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On New Album, Rapper IDK Reconciles A Disparate Self: 'And Here We Are Today'

IDK released his second studio album, <em>USEE4YOURSELF</em>,<em> </em>in early July.
Johnny Nunez
IDK released his second studio album, USEE4YOURSELF, in early July.

The hip-hop artist known as IDK describes his life as something of a paradox. Born Jason Mills, the rapper-producer grew up in Prince George's County, Maryland, where home and school reflected two different realities: His parents were middle-class, college-educated, but his learning environment lacked support and many of the students were underserved. "I grew up knowing both sides," Mills says in an interview with NPR's A Martínez.

His stage name, short for Ignorantly Delivering Knowledge, embodies the two sides of his upbringing, and is a contradiction in and of itself. "It's basically part of the key principles of what makes me who I am," he says. "Ignorance and knowledge contrast, two things that don't go together, something you want and something you need, and putting all of that together in one person ... that's basically what it stems from."

Mills came up with the moniker as an incarcerated teenager, serving time in prison on robbery and weapons charges. During that time, he did a lot of introspecting and planning. And afterwards, he delved deep into music. Now, at 28, he has released two successful albums, produced for other musicians and made moves into fashion and business. The artist's recently released sophomore album, USEE4YOURSELF, deals heavily with his early life and family history, particularly his difficult relationship with his mother, who passed away in 2016. The album also touches on his struggles with vulnerability as a Black man.

On July 9, Mills tweeted that he "needed to make this album to become a better person." And now that he's accomplished his goal, he's set out to help other young creatives do the same. Mills has launched a program called No Label Academy, designed to teach students the ins and outs of the music industry and give them the tools to launch their own careers. The course, although unaffiliated with Harvard University, will take place on the renowned campus in Cambridge, Mass. for 10 days in August. According to its website, the tuition-free, all expenses paid program is open to "all BIPOC individuals interested in music business."

Mills says, "What you get out of it is the ability to visualize the things you want and manifest them by using logic. ... You don't just say you want it and then you hope that you get it. You say you want it, you figure out what logistically you need to actually make it happen and then you execute. That's the basis of what this class is in general. This is how it even came about — idea, logistics, execution. And here we are today... "

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Phil Harrell is a producer with Morning Edition, NPR's award-winning newsmagazine. He has been at NPR since 1999.
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Ziad Buchh is a producer for NPR's Morning Edition and Up First. In addition to producing and directing the broadcast, he has also contributed to the show's sports, tech and video game coverage. He's produced and reported from all over the country, including a Trump rally, and from the temporary home of Ukrainian refugees.