He is not a household name, but the music executive and producer known as No I.D. is a major behind-the-scenes player. Born and raised in Chicago, No I.D. has a Grammy award and plenty of nominations for his work with artists including Jay-Z, Common, Nas and Kanye West.
Special correspondent Jeff Baraka caught up with No I.D. when he returned to his hometown recently for the Red Bull Music Festival.
Jeff Baraka: His name is Ernest Dion Wilson, but he’s known as No I.D. – that’s Dion spelled backwards.
Among the many hits he’s produced are the Grammy-winning track “Run This Town,” a collaboration between Jay-Z, Kanye West and Rihanna, and “Heartless,” again for Kanye.
Starting 1992, No I.D., along with DJ Twilite Tone, produced the bulk of Common’s first three albums.
So I’m here at the Chicago History Museum for a conversation with iconic music producer and South Side Chicago native Dion “No I.D.” Wilson.
Full disclosure: I’ve actually known him for several years.
No I.D.: When we grew up, we needed something to do and hip-hop was a budding culture that we got access to. It kept us out of trouble, kept us creative and it was a real concentrated art form in my eyes at that time.
Coming from Chicago, South Side, you wanna stay out of trouble, you wanna, you know, try and find your way, and I don’t think we looked at hip-hop as a way of business to make millions. There was no business, there was nothing except, “We wanna be accepted by our peers.”
“Accepted.” That’s the word. It’s the best word I can use for it.
Baraka: No I.D. and Common grew up near 87th Street and Stony Island Avenue and attended Luther South High School. He’s known as a hip-hop producer, but he credits his Swedish wife with his appreciation for pop music.
No I.D.: Pop culture – it’s strong in Sweden, so when she came to America, you know, it was a culture shock, and we got to be able to compare notes from this somewhat urban, or I’m gonna call fine culture of hip-hop that I came from, where it wasn’t necessarily about making the biggest record or the most sales, so it developed into a philosophy of intent for me. What I kind of look at it is, “What do I intend when I start to create?”
Baraka: No I.D. was one of the creative forces behind Jay-Z’s emotional, confessional platinum-selling “4:44” album released in 2017.
No I.D.: That was a unique situation that’ll never happen again. I realize that he’ll never be in a place that he’s in.
Baraka: He’ll never be that vulnerable.
No I.D.: Or that place with his family – the timing of it, there won’t be a person that’s in that place, after that career, after that arc, that has the desire in their heart to speak truth.
And then me being in a specific place where I’m not pushing him to make the popular hit … matter of fact, I was telling him, “Let’s not think about that.”
I think in hip-hop we have to widen the intention of the records. It doesn’t just have to be about dancing and having fun or being lyrical or being competitive. There’s so many different chambers that this poetry, rhythm and poetry can go to.
Baraka: Kanye West has called No I.D. his mentor.
What was your role in the monster entity that is Kanye West, ‘cause you knew that dude when he was 14 or 15, right?
No I.D.: Yeah, so his mother and my mother were both in education. They met each other, and my mother comes home one day like, “I have a friend, she has a son.” You know, the typical story, and I go “Aw, man.”
You know I never intended to mentor him. It’s something he said and I never viewed myself as a mentor. I actually maybe was more of the older guy figure that kinda tried to keep him on track in life because maybe, you know, no father figure in the scenario, and me being a person that could find his way out of the South Side of Chicago, it just led to him growing and growing into this super creative.
I love music, love people. I try and develop a bond with people I want to work with beyond trying to make money. Trust, I’ve developed an amount of trust where I can say, “Let’s go on this journey.”
Baraka: Now based in L.A., No I.D. doesn’t get back to Chicago very often, but he maintains a presence through the many local artists he continues to work with.
In these web-exclusive videos, No I.D. talks about how corporations can negatively affect a music scene (top) and getting to the heart of the musical intentions of the artists he’s producing (bottom).