I recently meet up with local rap sensation Wax, whose raunchy hit “Rosana” is all over radio and YouTube. (Its equally raunchy video is below.) We're at Melgard Public House, and I'm informed that I just missed something newsworthy. “Just before you got here, there was a homeless guy that pulled down his pants and showed his penis,” says the MC, whose real name is Michael Jones. “I got way too good a look at that shit. It was crazy.”
The 33-year-old D.C. area native is Cuban and Irish. He's evolved over the years, from the lead singer and guitarist of MacGregor — a funk- and hip-hop-influenced jam band — and political science major at University of Maryland into an L.A.-based solo rapper with a penchant for funny lyrics and zany Internet videos. He was signed by Def Jam early last year, and Rosana — “Rosana/ Freaky little mama/ She be trying to fuck all day” — has 2.6 million views. In front of his Sunset Strip Music Festival performance tomorrow we sat down with him over an extra-tall mug of Stone IPA to discuss drugs, women and online haters.
Was it hard to concentrate on set of “Rosana” with Playboy model Melissa Soria dancing around half-naked?
No, because we became friends. Because she's done the Playboy stuff, she's really good at emitting sex. It was more fun and goofy on the set. I wasn't getting an erection.
Be honest. Did you start rapping so you could meet chicks like Rosana?
[Laughs]. No, I started rapping when I was a little kid. I wrote my first rap song in sixth grade about my friend's white dude haircut.
Are you dating anyone now? What do you look for in a woman?
I'm currently single. As shallow as this may sound, I look for a woman who isn't clingy and doesn't need too much time. I'm so busy. Oh, and they have to have a good sense of humor. She needs to laugh at my horrible jokes.
How did growing up in Dunkirk, Maryland influence you?
I was definitely influenced by some of the music there. There's local DC music called go-go, which I love. I grew up in the suburbs, and there were a lot of woods around with a lot of pot smoking, camping and trouble. There wasn't much to do there, so we did drugs and jammed out.
Were you doing any other drugs besides pot?
We did a lot of hallucinogens. Acid and mushrooms are big where I'm from. We did a lot of huffing household chemicals, freon and butane. I did a lot of nitrous.
You're working on a new album. When will it be released, and what can we expect with it?
It will be out around Halloween. It's going to be really organic-sounding. There's going to be a lot of live instrumentation. It's going to be less strictly beats and rhymes.
Is it different than music you have already released?
Yes. It's going to be grown folks' music. My fans won't be as shocked by it. They'll be like, “Oh, that's the Wax we know.”
What do you mean by “grown folks' music?”
It's going to be hard for a 13-year-old kid to understand some of the subjects, like living with a girl in your own place and then breaking up with her, or alcoholism. The topics are what grown folks deal with. There is a lot of relationship stuff on this.
Do you have a problem with alcohol?
I wouldn't call it a problem. It's going to be a problem when I'm 40. It's a slow problem. It's like any relationship: it starts small and you don't pay attention to it, and then eventually it's a big problem.
What made you initially decide to upload videos to YouTube?
Vibe magazine had a contest called Vibe Verses around 2006. It was during the infancy of YouTube. You uploaded a video of yourself rapping, and the winner got $5,000. It was all based on random people voting. I didn't win, but I did really well.
Do you feel like your writing style and aesthetic are different because of the YouTube phenomenon?
I think YouTube works for the way that I write. I do a lot of visual stuff, so it just makes sense to have that associate with my music. I've written songs with the video in mind many times. [Here is his channel with his brother, Herbal T.]
Do you want to sustain your YouTube fame, or are you going to use it as a springboard to something else?
No, I want to keep it going. All the major labels are trying to figure out the YouTube thing. I've seen it firsthand. The separation between YouTube fame and regular fame is disappearing. I want to stay on it. It's a direct connection with your fans.
Do you ever get offended by the comments?
One time, I got in a YouTube battle with this guy. It was the stupidest thing I've ever done.
This guy made a diss track on YouTube against me. I never diss tracked him back because that is super-nerdy, but I did get in a mad comment war with him. After I thought, “I wish I had never started this, it's so stupid.”
What did it feel like to get signed to Def Jam last year?
It was surreal. You know L.A. Reid? I met with him, and he just loved my shit. We were in a cabana suite at a hotel in Beverly Hills, and he walked in. I swear this motherfucker had an aura around him. We played him three tracks and one song live on guitar. He pointed at me and said, “You got it.” They gave me a record contract the next day. It was crazy. The money felt great, too.
When you first started, did you ever think it would get to this level?
No. All the YouTube stuff was for fun at first. Before the deal, I was making a living. I was doing shows, selling T-shirts and CD's. I make money off Google Ads.
What is it like working with your twin brother rapper Herbal T?
He's been my twin brother my entire life. I don't know what it would be like working without him. The best part about working with your sibling is that you can disagree freely. You can say, “This shit sucks” or “This idea is terrible,” and there are no feelings. You can't do that with people you don't know really well.
Do you feel accepted by the traditional black hip-hop community?
Somewhat. I think I get little pieces of different audiences. Most of my shows are non-black. Not that race defines everything. My music is far from hood. I grew up in the suburbs, what can I say?
Do you think people don't take your music as seriously because it's comical?
People think my shit is corny because it's fun. I don't give a fuck. I think your fucking bling is corny. Fuck you. I think people taking themselves too seriously is fucking corny. People can think my shit is corny all they want.
Wax preforms at the Viper Room for the Sunset Strip Music Festival tomorrow, August 18, at 11:30 p.m.