First Listen #1: ‘Is He Real?’ by IDK

First Posted on on September 4, 2019

God often plays the protagonist in Chance the Rapper’s albums in a way that doesn’t seem real. A lot of times, God is the answer to the question “why is everything in my life so great?” In songs like “Pusha Man” from Chance’s Acid Rap (2013), Chance doesn’t ask where God is in the same way he asks “where the fuck is Matt Lauer at?” It’s not God that’s killing all of the refugees or making the South side look like the stranded black bodies in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana years earlier. It’s the police or governmental apathy. And an answer to that lack of accountability to the Most High could be that Chance hadn’t found God in the same way he finds him now, but I think even in a project like Coloring Book (2016) where God is omnipresent, God is the one helping Chance find a way out of the storm, rather than being the reason he was in the storm in the first place.

So for me, IDK’s Is He Real? offers a really interesting opportunity to look at God and religion in a more nuanced way; God can be both good and bad, and his presence (or lack thereof) is an extension of that. The first song on the album ends with the pronouncement that “God isn’t fucking real,” while in “Julia…” IDK wonders where God was in the heartbreaking tale of how his mother lost her life to AIDS contracted from his stepfather. But at the same time, he listens intently while Tyler the Creator offers, in the album’s eighth track “I Do Me…You Do You,” that God is “in everybody” and it’s all of the things we “believe” and find “immense joy” in, after being baptized to the soundtrack of DMX’s blessing in “The “E” in Blue,” a religious and Christian-centered symbol of renewal and rejuvenation granted to a soul by God. And to end “Julia…” and the album, he asks how anyone can be certain of the nonexistence of God, if we can’t prove we actually “even see the same colors” when two people see the colors red or blue?

And we’re not advanced enough…
To know if we actually even see the same colors
Then how, can we say there is no God?

IDK, “Julia…” (via Genius)

sidenote: I thought it was really interesting that we got to hear more about IDK’s relationship with his stepfather in this album. He really wasn’t has present in IWASVERYBAD as his mother was, for obvious reasons, but it was just so apparent to me that his stepfather found a place in this album. I don’t really have a lot to say about that, I just thought it was interesting 🙂 back to the review.

It’s this uncertainty and nuance that really draws me to Is He Real. It’s the questioning, similar to that of Tyler’s “Foreword” from Flower Boy (2017) (i luv tylur lol), that makes IDK himself seem more real. He’s going through his life with just as many questions and no answers as I am; the things he wonders about in the albums 35 minutes are some of the same things I lay awake in my bed thinking of a night. And it’s a beautiful experience mixed and brought to life with even more gorgeous instrumentals. There are features on this album (lowkey a bunch!), but they don’t crowd the musical space of the album too much, and they’re great complements to the groundwork that IDK has already laid in his verses. The album is almost one long spoken word piece as IDK blankets (highkey!!!) amazing vocals (he said he was gonna be on his singing shit this year) between these life questions about God and how to make logic out of Him, where he could/would be had he not been a rapper, why “niggas [can’t] paint,” and why we argue about which religion is better while people all over the world suffer. He isn’t afraid to dig deep into the problems that are plaguing our world today, fearing both that he’s the only one in his generation willing to talk about it and that these problems can become normalized, if we don’t call them out for the shitty situations they are. He left me feeling both full and empty, having both more answers and more questions than I did when I started listening to the album.

They say seein’ is believin’
Well, I don’t see angel nor demon
I demand explanation, the pastor says, “For what reason?”
Well, pastor, your theory lacks reason
Meanin’, when I ask Google the question
Even Siri lacks speakin’, it’s semen
The sperm travelin’ to the egg makes more sense than
Adam and Evenings of gospel

IDK, “European Skies” (via Genius)

And I won’t lie, I was a smidge skeptical. I LOVED IWASVERYBAD and was super excited about this album, but felt like he was building the hype for too long. The longer I waited, the more I was starting to get in my head about if I was going to like the project; I was so impressed by IWASVERYBAD that I hated the thought of not liking this album. So I pressed play on Spotify ready to receive the blow of disappointment, but it never came. I found my head swaying to the instrumentals, affirmative “mm’s” escaping my mouth every time IDK offered some food for thought, and my eyes closing from both the heaviness of the lyrics at points in the album and the beauty of a well-produced and well-arranged project. There are moments on the project that I think are good, but I know I won’t listen to them often/again (e.g. “Porno” and “Michael What TF”), but other than those few exceptions, this was an amazing project and I had such a great time listening to it. And I’m excited to keep it on repeat for the next couple of days, while questions everything I’ve ever felt about anything in my life.

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