Whether the masses know it or not, Jay IDK is one of the best kept secrets in hip-hop right now. The poignant DMV spitter’s innate ability to deliver hard-hitting messages surrounding the turmoil of middle America and beyond is why the IDK in his name, which stands for “ignorantly delivering knowledge,” is so incredibly fitting.

Between 2014’s Sex, Drugs & Homework and 2015’s critically acclaimed SubTRAP, Jay has been slowly but surely gaining more momentum towards national recognition with each rhyming word. A big push towards this widespread acknowledgment comes in the form of his latest 14-track album, The Empty Bank. Thankfully, Jay refrains from going down the pop-rap route on this project, despite being faced with an almost certain celebrity guarantee. As soon as you press play on Empty Bank, it’s easy to see that Jay is dead set on making it on his own terms.

Although this project is the least anti-rap establishment from his short yet punchy catalog, he still shows little restraint when addressing his qualms. On “Boy’s Innocence,” he raps, “The money take the boy’s innocence/The money tell the boy load the clip” and furthermore “They aint tryna build until they see the hammer,” which is actually incredibly revealing when you think about it. His criticism of the rap industry’s exploitation exponentially turns into a condemnation of corporate America as a whole. His past projects are almost exclusively dedicated to shedding light on particular social issues and he even explained to XXL that he wants to be remembered as “the most successful socially-aware artist” and although that may be true, there is more diversified subject matter on The Empty Bank.

Things however don’t get much sweeter with “Shit on My Rivals” as Jay takes aim at anyone claiming to be nicer than he. Skhyehutch serves up what sounds like a 2016 version of Nas’ “NY State of Mind” and Jay airs out dagger bars like “I’m on your ass like hut two, three, four/Stopping it is like dodging a meteor” and “Like I aint never heard of the fair one/Fuck your neck/I’m trying to cut your buzz like a haircut.” Even though it’s a short 75-second interlude, it goes as hard as anything else on the album.

The next couple cuts put the aggressive nature on mute for a hot minute and let some more tender emotions shine through. The iPhone message ping that creates the rhythmic pattern on “Nudes 4 Cash” is truly 2016 millennial love at its finest. The song is generally pretty coarse but once “She Blocked Me” plays subsequently, the romantic narrative balances out. As much as Jay excels at the uber-angry political rap, this particular track flexes perhaps his next strongest rap muscle. “I wish I knew the difference between groupie and girl” is a thought that only exists deep in the male psyche but thanks to Boat House’s soothing beat and Jay’s #wokeness, introspective bars of that nature are able to hit home.

After so many of Jay’s distresses wrapped into the majority of this album, it’s a good thing a song like the uptempo “Somebody,” which samples Will Smith’s “Get Jiggy Wit It,” is there to save the day. The track, produced by Noo$e, is the closest thing Jay has to a proverbial hit and has the largest likelihood of earning him some airplay. Even then, the overall threatening tones of his verses carry an edge that will probably scare away most of his radioplay chances. But if these 14 tracks tell us anything, it’s that Jay really doesn’t care about making it mainstream.

The Empty Bank is Jay’s best work to date but comes off a bit scattered -- in a good way. This is the most expanded and experimental Jay has been since his first release. The tracks that aren’t his usual anti-establishment think pieces are the ones that come off the best. There is no doubt that Jay can rap, and he’s proved that here yet again with substance.

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