iann dior

Iann Dior Is Strategically Blurring Pop, Rock and Hip-Hop

Barely a year after graduating from high school in May 2017, iann dior was living part time in a recording studio in his hometown of Corpus Christi, Texas. Recently fired from his job at UPS, he used the opportunity to go all-in on his dream of making music, regularly posting songs to SoundCloud. “I wasn’t always the best in school, but I found myself interested in essays, just making up my own stories,” he says. “That really helped influence a lot of my songs — I wanted to put stories into music. So that’s how I got my jump.”

One of his earliest tracks, “Where You At,” raked in tens of thousands of streams on SoundCloud and eventually found its way to Internet Money producer Touch of Trent, who offered to work with the rapper. After a year-plus of helping hone dior’s sound, the producer sent his music to Internet Money label founder Taz Taylor. Within weeks, Taylor invited dior to Los Angeles for a few sessions, and by January 2019, dior had booked a one-way ticket, determined to launch his career. “All I was really focused on was making sure that I was never coming back,” he says.

The 21-year-old not only avoided moving home but also landed a record deal, released three projects in just over a year and joined a wave of artists successfully blurring the genre lines among rap, rock and pop. Now, thanks to his feature in July on “Mood” by 24kGoldn, a friend and fellow rising artist, dior can add a top five Billboard Hot 100 hit to his list of successes in his breakout year.

Born Michael Olmo in 1999 in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, dior and his family moved to Corpus Christi when he was 5, after his father served in the navy. In Texas, dior grew up a few miles from Brockhampton Street, which ultimately served as a namesake for the rap group led by Kevin Abstract. Brockhampton’s success motivated dior, who also counts Prince, The Strokes and J. Cole as inspirations. “Just knowing that [Abstract] came two minutes from my house and made it to L.A. made me feel like I could do it too,” he says.

Within a month of moving to the West Coast, Taylor helped dior land a meeting with 10K Projects founder/ CEO Elliot Grainge. Despite “every single label in the world bidding” on him, says Grainge, 10K Projects signed him to a recording contract in April 2019. The announcement coincided with the release of his nothings ever good enough mixtape, a 19-minute emo rap effort that further solidified his place in the new class of SoundCloud rappers.

“Juice WRLD was a rock star in my eyes — he opened the doors to being able to talk about anything in hip-hop,” says dior. “I don’t think there are any rules to making music. It’s all about how you feel. If I feel like making a rock song, then that’s what we’ll do. If I feel like making pop, rap or R&B, it doesn’t matter. There’s not really a boundary for me.” He also doesn’t want to rule out the idea of crossing over into Latin music one day, noting that Spanish is his first language and praising J Balvin and Bad Bunny as pivotal artists in helping Latin pop become more mainstream in recent years. “I think that Spanish music is taking over the world right now because it’s crossing over to hip-hop,” he continues, citing the Lil Mosey track “Top Gone,” featuring rising Puerto Rican reggaetón and Latin trap singer Lunay.

Shelby Goldstein
Iann dior photographed on September 29, 2020 at Electric Feel Studios in Los Angeles.

At a time when alternative rock has also never been more influenced by hip-hop — and when it makes perfect sense that artists like Juice WRLD and Machine Gun Kelly are on rock radio — dior is capitalizing on the moment. His genre-hopping tendencies have led to all types of collaborations. In the last month alone, he has guested on MGK’s thumping track “nothing inside,” channeled his inner grunge-pop kid on Carlie Hanson’s “Ego” and tapped into his R&B-pop ballad capabilities on Jack Gilinsky’s “Lose Somebody.”

His own debut studio album, last year’s Industry Plant (which raked in 296.2 million on-demand audio streams, according to Nielsen Music/ MRC Data), featured Travis Barker, Trippie Redd and Gunna. On his June EP, I’m Gone, he linked back up with both Barker and MGK on “Sick and Tired,” which shot to No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Rock & Alternative Songs chart. Meanwhile, his Lil Baby-featuring single, “Prospect,” briefly landed on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.

Already he’s looking ahead to a new album: He’ll release a single before the end of the year and has teased on Twitter that the project is 60% done. He envisions it as a return to nothings ever good enough, which could pay off: The mixtape has earned 315.9 million on-demand audio streams, the most of his three projects. Still, producer and frequent collaborator Andrew Luce notes that "it's always a mystery" what sound is going to emerge from one of their studio sessions.

"We'll have days when he'll come in and tell me to make whatever," he says. "And we'll have days where he'll play me some Prince archive song that never came out and say that's all he cares about right now. He works based on where he's at in the present moment more so than trying to predispose a plan. He's a very elusive man."

During the pandemic, dior has also been learning guitar and expanding his circle a bit (though he says keeping his day-ones close helps to “keep my head on my shoulders”). He most recently started working with a member of The Weeknd’s Toronto-based creative incubator, HXOUSE, whom he met in the studio, and is helping curate what dior calls “the new era.”

“I’m always thinking about the future,” says dior. “I want to be the best artist in the world.”

Perfecting the Mood

Why 10K Projects founder/CEO Elliot Grainge believes iann dior is a “founding father” of rap-rock’s new wave.

Joseph Morrison
Elliot Grainge, right, presenting dior with a Gold Plaque for his single "Gone Girl" at the El Rey on February 20, 2020.

What initially stood out to you about iann dior?

It’s difficult for an artist to be able to say early, “This is who I am, and this is what I want to be.” Iann dior had a very clear vision: He knew the sort of music that he wanted to record, and he knew the beats he wanted to cut on. He’s a complete star.

Why do you think that he’s a good fit for 10K Projects?

I look at it the other way around: Why can 10K be a good fit for the artist? We’re independent. We don’t cater to 70-80 artists to convince them they’re [all] a No. 1 priority. For iann dior in particular, it was a grassroots digital marketing exercise through SoundCloud. When we signed him, we continued the momentum that he built and released three or four songs on SoundCloud exclusively. A few weeks later, we moved that to [digital service providers] and were slowly able to bring the people [over].

Do you think this new fusion of rock, rap and pop is here to stay?

I really do. I’ve always said it’s sort of a punk-rock movement. If you look at the biggest records in hip-hop — whether it’s Post Malone’s “Circles” or DaBaby’s “Rockstar” — it’s all guitar. Artists are getting a lot more creative in this world of genre-bending sound, and it’s a really exciting time for music. Iann dior is really at the forefront of that. He’s one of the founding fathers of that new wave.

What is specific to your strategy with breaking iann dior versus other artists on the roster?

Every artist [is] a caseby-case study, genre by genre. A lot of pop is breaking on TikTok. This was more word-of-mouth; we were able to tell a story and help him grow and his fans grow with him in a very organic sense.

You said dior had a clear vision for himself from the start. How has it evolved?

He’s very, very into fashion. Not too dissimilar to The Weeknd and the brand that he has built [with his label XO]. [Dior] designs his own shoes, his own clothes, and I think his brand is going to be a very big part of everything. If you look at the big artist brands, whether it’s Rihanna or Travis Scott or Kanye West, the fashion side is huge. I think with him, to get there — which he will — the music has to come first.

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This article originally appeared in the Oct. 17, 2020, issue of Billboard.