Jonwayne Is On Some Good Philosophical Shit
[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
"In the instant of getting an idea, I act it out on paper. I don't put off until tomorrow what I must do now to find out what my secret self needs/wants/desires. ... Two hours later, sitting at the typewriter, you look at the paper and you say, 'So that's what I think about the death of Hemingway. Is that how much I was hurt?' " --Ray Bradbury
It's 7 p.m. on a sweaty Friday in August. The city mostly suffers in traffic, but Jonwayne sips a Negra Modelo and plays a clip from Ray Bradbury. Culled from a riff from the late science-fiction legend on self-discovery and the spark of creation, the quote doubles as the philosophical spine of the 22-year-old rapper-producer's Stones Throw debut.
We're in Wayne's studio inside the label's Highland Park offices, listening to his yet-untitled album slated for release in March. The décor is simple: keyboards, vinyl, a Mac and a TR-808 drum machine painted by Egyptian Lover.
The couch has frequently been Wayne's bed since last December, when he started searching for his "secret self" and its opinions on sound, rap, life, hate, death, etc. "I was failing miserably at making a 'rap record.' There was a wide gap between what I needed to make and what I was making," says the La Habra-raised Wayne. He's built like the former high school offensive lineman that he was, rocking a billy goat beard, olive shorts and tan sandals. "I showed [Stones Throw head] Peanut Butter Wolf the material and could tell he wasn't feeling it."
Few artists decipher inner visions in just two hours at a typewriter. Wayne only gleaned his following the April deaths of his 90-year-old grandparents within 48 hours of each other, and a subsequent road trip to El Paso to bury them. "The emotional impact snapped me out of my bubble of merely being happy to make a rap record for Stones Throw," Wayne says.
It'd be easy to go crazy recording all-night sessions at Stones Throw HQ. Expectations are high, for one thing. Wayne's the first young local rapper Stones Throw has signed in recent memory. Odd Future's Earl Sweatshirt has vocally championed him. After all, by the time he was able legally to cop cerveza, Wayne had dropped well-received records on Alpha Pup, the label of Low End Theory co-founder Daddy Kev.
The Lincoln Heights underground-music locus was first to notice Wayne. All the resident DJs spin his beats, synthesizing 8-bit, heroin jazz, IDM, industrial and Southern hip-hop, and he frequently inflicts damage with freestyles performed in a bazooka baritone.
There's little to dislike about a bearded, bespectacled white boy in Birkenstocks who looks like an XXL Jesus and raps like the devil.
While his previously released recordings revealed glimpses of genius, none match the new material. Wayne has figured out how to link his early LL Cool J voice and stepping razor fury to the path paved by his stylistic heroes, ranging from El-P and Edan to Trent Reznor and Daniel Johnston.
"I returned to talking about things that were important to me. I find myself through the music. That's not some bullshit. It's just hard to explain," Wayne says.
So we listen to the rest of the Bradbury clip and finish our beers in silence: "We keep cleansing the stream, just as any impurity running downhill in a river, by the time it travels nine miles, is purified. So the life of a man traveling to the sea -- which is our inevitable death someday -- purifies itself. If you do not purify, these tensions remain in, and turn in on yourself, and destroy you."