Show & Prove
Words: Georgette Cline
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
Achieving a No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 is a feat most artists strive for their entire careers. For Iann Dior, it took him less than two years, the length of time he’s been in the music industry. His dynamic feature on 24kGoldn’s “Mood,” a guitar-driven, upbeat ode to a toxic relationship they released in July of 2020, is his biggest win yet.
“We made ‘Mood’ in my apartment, not even thinking about it,” Iann shares. The two-times platinum-selling track, produced by Blake Slatkin, KBeaZy and Omer Fedi, and mixed by Iann’s longtime friend H4lftime, currently sits at over 758 million Spotify streams. “Now it’s the No. 1 song in the world, so, now I know in the back of my mind that it’s that easy.”
Life wasn’t always smooth for the 21-year-old rapper. Born Michael Iann Olmo, he spent his formative years moving around from his birthplace of Puerto Rico (Spanish is Iann’s first language) after being homeless. First his family settled in Texas then Florida, Virginia and back to Texas in Corpus Christi, home of the famed late Mexican-American singer Selena. Iann finally started calling the Lone Star State home in his middle school years.
The sounds of Marc Anthony, played by Iann’s mom, and Jay-Z’s The Blueprint, introduced to him by his dad on the sneak tip because his mother didn’t approve of profanity, provided Iann with a wide-ranging musical palate growing up. Then came his discovery of J. Cole. “I thought he was very musically inclined and he would tell stories in his music,” Iann says of J. Cole. “So, I thought it was really cool, especially in my youth.” Cole’s candid songwriting later inspired Iann to approach his own music in a similar way. Iann’s music is “very unique,” as he describes, due to the way he rhymes in different pockets in comparison to other artists. Rap, rock, pop or funk, he prides himself on the ability to tackle any genre. “You can’t put me in a box.”
Iann Dior’s first time recording a song was “WYA,” released in his junior year of high school when he was 17. “We put it out on SoundCloud,” he recalls. “I think it got, like, 40,000 plays, and I was just shocked.” He continued making music after that, graduating high school in 2017, and putting all his time and energy into recording when he wasn’t working at UPS loading trucks. His goal was to use that job as a source of income to try to get to Los Angeles to pursue his dreams of becoming a rapper.
His father had different plans for him, though, and tried to enlist Iann in the Navy six months after the aspiring rhymer earned his high school diploma. To thwart that move, Iann committed to life as a recording artist in an unexpected way: he got tattoos of a rose and lightning bolt on his right hand to halt any chances of joining the naval warfare service branch.
Being that his family was once homeless in Puerto Rico and his dad has been in the Navy for 17 years, Iann acknowledges that his parents didn’t initially support his superstar rapper aspirations. They wanted him to have a more conventional career.
“I was like, alright, this is what I want to do,” Iann conveys of his hip-hop ambitions. “I’ll give my life to this shit. I’ll die for it. I got kicked out of my house ’cause my dad tried to take me to the Navy—he thought that was an alternative. So, I went and I tatted my hands ’cause you can’t enlist in the Navy if you have visible hand tattoos.”
He eventually got booted out of the house by his dad for that tattoo incident as well as his parents finding out he got fired from UPS, so it was L.A. or bust. He spent 2018 recording more music, making songs like “Cutthroat” and “Emotions” in his Texas bedroom. Manifestation is real because his moment to hit the West Coast happened in 2019, when Touch of Trent, a producer formerly of the Internet Money production collective, contacted Iann after hearing his songs on SoundCloud, and the two began working together. Internet Money founder Taz Taylor caught wind of the tracks they were creating and flew him out to L.A. shortly after. There, his new artist name—a combination of his middle name and a brand that he thought he could never afford—was born once he left Texas for good. “I didn’t like who I was, you know what I mean?” Iann admits. “I wanted to be somebody new.”
Taz and fellow producer Nick Mira took “Cutthroat” and “Emotions” and built new production around them. The Nick Mira-produced confessional tale “Emotions,” released on Iann’s 2019 debut mixtape, Nothings Ever Good Enough (the title of which he has tattooed on the side of his left arm), has become his second biggest song to date with over 194 million Spotify streams, 23 million YouTube views and is gold certified. His songs “Gone Girl” and “Prospect” featuring Lil Baby have also gone gold.
Late February of 2019 also marked the career-changing moment when Iann signed a label deal with 10K Projects, helmed by music executive Elliot Grainge and home to artists like Trippie Redd. “Iann Dior is a true visionary, an artist who isn’t bound by genre and relishes the art of making music,” says Grainge. “In spite of all the difficulties faced by artists during this pandemic, Iann’s hard work, passion and determination has enabled him to have his biggest year yet. Looking forward to 2021, I’m excited to continue working closely with Iann to help bring his visions to life…”
Since then, Iann released his 2019 debut album, Industry Plant, which peaked at No. 44 on the Billboard 200 chart. With that LP, Iann leaned into the narrative that he was plopped onto the music industry radar by a major label and has no real origin story (“If it’s that easy, just get like me.”) A year later, he dropped the nine-track EP, I’m Gone, which earned a No. 45 position on the Billboard 200 this past June. In October of 2020, he celebrated “Mood,” which features Justin Bieber and J Balvin on the remix, hitting No. 1.
Now, his focus is on a sophomore album, to be released in 2021, and feature his recently released single “Holding On.” Iann is bringing back the hip-hop vibes of Nothings Ever Good Enough while also adding “amazing” rock tracks with Travis Barker and pop songs that he refers to as his “cup of tea.” “I wanna be the first artist to completely dominate every genre,” he expresses.
Iann’s already speaking it into existence.
Check out more from XXL’s Winter 2020 issue including our DaBaby cover story, an introduction to DaBaby's Billion Dollar Baby Entertainment label roster, an interview with South Coast Music Group founder Arnold Taylor, who discovered and signed DaBaby, one of King Von's last interviews, how the coronavirus changed hip-hop, we catch up with Flipp Dinero in What's Happenin', Rico Nasty talks about rediscovering who she is as an artist, Marshmello reveals the rappers he wants to work with in Hip-Hop Junkie, Show & Prove interviews with The Kid Laroi and Flo Milli, we take a closer look at how rap music gets leaked, producer LilJuMadeDaBeat shares how he made Megan Thee Stallion's hit song "Body," Kash Johns, founder of Winners Circle Publishing, discusses what makes a hot producer, get to know hip-hop's hottest new collective, Spillage Village, and more.
See Photos of XXL Magazine's Winter 2020 Cover Shoot With DaBaby