The collaborative dominance of hip-hop's fresh face, Iann Dior

The collaborative dominance of hip-hop's fresh face, Iann Dior

Released last week, the Puerto Rican rapper's latest album I'm Gone sees him collaborate with Lil Baby and Travis Barker, but that's just the start.

Header image by Kevin Amato.

Iann Dior isn't exactly new to hip-hop. The Puerto Rico-born, Texas-raised rapper has become a cult-favourite in woozy, slow-stirring hip-hop, riding this wave of lo-fi rap that has blossomed into one of the genre's most successful offshoots over the last few years. On his 2019 debut mixtape nothings ever good enough, the then-20-year-old rapper found himself darting amongst stirring productions and guest features from PnB Rock and Def Jam rapper Bernard Jabs in a way that felt refreshing in an otherwise saturated sound, something that's kept with Dior through his career ever since.

In everything Dior does, this element of 'freshness' - for the lack of better descriptor - is at the forefront. Industry Plant, a tongue-in-cheek-titled mixtape that pokes fun at those assuming he's an 'industry plant' due to his rapid ascent through hip-hop - saw him cap off 2019 with a release that cemented his status within hip-hop, further thrusting him into the spotlight and capturing a greater audience that'd follow him into the new year.

In saying that, Industry Plant was also a massive step up for the still-developing star. He traded out past collaborators for ones a little more prevalent in the public eye (Gunna, Trippie Redd, Blink 182's Travis Barker) while evolving his own sound too, moving beyond the boundaries of this lo-fi, melodic hip-hop sound in favour for versatility and range showcased throughout the mixtape's 15-strong tracklist. He experimented with trap-rap and Nine Inch Nails interpolation, bridged gaps between conventional radio-rap and its brooding emo sibling, and brought to the table exactly what makes him an exciting new addition to international hip-hop, particularly in a time where the genre's prevalence makes it more overloaded with talent than ever.

On I'm Gone - his third long-form release, arriving last week - this trajectory continues to move upwards. Comparative to his past work, I'm Gone feels like a slick, older brother to Industry Plant. With the tracklist cut down and the duration shorter than his past records, I'm Gone is forced to be more focused and concise; the wiggle room that allowed much of Industry Plant's versatility cut down as Dior showcases how far he's come, and the growth and evolution that's allowed him to blossom into the newly-minted heavyweight he is today - and everything that goes into that.

It's a record that further distances Iann Dior from his emo-tinged roots, encapsulating the growth of this bass-heavy trap-rap sound as he moves and swerves between crashing percussion and playful melodies; Psycho, for example, sampling organ breakdowns plucked straight from a horror-thriller fantasy and layering amongst some of the album's heaviest production, over which Iann Dior glides. However, once again, where Dior shines on I'm Gone is in collaboration, and this time it only takes two tracks for that to be established.

As per his past work, Iann Dior's strengths come in bringing out the best of his collaborators. Travis Barker - a somewhat cliché addition to hip-hop's most-frequent collaborators - sounds the most 'current' he's sounded in years on Sick and Tired, which also includes another divisive addition to rap's intersection with rock: Machine Gun Kelly. Much like Darkside, the Travis Barker-featuring opener on Industry Plant, Iann Dior is capable of utilising Barker's strengths without overdoing it - a tightrope-like balance that often trips many in hip-hop - and that's something that shined through many of that mixtape's other guest collaborators too, from the notoriously brooding Trippie Redd through to internet pop force phem.

It's also something evident through I'm Gone's last song, which sees Dior tap into one of 2020's most unexpectedly successful rap talents: Lil Baby. The Atlanta-based rapper's My Turn is one of the year's most successful records full-stop - let alone in hip-hop - and with a guest collaborator list including Future and Lil Uzi Vert, it's clear that Lil Baby knows his way around a feature too. That's something that really comes out on Prospect, the track that sees these two notorious, newcoming collaborators together.

It doesn't rely too hard on Lil Baby, who could've easily overthrown Iann Dior and made the track his own. Instead, it features the two on equal playing fields; their verses coming together and playing around with one another as the twinkling production underneath gradually grows into something more substantial with its hard-hitting bass kicks and snapping snare. It's a testament to Dior's strengths in collaboration - Lil Baby's too - and encapsulates the charm of Iann Dior at his peak, showing why he's blossomed into such a prevalent force over the last few years.

You can take a dive into Dior's latest record I'm Gone below, but if you want to flick straight to the action and see the rapper at his best, feel free to kick things off with the Lil Baby-featuring ending before queuing the record back up from the start to listen to the rest - it's a real good time:

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