Jonwayne would rather not do this interview. It’s nothing personal; the last words of his latest, the superb Rap Album Two, are, “When I die, I know my words will be my only thing.” And if you’ve listened closely to his lyrics or encountered his pulverizing live performances, you understand that few consider words more valuable.
The La Habra native named his nascent imprint Authors Recording Company. He released a self-pressed poetry collection, which sold out, and later this year will put out a book-length compendium of interviews conducted with L.A. Weekly contributor Max Bell. Interviews tend to contain off-the-cuff and ephemeral thoughts — a contrived therapy session, in contrast with the genuine catharsis of the recording studio.
“I prefer the music to speak for itself, and everything lately has been autobiographical anyway,” Wayne explains at the Cosmic Zoo Studios in Atwater Village. “There’s always been a strange dichotomy between what I’ve chosen to display through music and who I am as an individual, and I realize that the only way out of that torturous situation is to make my public persona the same as my private persona.”
This new era began with a typewritten letter posted on Instagram. It chronicled his struggles with weight, alcohol (including a near-death experience on tour in a hotel room), his newfound sobriety and a period of self-imposed exile in which he sought to recalibrate and redefine what was most important to him: work, friends, family.
“By the stars, I have a split personality, and Geminis who can function in society are the ones who exert their other personality in a healthy way,” Wayne says, wearing his trademark uniform: T-shirt, shorts and Birkenstocks.
“I’ve been trying to repurpose what I do and what it means to me, because I really am in it for the long haul,” Wayne adds. “I’m getting old in the head but I’m tired of still not having inner peace.”
Just 26, Wayne has been a fixture of the L.A. beat and underground hip-hop scene since his teen years. Some of his early Low End Theory performances remain the stuff of legend. His first official release, Bowser, won co-signs from Flying Lotus and Jonah Hill. A run of EPs and a debut rap album on Stones Throw upped his profile to the point where much of his upcoming international tour is sold out — not to mention a sold-out show last week just for an album listening party.
He’s become every rapper/producer’s favorite rapper/producer. Dilated Peoples named Wayne’s debut one of the 10 best records of the last decade. Earl Sweatshirt and The Alchemist have repeatedly sung his praises, too. In an era when even underground stars want to blow up, Wayne has opted for the other route — collaborating with close friends (L.A.’s Zeroh has a star turn on the new record) and still living in the far-flung suburb where he grew up.
Rap Album Two functions as a coming-of-age record: a young man trying to figure out who he wants to be and what he wants to worship. It narrates his arrival in the local music scene, and the subsequent self-destruction and rebirth. It’s an apology for past mistakes and a vow to at least attempt to be better.
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“I wanted the album to reach out to those who I’ve estranged in the past and allow for people to understand what I was going through and what I’ve been dealing with — and maybe inspire those in a similar position,” Wayne says. “I’m not necessarily trying to come off as triumphant on the record, but it doesn’t always have to be corny to talk about issues, either. Hopefully, it encourages people to confide in those that are important to them, or at least help remind them that they’re not alone.”