can also relate to feeling as though they’re on the outside looking in. During those times, “Password” could serve as the soundtrack. JL worked on the song with labelmates Mayday! and examines how some people seem to have a different, easier path to success than others, as if they have a special password to the fast track.
“It’s a song for people in that game that I don’t feel like necessarily put as much time and energy into their craft, their music as other people do. They don’t get as much shine.”
JL then shift gears with the energized “Propaganda.” Here, the insightful artist examines what information is presented in the news and what effect that has on people’s drive to live their dreams, among other things.
“As an artist, I feel like you’ve got to be aware of your time, the time you’re living in. We live in a state of apathy where we’re like, ‘Sipping my tea. It’s not my business.’ I was watching the news one day and it was affecting me. I said to myself, ‘This is crazy. How I’m feeling right now is exactly how they want me to feel. I don’t know what to believe’. That’s a song about how we don’t care until we have to. It’s sad, but true.”
One thing that used to dominate JL’s thoughts was a particular long-term relationship. With the emotional, guitar-driven song featuring ¡Mayday!’s Wrekonize and Bernz, JL bids adieu to the relationship with some of the most potent wordplay and imagery on the album. “The whole song is, ‘I’m good now. I’m done. It’s over and done,’” he explains. “It’s that release, taking that deep exhale. Any time I’m speaking from my heart like that, it seems like I’m more creative. It just comes out.”
Expression through rap has been a key component of JL’s life. He moved to Kansas City from Ohio when he was three. By the time he was nine, he started writing raps. He was inspired by The Geto Boys, Scarface in particular, whose vivid imagery and sterling stories are among rap’s best.
JL also had the good fortune of having a friend who lived next door to where Tech N9ne would hang out. Only 11 at the time, JL would get excited whenever Tech N9ne was around, given his admiration for Tech’s music. The two lost touch for several years, but reconnected randomly. By then, JL was making moves with B. Hood. Tech N9ne then invited him to the studio. After a few trips, Tech N9ne asked JL, who like Tech N9ne raps impeccably at high rates of speed, to get on the song “Far Out,” which appeared on Tech N9ne Collabos The Gates Mixed Plate project in 2010. The following year, JL appeared on “Worldwide Choppers,” a track from Tech N9ne’s All 6’s And 7’s album that also featured Busta Rhymes, Twista, Yelawolf and others.
Around the same time, JL was becoming a fixture on Kansas City’s rap scene. So when JL came up with the DIBKIS saying, it was like a natural fit to elevate his Strange Music relationship from an informal one to an official pact. The acronym had also taken on a life of its own. He printed DIBKIS T-shirts, wristbands and other paraphernalia before even signing with the Strange. JL had a hard time keeping the items in stock because they sold so quickly.
Now an official member of Strange Music, the dexterous rapper is excited about the next steps of his career. “This is my starting point, my first album,” JL says. “There’s nowhere to go but up from here. I have a wide range of things that I want to do and that I’m going to do. It excites me for the future, for what else I can get out that will affect other people and hopefully change somebody else’s life based on my experience.”
With DIBKIS, JL takes an impressive first step.