Calm and meticulous, and in no hurry whatsoever, LA upstart Jonwayne has a delivery that likens itself to Gift of Gab, and stands at the forefront of whatever beat he rhymes over, approaching the mic with veteran patience.
Though he’s a newb amongst Stones Throw new elite and knows his place, and how it shouldn’t necessarily overwhelm what he’s already been doing this whole time. “Honestly I don’t care,” says Wayne when asked about what it means to be a part of the preeminent underground hip-hop label. “As long as I stay honest to myself and my vision I’m in the perfect stance. Further analysis is for others.”
Staying grounded is one way that Jonwayne maintains a tempered pace. It gives him a foundation to build upon and facilitates a vision that’s been steady on the rise since his coming out party at the famed Low End Theory. He’s released three albums – his latest Rap Album One racked in a handful of accolades including a nod from music connoisseur Giles Peterson for the Worldwide Awards – and six mixtapes dating back to 2011. A breakout year seems just beyond the horizon.
In an email exchange with SL he broke down his process and touched upon everything from his role in rap and goals for the future to how he doesn’t even bother trying to overcome writer’s block.
As a producer-lyricist, are there any creative methods that bleed over from one form to the other?
All creative energy dwells in the same place. Any sort of creation is derivative of the essence, so everything you do has a connection to anything else you do. That’s why it shouldn’t matter how you spread your work. It’s all from the same place.
Jerry Seinfeld recently did an AMA on Reddit, and when asked about writer’s block he said something to the effect of, “Writer’s block is a phony, made up, BS excuse for not doing your work.” But it happens. Sometimes a pitcher no matter how hard he tries just can’t get one over the plate. How do you combat writer’s block?
I don’t. In my opinion, sometimes, the worst thing you can do is force creativity. Human beings aren’t meant to constantly create with the idea of quality control. I only write or produce when I want to. Only when it excites me. Maybe I have to wait a few months. Cool. I’m not in a hurry.
What’s been the biggest transition going from a series of mixtapes to a proper full length?
With all the mixtapes, I never sought to make songs that had any impact further than their own capacity. They just stand by themselves in their own empty universes. With an album it requires much more focus to spread said universe into a cohesive body of work, going from four minutes to 40. All the songs look to each other to gain strength. It takes much more discipline.
What rituals/routines do you go through when you’re ready to sit down and write?
I don’t really have any. If I write a line down that makes me feel inspired, I’m already certain there’s a whole song, there. All it takes is the first line. Once I got that down, the rest is already written, in my opinion.
This is why I choose to make my own beats. When I produce for myself I know exactly what I need to feel comfortable, so I create ideal situations for myself. It’s kind of cheating, but that’s an advantage of being able to rap and produce.
In the “Come Up pt. 1” you mention “spitting Busta and Dirty Bastard since second grade.” What other lyricists, and not only in rap or music for that matter, got your creative wheels turning? Any authors, poets, or actors?
Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, E.E. Cummings, Charles Bukowski, Billy Collins, Allen Ginsberg, Saul Williams, Walt Whitman, Louise Glück, there’s more but it’s all I can think of right now.
In the same song you mention, “The East Coast held it down for me lyrically, the west spiritually.” Can you elaborate on that.
East coast rap I felt had much better lyrics and overall emcees when I was listening to rap music as a kid, back in the 90’s. Despite that, West Coast still had the production and tunes that I connected with. Pretty self-explanatory in my opinion.
How did the Low End Theory equate into your development as a lyricist?
It prepared me with the adaptive qualities that I would need in order to make rap music that connected in the following decade. Pitting myself, vocally, against all kinds of styles opened me up to thinking about what rap could be, not just what it was. I’m still reaping the benefits of that.
Can you take me back to the first time you performed, what it was like and if there was a sense of “yeah this is right.”
My first show was at Low End Theory, as a matter of fact. I was nervous, unprepared and I remember telling Tully I didn’t want to go through with it hours before my set. It rained that night, so maybe 100 people were there. As soon as I got on stage I had such a rush that something came over me and from that moment on I realized that this is what I wanted to do.
I get a sense of counterculture in your style – from generic names like the Cassette series and your debut Rap Album One to very personal anecdotes on songs like “Reflection;” [LISTEN]. Where do you feel like you fit into rap’s landscape?
If I said I belonged on top, why wouldn’t you discredit that? Why wouldn’t you discredit that until it happens and you have to swallow your words? Maybe it never does. Maybe I’m a long shot from making any sort of impact on a culture I have such a complicated relationship with. Maybe I shouldn’t be asked questions that force me to contemplate my position in a landscape that may not want me to be. If people want to appreciate what I have to offer then great. I’ll be here. If people want to dismiss my efforts then fuck you. I’ll be here. That’s that.
What projects should we keep an eye out for looking forward?
I’m not going to promise something will be out until it’s done. That being said, nothing is done.