Happy 20th Anniversary to No I.D.’s debut album Accept Your Own & Be Yourself (The Black Album), originally released September 23, 1997.
When JAY-Z decided to seek out the musical backdrop for what would become his deeply personal 4:44 album, he approached Ernest Dion Wilson a.k.a. No I.D. In turn, No I.D. created a unique, soulful, sample-heavy sound for 4:44, harkening back to earlier points in Jay-Z’s career and hip-hop’s golden age. Upon its release this past June, it became the best received JAY-Z project in years, and was a rapid commercial and critical success. The triumph of 4:44 catapulted No I.D. into the spotlight and earned him some of the biggest accolades of his career thus far.
Anyone who’s paid attention to hip-hop in general, and Chicago hip-hop in particular, should already be well acquainted with No I.D., even without 4:44 currently in our collective musical radar. He has a long and storied career that spans a quarter of century. If nothing else, he’s respected as the Godfather of the Chicago hip-hop scene, first for his extensive work with Common Sense (commonly known as Common these days). He’s also known for mentoring Chicago-born producers, most famously the young Kanye West. No I.D. invited Kanye to his early studio sessions, put him in touch with artists, and helped lead him to the path of hooking up with Roc-A-Fella records.
All the while No I.D. continued to prolifically produce for both underground and mainstream artists, creating tracks for the likes of Bow Wow, G-Unit, Chris Brown, Drake, Ghostface Killah, Nas, Ed Sheeran, and Pusha T. Common has been his most consistent muse, as he worked behind the boards for many of the tracks on Common’s first three albums, and produced his three most recent albums in their entirety. No I.D. was also the president of Kanye’s G.O.O.D. Music imprint and served as the Vice President of A&R of Def Jam Records, helping to steer the careers of such artists as Vince Staples and Vic Mensa.
Given his accomplished production discography and his stature within the music scene, it’s a little odd that he only has one solo album to his name. But as it stands, Accept Your Own & Be Yourself (The Black Album), released 20 years ago, remains his lone solo affair.
If we’re being fair, calling Accept Your Own a No I.D. solo album is a bit misleading. It really should have been marketed as a “No I.D. & Dug Infinite” collaboration. Doug “Dug Infinite” Thomas is another Chicago based rapper/producer who came up under No I.D.’s tutelage, and here he raps on every track with his mentor.
Relatively speaking, neither No I.D. nor Dug Infinite display the most dynamic rhyme presence on Accept Your Own. Both emcees use straightforward, monotone flows to deliver their lyrics and messages. Dug Infinite shows slightly more emotion as a rapper, while No I.D. possesses slightly more lyrical skill. But Accept Your Own remains an exceptional album. No I.D. and Dug Infinite convey an inspirational message with their lyrics and mesh well with the jazzy musical soundscape.
With Accept Your Own, No I.D. created a poignant ode to the pursuit of success in an environment littered with obstacles, with the odds constantly stacked against you. There are lots of ruminations on chasing your dreams and overcoming adversity in the quest to fulfill your goals. The album is spiritual in the sense that No I.D. and Dug Infinite often speak about seeking strength from sources beyond themselves in order to make the process worthwhile. In many ways, Accept Your Own is most similar to an understated version of The D.O.C.’s 1989 debut LP No One Can Do It Better, as many of the rhymes focus on the emcees taking the art form to the next level and having the fortitude to do what’s necessary to achieve their goals.
Accept Your Own really gets going with “Fate or Destiny,” with No I.D. and Dug Infinite rapping over a soaring organ and guitar loop, both rappers describing how they plan to take control of their fortunes. On “Sky’s the Limit,” the album’s only officially released single, the two describe the oppressive poverty and hopelessness that’s omnipresent in the Chicago streets, and their attempts to reach their full potential.
“The Real Weight” is an anthemic anti-commercialism track, where both No I.D. and Dug Infinite seek to honor the effort that they put into their musical craft, as well as excoriate rappers who believe “presidents take precedence.” Over piercing keyboard stabs, the duo give one of their better lyrical performances on the album, with Dug rapping, “Process invisible results is visual / Attack and I hit your pressure points that’s critical / Attract all things inside my presence / Then let the esoteric essence give off light like a crescent / Moon when the seeds I plant starts to bloom / Like butterflies manifest themselves from cocoons.” No I.D. then challenges wanna-be superstars, “How many lines does it take to stimulation? / How many dreams fade away while you’re chasing / Lap after lap on track after track? / It is what it is and that's actual fact.”
“Original Man” is a standout track, an infectious upbeat track built around a buoyant vibraphone loop. No I.D. and Dug Infinite describe the creative process of putting the music together and later disseminating the finished product to their audience. “Pray For Sinners” features the two at their most spiritual, with both emcees rapping over the guitar loop from Minnie Riperton’s “Take a Little Trip,” seeking divine guidance to find the necessary stamina to endure the inevitable lows and financial challenges that come with living their life.
Accept Your Own features its share of braggadocio, as even though the duo describe the execution of their craft with yeoman-like dedication, they aren’t shy about detailing how skilled they are. The best lyric-fests on the album are the tracks where No I.D. brings in guest emcees. “Mega Live” features a verse from Lateefa (no, not the Queen) of Chicago’s Infamous Syndicate (the group’s other member, Rashawnna, later went on to be semi-famous as just plain Shawnna from Ludacris’ Disturbing the Peace crew). A layered string-section sample holds the track together, as Dug Infinite contributes the stand-out verse with lines like, “No dallying around, I keep it planted to the ground / Rewrite the songs, that makes the whole world go ’round / Some n&%#as ain’t stable, remind me of Cain and Abel / Tried to stab me in the back for the mic or the tables / Think they whole life, depends on the snake record label / You could die trying, that's why I’m hooking up my cables.”
“State to State,” perhaps the best track on the album, features a stand-out verse from Common. The Chi-Town icon flows masterfully over a shimmering guitar loop from David Axelrod’s “The School Boy,” rapping, “I reign supreme like the Rain Man / Piss in unknown spots, giving dap with the same hand / Raps overlaps and fill gaps in the rap industry / For those whose tired of the same similes / Hood stories, and songs to homies in penitentiaries / Chances I take over breaks, to make shit interesting.”
The album closes with “Two Steps Behind,” where No I.D. and Dug are again joined by Lateefa. The track features one of the best beats on the album, as all three emcees trade verses over a spare and resonant bassline and occasional guitar licks taken from the Olympic Runners’ “Don’t Let Up.” All three emcees are sharp, but No I.D. is the stand-out, rapping, “Now I be trying to be cool, plus trying to stay humble / But n&%#as take humble like it mean I don't rumble / When I come for your shit, you gon’ need more than aid / ’Cause I’mma invade, like a fucking renegade.”
No I.D. gave up rapping not long after Accept Your Own dropped. The album didn’t achieve much financial success, so No I.D. focused his efforts into working solely as a producer, where he eventually reached heights he likely never would have as a rapper. Dug Infinite also mostly gave up rhyming as well, becoming a well-respected beatmaker in his own right, producing tracks for many independent artists, from Chicago and beyond. He also produced some of Common’s best and most underrated songs, such as “1, 2 Many” and “Like They Used To Say.”
Though No I.D. shone the brightest when he was away from the spotlight, Accept Your Own provides an inspiring look at a rapper/producer who took making music very seriously and worked hard to get to the point where he could release an album as a platform to share his experiences. There aren’t many seasoned emcees that give their audience a glimpse into what drives their creative passion, and that candidness alone makes Accept Your Own & Be Yourself (The Black Album) a worthwhile endeavor indeed.
BUY No I.D.’s Accept Your Own & Be Yourself (The Black Album) via Amazon